archive: ponder | why I love/hate the Instagram algorithm

*This post was originally published on my previous blog, Kaleidoscope of Fashion

It is Australia Day long weekend here in Melbourne. Summer is in full swing, the tennis grand finals are on and there is so much to do, see, eat and indulge in. 

Of course, a long weekend also means lots of time with my favourite social media app – Instagram. I am unashamedly an avid user of Instagram, tapping the little purple/orange icon about 5-10 times a day, on average. This is a lot more than how much attention I give to Facebook (about 3 x taps a day) and Twitter (about 1 tap a month unless there’s something really big happening like The Bachelor finale). 

But lately I have found myself feeling increasingly frustrated with Instagram, especially due to:

1. What it does with the content I post; and

2. What kind of content I get to see on my feed. 

The Instagram algorithm – in a nutshell

Many of you have no doubt noticed that Instagram brought out it’s little algorithm feature sometime last year, with the hope of providing users with more “tailored” content. In a nutshell (according to buffer social), the algorithm works off a number of elements, including your hashtags, number of likes and comments, relevance of the content and timing of your post to prioritise and rank your post. The aim is to show content to readers who are more likely to be interested in that content. Thus, a curation of content is already done for you every time you scroll through your feed, and you can spend less time on content that may not be relevant to you, and more time being connected to content that you are actually likely to be interested in. Sounds like a pretty nifty idea! 

I think the algorithm hates me as much as I hate it

Perhaps my biggest gripe with Instagram algorithm is that instead of connecting users with relevant content, the algorithm is taking people away from content that they are interested in. To better illustrate this, let me take you through a few numbers.

Before the days of Instagram algorithm, I did a back-of-the-envelope calc on some of my favourite power bloggers and noticed that about 5% of your total number of followers are likely to engage with your post. That is, if you have 100,000 followers, approximately 5,000 of those followers will like/comment on your post, provided that your post is in line with your branding (e.g. a fashion post linked to a fashion account). 

A more recent back-of-the-envelope calc performed in January 2018 shows that this % of engagement has dropped to about 1% – 2% per post. That is, out of the 100,000 followers, only 1,000 to 2,000 of those followers are liking/commenting on your post. 

Since my Instagram presence is still so tiny, I would be stoked if I had 100,000 followers or even just 1,000 likes on a single post (still yet to hit that record). But the numbers above just seems quite counter-intuitive to me, given that the algorithm was designed to connect readers to content that they are more likely to be interested in. If it was really working, shouldn’t bloggers be seeing an increase in their engagement per post, because their content should be reaching a bigger % of people who are likely to be interested in their content? 

Unfortunately, even as a tiny blogger in the Instagram universe I am experiencing this adverse side-effect of the Instagram algorithm. I am finding it difficult to get my content to a broader group, no matter how many strategic hashtags I use. The only thing that seems to help is if I post consecutively for a few days, then suddenly it’s like the Instagram gods have decided to recognise my existence and put my post in front of a few more people. But then when I go back to life/my day job and haven’t produced any content for about a week, the algorithm ignores me again. 

It’s almost like a dysfunctional co-dependent relationship, “does it like me today? will it still like me tomorrow? how do I get it to like my content again?!” 

But I do love the content it puts in my feed

Having used Instagram for about 6 years now, I love what my feed is showing me every single day. It seems to have me figured out by now, and I can trust that when I wake up in the morning and tap on that little icon, I will be greeted with photos of beautiful fashion illustrationscorporate style inspiration, travel photos taken from all corners of the worldphotos of law libraries (because I find giant volumes of neatly organised books very calming) and a little something that makes me laugh

But sometimes I do get tired of seeing posts from the same accounts day in day out, because the algorithm works off my “likes” and thinks that if I liked what I saw today, I will like something from the same account tomorrow, or the same for the day after that. But the human mind is a fickle being, and as a millennial with my short attention span, I want variety and lots of it. 

So I go to the Explore page, and am then bombarded with really random content like videos of cute puppies, posts from wedding inspo accounts, posts from other fashion bloggers that I’m not following yet and photos of girls showing off in bikinis. Those first 3 categories I’m totally cool with, but that last category often has me pulling a “bleh” face. Some of those posts are very plasti-cky and really the result of nips/tucks rather than mother nature and good old exercise. Other posts can be quite inappropriate. Clearly, Instagram algorithm thinks it has me figured out, when it really hasn’t. There’s still room for improvement! 

Some of my favourite Instagram feeds: 

Can we outsmart the Instagram algorithm?

The short answer is, YES! But it takes time, or as a seasoned instagrammer describes, a little bit of elbow grease. Actually, until I started researching for this post, I didn’t realise how many other bloggers (big and small) were facing similar frustrations with Instagram algorithm, and the unexpected barrier that it has created for their ability to engage with their audience. 

There are plenty of interesting reads from bloggers from various levels sharing their experience (see for example: icingandglitter who used the algorithm as an opportunity to embrace change, chrislovesjulia who offers pragmatic tips for reflecting on your own instagram behaviour and fashionlush who is adopting an edgy attitude towards beating the algorithm). 

But if you’re like me, an Instagram hobbyist whose day-job does not include posting on Instagram multiple times a day and engaging with followers around the clock, here are my tips on how you can beat the Instagram algorithm (or at least put yourself on its radar): 

1. Establish a frequency for posting 

Publishing multiple post per week, especially one each day and establishing a consistent pattern of it is, from my experience, an effective way to get yourself back on the algorithm. 

But to do this requires planning. Planning out your content, your posting schedule, captions, hashtags etc. 

I find an easy way to do this is to pick a theme for my “grid” and work that theme through my 9 to 12 posts within the “grid”. For example, I’ve been into florals lately because we’ve had really lovely sunny weather, so within my 9 to 12 posts, I want at least a quarter of them to be related to something floral. 

Alternatively it might be worth looking at Instagram scheduling apps that help you “post” at certain times, as well as plan out your grid and see which posts lead to most engagement. I’ll be trying out one called Plann this month so I am really excited to see how this will impact on my Instagram.  

But most of the time, I’m a bit more spontaneous with my posting habits so that it is reflective of real-time activities (but the spontaneity also means that I sometimes compromise on the layout of my grid). It’s all a bit of a balancing act! 

2. Become part of the community 

At its core, Instagram is about building a community. So the basic principles of integrating yourself into a community will help get you on the radar. 

Learn the social norms, find your niche, and start interacting. Leave comments on posts that you like, respond to questions, and if you find content that really inspires you, share the love and express your appreciation!  

3. Produce “worthy” content 

In a social media world, content is king. This is the part I struggle with the most, as my day job in consulting + my night classes in law school give me very little instagrammable materials so I can only think about content in my spare time, especially on weekends. 

But when I do post, I try to make sure that it is worth the effort for both myself and the audience. There is so much clutter on Instagram that generic posts just don’t cut it anymore. I have been tempted at times to just put up something generic for the sake of posting something, and not only do I feel un-inspired in posting generic content, the engagement is very limited as well. 

I know it is anxiety-inducing to watch your Instagram sitting there unchanged because you haven’t had time to produce new content but trust me, in looking at my stats for posts with the most engagement, it does pay off to take time and produce content that is worthy of attention. 


So here I am making peace with Instagram algorithm, and in the process, learning about how to produce better content and managing my posting schedule. 

What do you think about Instagram algorithm? Love it/hate it? 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments box below! 


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