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How Businesses Can Create Algorithm-Friendly Instagram Content

Instagram is an important part of any social media marketing campaign. Follow these steps to produce Instagram content that stays on top of the platform’s ever-changing news feed algorithm.

The creation of the Instagram news feed algorithm in 2016 felt like the beginning of the end of organic reach for the platform. Marketers were told that posts would no longer be displayed chronologically. Instead, content would appear in news feeds based on user tastes, and what Instagram deemed of higher value. The impact on paid and organic promotions forced social media marketers to rethink their Instagram content.

Since then, both the platform and the algorithm have gone through several updates and changes. A significant change has been the double-back on some of the initial intentions of the algorithm. Very recently Instagram announced that users will see more timely content in their news feeds, balancing the need for fresh content and algorithm-decided relevant content.

Again, marketers are left wondering what the ramifications will be and what changes they should make to their Instagram content strategies.

Instagram Content and the News Feed Algorithm

How Businesses Can Create Algorithm-Friendly Instagram Content — What the Algorithm Changed

Image via sergey causelove.

Instagram news feeds used to be simple. The most recent posts were the first to show up in a user’s news feed. If you published 5 minutes later than your competitor, your posts would display first.

However, in 2016 developers came up with a new strategy to increase engagement. The new strategy came about because users were missing about 70 percent of the content shared on the platform. Instagram called it “optimizing the order,” which shifted content from appearing in chronological order to what machine learning decided was relevant content. The machine learning algorithm used a magic formula that, at the time, was more or less unknown to marketers.

Good News and Bad News for Marketers and Users

The good news for marketers was that they didn’t have to post as often to be successful organically. To get organic traction, they had to have high-value Instagram content, and a proven history of engaging content. This isn’t always easy for a brand.

Of course, they could still get eyes on everything they posted but only if they sponsored posts and ran ads. Just like Facebook’s news feed changes, this algorithmic change also drives advertising revenue for Instagram. That means success with Instagram content likely needs a budget behind it.

For users, the changes meant they’d see more of what they liked. Users were more likely to see content from the people and brands they already interacted with on a regular basis. Content would also appear based on the friends or influencers users followed, as well as content from similar accounts related to that user’s other known interests. However, this highly tailored experience wasn’t always a good thing.

News feeds started to become stale. The most engaging accounts were showing up at the top of their feeds each time users opened the app. This often meant content from the same accounts was appearing too frequently. Many posts from friends and family went unseen, much to the disapproval of many users.

Lessons Learned

That brings us to this most recent news feed change. Current content and engaging posts now share top spots on user news feeds, a welcomed change to those frustrated by missing interesting content. Similar to Facebook’s current newsfeed, Instagram is starting to test a “New Posts” refresh button for users who miss the chronological feed.

This creates a new opportunity for marketers by opening the door more to organic reach. Overall though, Instagram strategies need to balance engaging, quality, and high-value content with paid efforts.

Quality Instagram Content Improves Organic Success

How Businesses Can Create Algorithm-Friendly Instagram Content — How to Achieve Organic Success

Image via Dasha Petrenko.

Instagram will continue to make new feed updates to drive engagement and revenue. For now, let’s focus on the former, which marketers can achieve through quality content.

By using eye-catching visuals and targeted messaging to align with your brand and your audience, you’re more likely to grow your organic social traffic. High-quality content wins on all fronts and makes Instagram show your posts in more news feeds.

  • It generates engagement
  • It’s relevant for your target audience
  • People spend more time reading or watching your posts
  • It encourages new relationships
  • It’s fresh

Content works even better when it adds value to your followers or triggers emotions. Your posts should genuinely inspire people to like and share your content.

You want to use targeted, carefully selected hashtags, and you can use shortcuts like Instagram Pods to increase engagement. But at the end of the day, your content must be interesting to remain in Instagram’s algorithmic good graces.

Best Practices to Stay Competitive

Quality content can be subjective, but the best practices to create it are not. Whether you’re looking at developing organic or paid content, there are some general best practices to keep in mind to drive conversions.

  • Storytelling: Add narratives to posts. Make your content feel less like promotions and more like valuable content.
  • Humanity: Give your brand a human feeling. Research your audience, and learn to speak in their style.
  • Calls to Action: Tell people what to do. Use the right trigger words to create engaging calls to action and try alternative’s to the common “submit” or “sign up now.”
  • Audience Profiles: Adapt your message to your different audiences. Instagram gives you useful insights about your audience and this can help you create tailored content or custom ads.
  • Different Formats: Experiment with new formats. Single images, single videos, slideshows, carousels, lead ads, and canvases are just a few Instagram ad formats available.
  • Hashtagging: Use hashtags in moderation. Hashtags are great for increasing engagement but overusing them can feel promotional. Also pay attention to banned hashtags and do your best to avoid them.
  • Geo-tagging: Posts that tag a location register up to 79% more engagement than the posts with no specified location. Use geo-tagging when you think it could add value to your post.

Paid Instagram Content is Here to Stay

How Businesses Can Create Algorithm-Friendly Instagram Content — How to Use Paid Content

Image via Dasha Petrenko.

Instagram is always trying to drive ad revenue.  With over 800 million users and 2 million advertisers it should come as little surprise that they make news feed algorithm changes with advertising in mind.

The good news is that these ads generally seem to work. Shopify says that Instagram has an average conversion rate of 1.08%, which is higher than other social platforms like Twitter and Pinterest.

These high returns will continue to rise as Instagram grows in importance for businesses and advertisers. Marketers are Instagram’s actual customers. Instagram relies on marketers for revenue, and they want to drive greater engagement on paid content so that you’ll spend more.

Following Instagram News Feed Updates

How Businesses Can Create Algorithm-Friendly Instagram Content — Start with Quality Content

Image via I Water.

Instagram will continue to make changes. As it does, Instagram will give little advanced information about how changes can impact content marketing. Sometimes they will offer small reveals or beta features to give some idea of whats coming, but rarely enough to justify large shifts in strategy.

Instead of trying to guess where they’re going, build your strategy around developing quality content for your posts and ads that are in line with best practices. Quality content is what drives engagement, and in turn, what drives revenue for your brand. These factors will always be a constant for Instagram.

Observe your audience over time and measure interactions to collect key performance indicators. You can see what works and what doesn’t and make small changes over time. That way, regardless of the details of new algorithm changes, you’ll create Instagram content that’s best suited to appease your audience and support your strategy.

Remember that even as Instagram’s algorithm continues to develop, delivering valuable content alongside eye-catching, compelling visuals ensures you’ll be set up for success.

Top image via Dasha Petrenko.

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