Understanding Instagram Algorithms

Understanding Instagram Algorithms
Image by Danni Liu

"You're not good enough."
"What do you have to share with the world?"
"People are going to laugh and ridicule you".
For years, I allowed voices like these to hold me back.

Then, I came across Austin Kleon's book, Show Your Work! It inspired me to embrace imperfection and share my journey. He said you don't have to be a genius. He said whether you're an apprentice, expert or an amateur, you have the ability to contribute something.

The book gave me the courage to take the plunge. I created my website on March 15th 2022, and then fear set in again. It took me another seven nail-biting weeks to convince myself to publish my first post on May 8th, 2022.

The cover page of Austin Kleon's book: Show Your Work!
Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. Buy here if interested.

Fast forward nine months, and I found myself ready for the next step: creating an Instagram account to mirror the purpose of my website, which is to share my learning journey and discovery as I explore the fascinating world of data and analytics.

I set out with enthusiasm, crafting content I thought would resonate with the audience I had in mind. Yet, the reality was a tough pill to swallow. The engagement has been hit or miss, and my content's seemingly whimsical attention left me scratching my head. How could content I'd poured a lot of effort and energy go unnoticed, while some posts with not even 1/10th of the effort get far more engagement?

This got me curious and led me to look deeper into the mechanics of Instagram's algorithms. In this blog, I would like to share the following:

  • What is Instagram Algorithm and Its Purpose?
  • Key Features of Instagram and Their Ranking Algorithms
  • Tips for Growing Instagram Audiences

What is Instagram Algorithm and Its Purpose

The Instagram algorithm is a set of complex mathematical calculations and processes that curate the content displayed on users' Feed, Story, and Explore pages. Contrary to popular belief, there isn't a single algorithm; instead, Instagram employs an array of algorithms tailored to different app sections. The aim is to deliver personalized content to users, making their experience engaging and relevant so that users stay on the app longer.

While this blog focuses on Instagram, the concept reflects how other social media platforms like LinkedIn, TikTok, etc work. As shared above, the goal of these algorithms across all platforms is to create a personalized and engaging experience that keeps users on the platform for as long as possible. By doing so, they increase opportunities for advertising and other monetization strategies while also striving to enhance user satisfaction and loyalty. These algorithms are continually updated and refined to adapt to user behaviours and preferences, making them essential tools for modern social platforms.

Key Features of Instagram and Their Ranking Algorithms

Danni's Instagram Account

Stories and Posts

Stories and posts are fundamental features of Instagram. Instagram Stories is a feature that allows users to share photos, videos, and text that disappear after 24 hours. They appear at the top of a user's Instagram feed in a horizontal bar, and viewers can tap through them in a sequential manner. Stories are displayed in full-screen and typically consist of short-lived, informal content. Users can enhance their Stories with various interactive elements like stickers, polls, questions, GIFs, etc. Stories are meant to capture moments and events more temporarily and ephemeral than traditional posts.

Instagram posts are the standard images or videos that users can upload to their profiles. These posts appear in a user's main Feed and are displayed in a grid format on their profile page. Unlike Stories, posts do not disappear after 24 hours and remain on the user's profile unless deleted by the user. Captions, hashtags, and location tags can accompany posts. They can also receive likes, comments, and shares from other users, contributing to engagement and interaction on the platform.

When it comes to these features, Instagram's algorithm focuses on user engagement and personal preferences. The algorithm gauges how likely users interact with a specific story or post based on various signals. These signals include the user's history of interacting with stories, their relationship with the account, and information about the post itself. By analyzing these signals, Instagram ranks stories and posts to display the most relevant content to users.


Instagram Reels is a feature that lets users create and share short, up-to-60- second videos with music, text, effects, and filters. It's designed for quick, engaging content similar to TikTok.

The Instagram Reels algorithm draws content from both the accounts you're following and those you're not, aiming to engage you with videos you're likely to watch in their entirety.

The algorithm assesses this process by examining the following factors:

Your Engagement Activity: Indicators such as your interactions, likes, comments, and engagements with Reels provide Instagram insights into the type of content that could be most pertinent to your interests.

