The real Instagram challenge: making the algorithm work for you

Fueled by interactive features such as stories and shoppable photos, it’s easy to see why Instagram has
doubled its usage to over 800 million monthly active users in recent years. It’s social at its most visual; the perfect place to build a brand and capture an engaged audience.

Indeed, with over 1 million brands using the platform to market their product or service, businesses should be looking to ensure they are active and prominent on the platform. Engagement and visibility is key.

However, changes to the Instagram algorithm is seemingly making a lot of people quake in their proverbial boots…but should they be worried, or simply change the way they use the platform?

Prior to 2016, Instagram’s algorithm was fairly straightforward. Posts were ordered chronologically. It didn’t matter their engagement rate; you just saw the latest post from the people you follow at the very top of your feed.

But in March 2016, this changed. Instagram implemented a new algorithm which moved away from chronological feeds, to a more user engagement-based experience. ‘Engagement’ extends to likes, comments, video views, saves, shares, direct messages…basically any form if interaction a post receives. The greater the level of engagement, the more Instagram believes the content is quality and ‘worthy’ of being seen. So, what can you do to ensure you are making the most out of the platform?

Focus on early engagement

The current algorithm rewards you for your engagement with others; whether it be with your followers or with people that you follow, so it is imperative that you are setting time aside in your social media schedule to engage with other Instagrammers. And research is showing that the first hour after posting is the most crucial in terms of increasing your posts visibility; if someone comments on your post, engage with them as soon as you can…even if it is with a simple ‘heart’.

One way of encouraging this early engagement is through a ‘comment pod’; a groups of up to 30 Instagrammers who have agreed to join a collective group chat in the app itself. The rule is that each person must like and comment on any post a member sends through to the group; in effect, working together to comment on each others posts on a daily basis to essentially increase post engagement. It can really work, especially when everyone does their part. They are a bone of contention; some people believe they are an unethical in-app strategy but others swear by them.

But there is no doubt that, when use properly, they can contribute to that early engagement that the new algorithm is built on.

Find out when your audience is the most active

If you have a business account on Instagram, then on your profile page you will find a graph icon in the top right hand corner. If you have never paid attention to what details this feature throws up, now is a good time to click on it and take some notes! When you click on this graph icon, you will see some interesting data about your followers including gender, location and even how many new followers you have attracted in the past 7 days. Clicking on ‘see more’ will allow you see the days of the week and times of day where your followers are the most active, and where you are best placed to post for optimal engagement.

There is no point in posting when your collective audience is at its least active. It’s a missed opportunity compared to a great time of day, or day of the week, when your followers will engage more with what you have to show or say.

It’s all in the image…or is it?

Do you pay attention to your captions? Or are you all about the image itself? By paying close attention to the story you are offering up as part of your overall post, you can increase your engagement levels. How? It’s really simple. If you post an engaging story along with an engaging image, you are effectively doubling your capacity to engage your audience. A compelling story will encourage your followers to click ‘more’ or engage by posting a comment, thus giving them a reason to hang around on your post for a lot longer.

You can sit and write your captions at your desktop. Choose a time where you are feeling the most creative and challenge yourself to write more than you usually would. Don’t be afraid to add in some personality; remember that age old adage…people buy from people at the end of the day. And if you use a scheduling app such as Later, you can then input your crafted caption and chosen image, and schedule them to go out at a time where your audience is most active. Try it. You’ll be surprised what an effect it can have on how your followers respond to your posts.

Sort out your hashtags

Some strategists are saying its best to use five carefully selected hashtags…but when you have thirty available to use, use them. But what is key, is to ensure you are using hashtags that are meaningful to your product, your brand, and your industry.

Make a list of all the hashtags that are relevant to what you are posting and save these in your notes on your phone.

You can then copy and paste them into the caption (posting hashtags in captions rather than comments has a better impact for your post), deleting out any that you don’t want to use. Change it up frequently, so that Instagram doesn’t assume you are a bot and place a shadow ban on you!

What not to do…

NEVER buy followers. Whilst it may seem great to have 20k followers…only 1k of those might be organic, engaged followers; people who follow you for a reason, because they are genuinely interested in what you have to say. When you buy followers, you buy mainly fake accounts who will never engage with your posts. And what is the point in having great content if nobody engages with it.

By building your followers in an organic, sensible way may take a long time and lots of hard work, but at least you know those people are 100% engaged with your brand. And it is only through an engaged audience that your brand will grow and your sales revenue will increase.

Jenna Collier is the founder and Creative Director of Wonderland Invites, an Essex-based business making beautiful wedding stationery. She’s an Instagram Pro and has built up her following organically to rival that of many industry influencers.

Jenna will be hosting the Connecting With Cocktails Business Club with Blue Cactus Digital later this year.