Instagram Algorithm 2021: Important Elements & How To Leverage it!

16th Apr. 2021

Instagram today has roughly one billion monthly active users. It belongs to the most popular social media networks worldwide. Instagram or the social photo-sharing app is especially popular in the US and India, both of which have close to 140 million users each. So have you ever wondered how Instagram determines which content meets their criteria?

The Instagram algorithm came into the picture to help surface the most relevant and best content to every user each time they open their Instagram feed. So how does it actually work? Let’s dig into some of the factors that best suit the Instagram algorithm. Instagram's algorithm decides what content is to be viewed. Every time someone opens insta, the algorithm instantly goes through all the available content and decides:

  • Which posts go to the top of the News Feed and in what order;
  • What posts are shown in the Explore tab
  • In what order the stories, live videos, reels and IGTV videos appear, in the feed, and their respective tabs etc.
Instagram says that before the algorithm was implemented in 2016, people missed 70% of posts and 50% of their friends' posts.

The 2021 algorithm bases rankings, or the order in which you see content, on five basic pillars

1. Interest

Instagram serves you content based on the majority of your interests. Users see content based on the accounts they interact with. If there is a certain kind of content that you interact with more frequently (eg, food), Instagram may rank content of that genre (eg, food, restaurants, etc.) higher on your feed. So what does it actually mean for a user to interact with the content? Here are some common ways that users interact.

  • Liking posts
  • Posts commented on
  • Sharing posts
  • Posts you have been tagged in, by, and with all these interactions show that you have interests in these accounts, users, and subject topics. The Instagram algorithm takes into account all of these and shows you the most relevant content.

2. Relationship

While surfing Instagram, you will likely come across various accounts. These can be broken down into two categories: the accounts you like to watch and the accounts you don't really like that much. An example would be if you like your friends' content, cooking videos, and images, architectural images. Accounts you don't like much would be rap music and hip-hop dances.

Instagram's algorithm develops a clear picture of what their users have a relationship with. Information such as who you are looking for, message or your strongest relationship is taken taken into account by the algorithm. Thus it determine how close you are to them and help to offer you better content on a daily basis.

3. Timeliness

Some time ago, users complained about the news on Instagram. In the past, users were used to seeing posts that were several weeks old, or even days old. Instagram algorithm in 2021 changed that. The app places a lot of emphasis on timeliness and makes sure people see fresh posts. Instagram's goal was to make sure you see more up-to-date posts than the old ones.

According to a talk by Instagram's Thomas Dimson, Instagram's algorithm only rearranges new posts between your current visit and your last visit. For example, if you scroll through your Insta timeline at 10 pm and check it again at 9 a.m. the next morning, Instagram will only sort the posts created between your records.

4. Frequency

Did you know that your Instagram usage plays an important role in deciding what you see in your feed too? This is called a usage frequency. If you open Instagram every hour or more, all your posts will show up in more chronological order rather than you were to use it in less frequency. The timeliness Instagram algorithm makes sure you see the freshest post. So the more often you scroll the more content you will see based on the time stamp. If your usage of the app is once a week, you’d see posts that are based on the combination of relationship and interests in chronological order.

5. Following

If you are an Instagram user that follows a lot of accounts, chances are that you will see a lot of fresh content. On the other hand, if you follow few accounts, you may see your content repeating in your feed or are likely to see more from their closest friends or favorite accounts. In 2020, Instagram had its fair share of complaints in terms of the content that was delivered to users. Users complained that the content they saw kept repeating or was outdated. This was the main reason why Instagram developed and came with an algorithm update in 2021.

6. Usage

Whether a user tends to browse Instagram in short bursts or in longer sessions, it can also affect what the algorithm shows. If a user prefers short Instagram visits, the algorithm ensures that they show the most relevant posts first, while, for users who prefer longer browsing sessions, it can provide a more comprehensive catalog of fresh content.

5 Ways to leverage Instagram algorithm

Instead of telling you how to beat the Instagram algorithm, below we'll walk you through how to build on it and use it to your advantage.

1. Embrace the latest features

It's important for Instagram to drive adoption of new features, which makes new features more important in the app. It is important to note that this does not mean that the Instagram algorithm automatically promotes a specific type of post. However, it does give new features a premium place, like placing Instagram Stories at the very top of the screen or, more recently, moving the Instagram Reels icon to the center of your menu bar.

2. Vary your post types

Using a variety of post types - single image, carousel posts, IGTV, reels, stories, and lives - is the key to successfully navigating the Instagram algorithm. It's a common misconception that Instagram's algorithm favors video over photos. In reality, the algorithm will favor whatever a user interacts with the most. For example, if someone tends to like and comment on Instagram Reels more often than on other types of posts, Instagram's algorithm will favor Reels for that person.

Sharing your content in different forms allows you to reach a wider range of people. Plus, it's a great way to reuse your content. Not everyone watches videos, so you can turn your video into a carousel post. Or you can appeal to Instagram Stories fans by re-sharing the posts to your Stories.


3. Post at the best times for your business

There's no single fit-for-all time to post on Instagram. To find your best suited time to post, you should consider two things:

  • When your greatest number of subscribers are active on the platform
  • When your brand is most relevant to them.

The best way to find a perfect post time is to test and see which post time generates the most audience engagement. But if you don't have enough resources or time to run your own tests, Sprout Social, a social media management platform with over 20,000 customers, has you covered.

Best Time to Post on Instagram Each Day

  • Sunday: 8 AM – 2 PM (Engagement is generally low on this day)
  • Monday: 11 AM – 2 PM
  • Tuesday: 10 AM – 3 PM, *7 PM
  • Wednesday: 7 AM - 4 PM (Engagement peaks at 11AM - 2PM)
  • Thursday: 10 AM - 2 PM, 6 - 7 PM
  • Friday: *9 AM - 2 PM
  • Saturday: 9 - 11 AM

4. Create a hashtag strategy


Since users can search and even follow hashtags, adding them to every post increases your chances of reaching a larger audience. Additionally, studies show that posts with hashtags receive higher engagement than those without. You can use various tools to search for trending instagram hashtags: Ingramer | Toolzu | All hashtags

4. Focus on authentic engagement

Instagram's algorithm rewards engagement. So instead of wasting energy on Instagram algorithm hacks that only give you short-term results, focus on the connections you make with your audience. Be sure to respond to direct messages and comments on your posts. The more you interact, the better. Another easy way to encourage engagement is to use interactive stickers, such as polls, questions, and sliding rankings, on your Instagram Stories. And don't forget about user-generated content. People love to see their own photos or videos shared on brand pages.

Final Thoughts

Whatever tactic you choose to focus on to improve your algorithm ranking in 2021, the most important thing is to keep engaging with your audience at the heart of your strategy. Building a genuine relationship with your followers is the most powerful way to “hack” the algorithm and, most importantly, it will work wonders for your brand too. Whichever tactic you choose to focus on to improve your algorithm ranking in 2021, the most important thing is to continue to engage with your audience at the heart of your strategy. Building a real relationship with your followers is the most powerful way to 'hack' the algorithm and most importantly, it will also work wonders for your brand.

If you are a marketer who wants to get the most out of your Instagram marketing campaign, DigitalCrafts can help. We are one of the best Social media marketing agencies out there that understands the ever-changing algorithm behind every major social media network. We can help you market your business to more interested customers through Instagram's algorithm, in addition to helping you set up Instagram ads to take your presence to the next level. Interested in marketing on other social media platforms? Write to us at [email protected] or Book your free audit now!

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