How does Instagram’s algorithm actually work in 2020?

The Instagram algorithm is a topic that often comes up in client meetings. And I guess since they moved away from chronological feed there has been some confusion among marketers and clients alike. Usually questions are, do videos perform better than pictures? How do you get your posts seen by more followers? What should our hashtag strategy be?

Luckily Instagram set the record straight and cleared up many of the rumors about their algorithm.

The 6 Factors that influence the algorithm:

  • Interest
  • Relationships
  • Timeliness
  • Frequency
  • Following
  • Usage

Easy enough you may think, but wait there’s more. The algorithm is ever changing. The AI is constantly learning and adapting and so the only thing that is really constant about the algorithm is change. So you see there is no perfect formula and you will need to constantly adapt your Instagram strategy. Whats also interesting to note is that no two Instagram accounts will have the same feed! Yup what you see on your feed is totally unique to you. Okay lets take a deeper look at what’s important.


The Instagram algorithm not only looks at who you follow but also takes into account what you personally like. So the more Instagram thinks you will “like” something the higher in the feed it will be. When you start liking the posts in your personal feed and commenting on them, naturally this will push these types of posts to the top of your feed. So what you see in your feed is a combination of your past behaviors, similar posts and all your actions on Instagram. This is naturally very important to remember when you are managing a business account.

Engagement is another very important topic under this banner of #interest. What constitutes engagement and what is more important. According to Instagram the most important engagements for feed ranking are: comments, likes and shares.(kinda no brainer really!) For videos this would be views. In terms of strategy this is quite important when planning your captions and posts.



The Instagram Algorithm also determines which relationships are important to you. So friends and family accounts are prioritized in your feed. This is naturally something that takes a little time for the algorithm to figure out, but again is based on your actions likes ad comments. An example would be when you comment a lot on someones posts and like their content it is a clear signal to the algorithm that you probably fall into the “friends & family” category. Our assumption here is that the Facebook and Instagram relationship will also contribute much to the identifying of relationships in future if not already. Some of the most important criteria that could be used to identify relationships are:

  • People whose content you like
  • Direct messages that you send
  • Your searches for people and topics
  • People you know in real life

Have you ever observed how when you first connect with someone that their content features quite highly in your personal feed. This is the algorithm trying to learn what you like and what you don’t. So for example if you don’t interact with that content at all then it will drop from your feed in time. For marketers who run business accounts this is quite important as it means that you need to be active and literally show up so your clients accounts show up on feeds and gain followers. With account inactivity you will lose your followers over time as they are not engaging with you at all. So you may have 1000’s of followers but they aren’t worth anything to your business.

#tip – Posting good content, consistently is important for the algorithm, as it will indicate that you are a quality account. The more frequently you post the more followers will engage with your account. However a word of caution here. If you post several times a day and then start dropping off to only a few times per week you will see a significant drop in engagement levels and followers. So when you set your posting strategy ensure that you have enough resources to create the right content and that you can maintain your posting schedule. This is where most companies will engage with marketing companies to make use of their social media services.


The algorithm is also taking into account how long ago a photo was posted. So the fact that the post had a high engagement rate is not the only factor that determines how it will show up in feeds. Instagram wants to give its App users the latest posts as often as possible. Because of this it is quite important to figure out when your followers are online so you can schedule your posts accordingly. This way you give yourself a chance of increasing your likes and engagement rate. Research conducted by showed that the best posting time generally is 9 am – 11 am EST. However this will differ from target market to target market and timezone to timezone.


The App also sorts your feed according to your usage of the app. So for example if you scroll a lot then your feed will have more of a chronological feel to it. It tries to determine what you need to see since your last visit. Whereas if you are an infrequent user of the App then the algorithm will try and serve up what it thinks you will like the most. The algorithm is constantly learning from you and will therefore tailor make your feed to your requirements.


If you follow a large number of accounts then naturally the Instagram algorithm will have loads of options to choose from when determining your feed. however if you only follow a small number of accounts then your feed will be determined accordingly. So ideally for marketers in a perfect world you would have a large number of followers whose accounts only follow a few people. This way your posts would feature more often in their feeds. However because we don’t live in a perfect world, engagement with your followers is so important.

#App Usage

The time that you spend on the App will also determine how deep the algorithm digs to get you the right content. So if you are only spending a little time on the App then you will only get a snapshot of the days highlights. From an engagement perspective you can also derive that accounts that merely post but don’t interact with other accounts will not show up as readily in feeds as accounts that are constantly engaging with others.


We hope that these insights will help you create a great Instagram strategy for this year. If you would like more info feel free to give us a shout we are here to help.