If you have spent any time around social media you’ve almost certainly heard the term “algorithm” thrown around a lot. But what is an “algorithm?”
Algorithm: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
So what does that mean in terms of social media, and specifically Instagram?
The simplest way to summarize the Instagram algorithm is that – It’s how Instagram ranks posts.
Instagram, according to their site, is a platform to “experience moments in your friends’ lives through pictures as they happen.” What that means is that companies and brands are immediately penalized by the Instagram algorithm. An Instagram user’s feed is prioritized based on the types of posts they engage with most as well as ensuring that non-business users are prioritized by their followers’ feeds. That means that if you want to rank highly in your followers’ feeds, you first need to get them to engage with your content and consistent engagement is preferable. Well, isn’t that a pickle? But… how do we get the engagement if we aren’t ranking high? Fantastic question!
2 ways to rank higher on Instagram:
- No days off: When a follower first follows your brand, their feed is going to prioritize your most recent 3-5 posts. So what does that mean for our content? Since we can’t know for sure when people are going to start following us, every post matters! Let me say that again EVERY POST MATTERS! Everything you post on social media should have a purpose, a target, and a desired outcome. That means no posts that are “good enough” or “just okay.” Strive for every post to be excellent. You should assume that absolutely every one of your Instagram posts will be someone’s first impression of you and your business!
- Boost posts: There is a lot of confusing information out there about boosting posts on social media and what the use cases are but one thing that boosting posts will do is boost where your posts rank in your followers’ feeds.
Boosting posts is easy enough. You pay $ and you get more visibility on your posts – simple! But that extra visibility is wasted if the content itself is not compelling, engaging, and visually appealing. So how do we create better, more engaging content?
How to create better content:
It all starts with understanding your follower base. Take a deep dive into the people who follow your brand. What other brands do they follow? What kind of content do they engage with? The next thing to do is have some conversations with your followers. One of the most important rules of branding is that your brand isn’t what you think it is, it’s what your consumers say it is. So by talking to your followers and getting their feedback, you can lean into their vision of your brand which is truly the only one that matters.
Once you have an idea of your brand understood, it’s time to get down to the tactics. Remember what I said earlier “everything you post on social media should have a purpose, a target, and a desired outcome.”
Purpose: This is the why for your post. You can choose to educate your audience by giving them some sort of informational tutorial or process. You can ask a question to get feedback. You can even post with the purpose of just putting a smile on your followers’ faces.
Target: This is the specific audience you are attempting to communicate with. This could be your entire follower base or a specific subset of your followers that is the most active.
Desired outcome: What do you hope your followers will do after seeing this post? You may want them to go to your profile and click the link in your bio. You may want your audience to comment, like, or share the post for brand awareness and exposure. No matter your goal, it’s important to create your content with that specific goal in mind so that it all makes sense and flows together.
One of the main questions we get asked is “how often should I post?” According to Instagram’s best practices, the recommendation is a vague “often.” Well… that’s not very helpful! What that means is that you will not be penalized for posting several times per day. As a general rule, we like to tell folks that posting once per day on their main feed and around 3 to 5 stories is plenty. You can do more, you can do less. But whatever cadence you choose, you need to be specific. The Instagram algorithm loves consistency!
We talk a lot about consistency and the importance of having a long-term strategy in this post of ours if you’re interested in learning more on that topic.
There are of course other ways to boost engagement, follower count, and interest quickly. If your goal is to boost followers rapidly, you may need to set some dollars aside to run an Instagram giveaway.
Example: Tag 3 friends in a comment to be entered for a chance to win a free gift basket.
The giveaway can be anything but the cost of entry is always engagement with your content! This is a quick way to boost your ranking in the algorithm, but the boost you get will likely be temporary. It’s important to note that it is easy to fall into the trap of being “hacky” with giveaways. Most followers you gain from giveaways will stop following you when the giveaway concludes. We recommend using this tactic very occasionally and if you decide to do a giveaway with another local business, make sure you are working with someone you trust!
Another tried and true method of getting more exposure on posts is good use of hashtags. Hashtags are searchable so even people who don’t follow you can see your posts in their explore section. The one main drawback to this for local businesses is that many of the followers you get from this strategy may not be local to your area. The value of this strategy varies depending on your business model and your goals.
Finally, going live on Instagram is a great way to connect with your followers. When you go live on Instagram, your followers that are currently using the platform may be notified and your live video may show up at the front of the stories section ensuring that you are the first thing they see. Just like your feed, the more someone watches your Instagram stories, the higher you’ll rank for them. This ranking works in your benefit to pull your content up for those engaged viewers. In the social media landscape, being first goes a long way!
In order to get the best results possible, it’s important to mix and match the strategies we’ve talked about in this post. The more diverse your approach the more the Instagram algorithm will love you and the more your followers will have the opportunity to engage with you.