5 Tips to Beat the Instagram Algorithm

When it comes to Instagram, posting great content goes a long way. But sometimes you can work super hard on creating some amazing posts, and then ... nobody sees it because the algorithm decided to hate you today.

Clearly, learning a little about the Instagram algorithm is in order.

Admittedly, the title of this post is a little misleading. I'm very much NOT an expert on the Instagram algorithm, and for the most part I'm kinda just throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes my posts blow up; sometimes they flop hard. That said, I have done some research using credible sources to learn more about the algorithm, so I figured I'd share some stuff I've learned.

There's a lot of questionable info going around about the algorithm, so I'm only sharing information that has been verified by Instagram or one of their representatives. The blog post where I found most of these tips is written by Rachel @RainyLune, who got the information from an Instagram spokesperson. You can find the full post she wrote here. Note that this post was from December 2020, and a couple things about the algorithm have changed since then, which I'll mention later.

Tip #1: Instagram likes it when you use lots of their features

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that Instagram has been pushing their Reels feature BIG time since last summer-ish (incidentally, posting Reels is how I got most of my current Instagram followers). So obviously, posting Reels will help you get a boost from the algorithm.

But more than that, Instagram wants you to use a wide variety of their tools. That means the algorithm likes it when you:
  • Post to feed, stories, Reels, IGTV, etc.
  • Capture stories and Reels using the in-app camera
  • Use in-app filters, effects, and text
  • Use story stickers and other interactive elements
This might mean getting familiar with Instagram features you had no idea existed, but if you feel up to it, give em a try! You might find a really fun new feature that you love using.

Tip #2: Get rid of watermarks on your Reels!

A lot of creators who are also on TikTok cross-post some of their TikToks to Reels. After all, if you have the content, why not reuse it?

Unfortunately, on February 9th, Instagram announced in a post on their Creators account that the algorithm will now penalize Reels that are "visibly recycled from other apps (i.e. contains logos or watermarks)." Well, there goes the recycling content idea, then.

Or does it? There are ways to repost TikToks that don't involve keeping the watermark. Some people use apps to remove the watermark, or crop it out of their videos.

Personally, I try to shoot my Reels in the Instagram app if I can, due to the previous point about using Instagram's in-app features. However, if there's a TikTok sound that I really want to use, I shoot the video on TikTok, screen record my draft (which doesn't have a watermark), and then put that video in Instagram's Reels editor to add the text and captions.

In my experience, this method does reduce the frame rate and quality a little, so that joke or trend you want to do had better be worth it. And make sure your lighting is great.

Update June 2021: TikTok recently implemented a really annoying update that superimposes a preview of a caption and the like/share buttons over your drafts, which means you can't screen-record it without getting extra stuff in the way. I've managed to crop those things out before posting to Instagram, but it reduces the resolution quite a bit.

Tip #3: Encourage people to spend time looking at your posts

The length of time people spend looking at your content is another factor to consider. If people just glance at your post, like it, and keep scrolling, that's not as effective as if they take a closer look and save it, send it to friends, or (if it's a video or Reel) watch the whole thing.

For that reason, a lot of creators have started using carousel posts, where you'll post a few pictures as a slideshow to encourage people to swipe through them. More swiping = more time spent looking at the post and a higher likelihood of engagement.

In terms of Reels, it's important to grab the viewer's attention right away. Use movement, jump cuts, and just the right amount of text to keep them watching (too much, and they'll get overwhelmed and move on). Don't drag out the intro -- people have short attention spans on the internet and will swipe away if it's taking too long to get to the good stuff!

(Note: I wasn't able to find any official Instagram sources confirming whether the algorithm detects how long people look at your posts for and directly factors that into your ranking, but I figure it helps you either way)

Tip #4: Share your Reels to your feed

Reels gives you the option to post to your feed, or just to the Explore page and the Reels tab on your profile (you can also post a Reel just on Stories, but it'll just disappear in 24 hours like a normal Story post and not appear on your Reels tab).

A lot of people don't post Reels to their feed, but honestly you're missing a trick if you don't. Posting to your feed means more people see your Reel. And more views = more engagement.

If you're worried about messing up your feed's theme, you can add a cover image to make sure it fits in with the rest of your posts when people are looking at your profile.

Tip #5: Post consistently

Instagram likes consistency. You don't have to post every single day, but posting regularly during your followers' peak hours (which you can find in Instagram's analytics if you have a Creator or Business account) will maybe, probably, hopefully make the algorithm like you in the long term.

For some more information about Instagram posting schedules, I would highly recommend reading @RainyLune's blog post that I mentioned above. She talks about both the suggested posting schedule that the Instagram rep gave to her, and her own modified schedule for people who, uh, have lives outside of Instagram.

Final Thoughts

The Instagram algorithm changes a fair amount, and that can be really frustrating to navigate. Several of the algorithm changes lately have hurt smaller creators ... and since bookstagrammers tend to be smaller creators, it's disproportionately hurt bookstagrammers (the very biggest bookstagrammers have 100-200k followers or so, which would be considered relatively mediocre in, say, the makeup and beauty community).

At the end of the day, there's no secret sauce to definitively beat the algorithm. Even when you do everything "right," sometimes your visibility on Instagram just sucks. So the most important thing is not to lose sight of the joy you get from creating content and interacting with your Instagram buddies.

You got this, friend!

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