How Does Instagram's Algorithm Work in 2021?

11 May 2021

The Instagram algorithm was created to ensure the most relevant content specific to each user surfaces on their Instagram feed. 

Wondering why there always seems to be a new algorithm? It's because the algorithm uses machine learning; the study of computer algorithms to optimise through the use of data, which is what customises what shows up in each account’s feed. This works in the same way as Instagram’s Explore page. It looks at the accounts you’ve previously interacted with frequently and therefore suggests the content it’s likely you’ll enjoy.

However, the Instagram algorithm considers six factors that determine what you see on your feed. These are; interest, timeliness, relationship, frequency, following, and usage.



This is how Instagram estimates how much attention you’ll give to a post. Instagram looks back at your previous activity to work out your interest level, so if there’s a certain category you’re interacting with more regularly, Instagram might rank content in that category higher in your feed. The algorithm means that it’s not purely based on popularity, as posts with little engagement can still appear at the top of your feed if they’re personally relevant to you as a user.



This is how recent the posts are. Instagram wants to prioritise your feed with posts that are recent and therefore, relevant. The algorithm only reorders new posts from your last visit to the app.



This refers to the relationship you have with the accounts you interact with regularly. This factor comes into play in regards to your family and friends’ posts. This implies that content from your ‘best friends’ will likely appear higher on your feed, and to establish who your ‘best friends’ are, it relates back to the algorithm studying which accounts you engage with most.



This factor is based on how regularly a user opens the app. Every time a user opens Instagram, the algorithm will show you the top posts since your last visit. If you go on the app daily, the algorithm will prioritise content most relevant for that time of day, whereas if you go on Instagram hourly, the app will prioritse content you haven’t seen yet.



This is determined from all the accounts a user follows. Based on how many accounts you follow, the algorithm will decide what appears at the top of your feed. If a user follows many accounts, they might end up seeing accounts with larger followings first, as they are ranked higher up the feed, but a user who follows a few accounts will be more likely to see content from friends and preferred accounts.



This factor is based on how long a user spends on Instagram, whether that’s for short or long periods of time. If a user visits the app in short bursts, the algorithm will make sure the relevant posts are first, in contrast, for users that visit for longer periods, the algorithm may give a greater catalog of fresh content to scroll through.


Why is the Algorithm a Good Thing?

Many users of Instagram, professionals and personal users, try searching for hacks to beat the algorithm, which works short term to increase engagement in posts, but if they embraced it instead they could work with it when posting on the app and producing content. 

These users are the ones that miss the chronological feed, but the chronological order isn’t as good as you think. The algorithm change on Instagram to a ranked feed is a positive for all posting - creators and consumers. With the help of machine learning, it ensures users see the content they’re most interested in and means business accounts can target audiences more effectively.


As long as you continue to create engaging, timely content, the algorithm will work in your favour, as it helps your great content appear on the feeds of your consumer. 

This blog was originally published by Buffer. If you enjoyed this blog, read our blog on 3 Tips on Improving Direct Response Adverts on Instagram, or access all our other blogs here.

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