Whether you use your Instagram as a personal or a business account, you may have noticed that your engagement has gone down over the last couple of weeks. By engagement, I mean the views, likes, comments, and shares on your posts and stories. It seems as though people just aren’t following through with your content anymore. If you speak to some of your followers, they will tell you that they don’t even see your posts in the first place. Now, we have the new Instagram algorithm to blame for this.

The Instagram algorithm is one that has been questioned for the longest time, and it seems to be worsening as the years go by. By virtue of this, it has become necessary that we, the users, learn to outsmart the algorithm before it outsmarts us. If you run a public account, an influencer account, or a business account, then this becomes even more important to you, because then, numbers are your number one priority. In the era we live in currently, the digital space has become a source of income for many, and if that’s the case, then numbers matter. This is undebatable.

Let’s start by understanding what the social media algorithm is in the first place. This is a way of sorting posts in a users’ feed based on relevancy instead of publishing time. Social networks prioritize which content a user sees in their feed first by the likelihood that they’ll actually want to see it.

In simple terms, the algorithm is what makes three-hour old posts appear on your timeline while you miss out on three-minute old posts. Ironic, right?

Five years after its inception, the Instagram algorithm was introduced and has since changed everything about the way the application works. In March 2016, the Instagram feed got a total makeover. In an effort to reduce missed posts, Instagram officially switched from displaying content chronologically to using an algorithm to sort posts. Years later, the algorithm has advanced to a more complex system. As of 2020, the Instagram algorithm is based on machine learning, so the way it ranks your posts is constantly evolving. The new Instagram will tell your audience that they’re “all caught up” even when they aren’t, and as someone who makes money off the app, this means trouble.

What does this mean for you as an Instagram user? In order to outsmart this algorithm, you must find ways to ensure that your content always appears on your audience’s feed. Doing this will make sure that you have an actual impact on them based on your posts. This is even more important for business users and social media influencers.

Indeed, Instagram has taught us that the world does not revolve around us, at least not when it comes to using the application. However, here are a few tips on how to outsmart the Instagram Algorithm:

  1. Don’t just post, communicate with your audience.

The Instagram algorithm is predictive, in that it can project what every individual likes, based on what they look at frequently. The more it thinks you will ‘like’ a certain post, the more it will appear on your feed.

Based on this information, you need to communicate with your audience and not just put up posts. Be relatable by finding a cohesive balance between your perspectives of life. That’s the kind of content that will be likeable and will appear on other people’s feeds more often.

Use catchy captions with trendy jokes and stories, and make sure to post high quality content, both picture and video. Everyone likes good quality.

  1. Engage with your audience

You need to build a relationship with your audience. Instagram prioritizes family and friends in terms of content, which puts businesses at the bottom of the hierarchy. Therefore, you will need to build that relationship with your audience. For a page that has a high number of followers, it becomes quite challenging to respond to every single comment or Direct Message (D.M) that is sent. However, if you want your numbers to grow you must put in the extra effort. When it comes to feed performance, the algorithm prioritizes content that receives the most engagement. Therefore, even if you have 200 comments and it may take forever to respond to each and every one of them, do that. Engage with your followers and it will pay in the end.

  1. Post frequently

If you’re trying to gain numbers and yet you’re not a regular Instagram user, it might be time to change that. The Instagram algorithm works for you when you post frequently. Think of it as a game. The more you play, the higher your chances of winning. Obviously, there isn’t a specific number of posts that you should put up. This is dependent on you, the amount of time you have and the effort required in curating the content.  However, a point to note is that to engage with your audience, they must have content to engage with in the first place.

Social media expert Neil Patel explains, “The best posting frequency for Instagram is the posting frequency that you can consistently maintain for the rest of your natural life.” For this reason, you should make use of scheduling apps and softwares, so that even in the event that you’re too busy or you forget, your content consistently goes up.

  1. Be intentional about the times that you post

Have you ever made a comparison of how much engagement you get on Instagram based on what time you put up content? Well, it’s time that you do, because this also affects the number of people who get to see your posts.

These timings would, of course, vary depending on the country. Generally, Instagram users in Kenya tend to log in more in the morning (6 A.M to 9 A.M) and in the evenings (between 5 P.M and 10 P.M). However, you can’t just go by this because it is an extremely generalized result. The best way to find out is to try. Put up posts at different times of the day and monitor the engagement for each of these posts. This way, you will be closer to figuring out the timings that work best for your audience.

Dani The Explorer puts it this way: Instagram is a social platform that makes money from ads. The easiest way for your followers to see company ads is to keep your followers on the app longer. That means that the more time you keep your followers on the app, the more the Instagram algorithm will favor you.

  1. Experiment the different Instagram features

Instagram has so many different features that need to be tapped into. This ties in with frequency. You don’t have to wait for the perfect post when you can just go live or post a random selfie on your instastories. You can put up polls, quizzes, and reels, and by doing so, you entice your audience to keep coming to you knowing that they’ll always find something new, something different.

Interestingly, user preference is changing from liking hyper-curated accounts to liking more real, more personal content. In other words, casual selfies are (generally speaking) performing better on Instagram than posed red carpet photos and shots of unrealistic, contrived scenarios.

So, because preference is what breeds favour when it comes to Instagram, give people what they want to see. Rather than posting over-edited images with complicated graphics, be simple. Post content that the audience can relate to. Don’t be a perfectionist when it comes to Instagram. Because apparently, the perfect content is less preferred.