Your Interaction History with Creators: Comparable to the Explore section, Reels might present videos from unfamiliar creators. However, if you've previously engaged with their content, this interaction history is considered.

Reel Details: The Instagram algorithm endeavours to deduce the content of the video by considering elements such as the caption, audio track, and an analysis of visual details like pixels and frames. Additionally, the overall popularity of the video is also a factor.


The Instagram Feed is like a personalized gallery of posts from accounts you follow. It's a chronicle of your interests, connections, ads from businesses and suggested accounts that may be interesting and relevant to you.
For your Feed, the Instagram algorithm assesses the content from accounts you follow and predicts the probability of your engagement with a post based on these factors:

Post-specific details: This encompasses metrics like the number of likes a post has garnered, its posting time, and whether it has been tagged with a location. In the case of videos, their duration is taken into account. These indicators assist the algorithm in gauging the significance and popularity of a post.

Profile and interaction history: Instagram monitors your interactions with specific individuals, including comments, likes, profile visits, and other forms of engagement. This data aids in estimating how captivating a person might be to you.

Overall activity on the platform: The nature and frequency of posts you've engaged with offer insights into the types of content you might find appealing.

As for targeting ads that resonate with you, it garners data from Instagram, Facebook and external sources. It involves:

Activity Across Instagram and Facebook: The people you follow, the content you enjoy, and interconnected data if you've linked Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Content Interaction: The substance of your posts and engagements shapes the ad landscape around you.

Social Media Profile Information: Your interests on platforms like Facebook contribute to the ad targeting process.

External Activity: Even your behaviour on third-party websites and applications is factored in.

Information from Businesses and Advertisers: Shared details such as your email address can be integrated into the algorithm, enhancing the relevance of the ads you see.

Look at all these data points! I guess that's why the ads served are so aligned with your interests!


Explore on Instagram shows users recommendations such as photos and reels to help users discover new things from accounts users don't follow. These recommendations may be relevant to users' interests or similar to the content users previously interacted with. Explore is a prime avenue for discovering new content and organically connecting with a broader audience.

How to get featured on Explore feed? Several factors influence how content is presented in the Explore feed:

The Popularity of Posts: The algorithm considers the popularity of a post, analyzing metrics like likes, comments, shares, and saves, as well as the speed at which these interactions occur.

User Interaction History: Content from new-to-you accounts is featured, but accounts you've interacted with in the past receive a slight boost in visibility.

User Activity: The algorithm considers your past likes, comments, and saved posts to predict what kind of content you might be interested in.

Creator's History: If an account has recently interacted with users, it signals to Instagram that the account is producing compelling content that others might enjoy as well.

Tips for Growing Instagram Audiences

These tips for growing the Instgarm audience came from Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram. There is no silver bullet, but he suggested the following guides that will aid in growing your audiences.

1. Experiment and Adapt
Remember that each audience is unique and has no universal formula for success. Experiment with different types of content, posting times, and engagement strategies to gauge what resonates with your audience. Regularly monitor your insights to identify trends and refine your content approach.

2. Leverage Insights
Instagram Insights provides valuable data on your audience's behaviour, allowing you to understand what content performs well and what doesn't. Use this data to optimize your content strategy and tailor your posts to your audience's preferences.

3. Collaborate with Creators
Collaborating with other creators in your niche can introduce your content to new audiences. Joint projects and creative collaborations can spark engagement and expand your follower base.

4. Utilize Account Status
Instagram's Account Status feature offers insights into how your content is ranked and displayed. Monitor this information to address any recommendability issues and ensure your posts reach the intended audience.

5. Create Original and Engaging Content
The algorithm is increasingly favouring creators who generate original content rather than simply aggregating existing material. Develop captivating, unique content that resonates with your audience to boost engagement and visibility.

There you have it. Now that I understand the rules behind Stories, Posts, Reels, Feed and Explore, here is a better chance at playing it well. Here's to more likes, more followers, and lots more fun!🎈💃