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How the Instagram algorithm works. Why do we see these and not other photos?

Instagram does not hide photos published by our friends, it only shows them below. All this so that we can constantly scroll the screen and review as many photos as possible. This is one of the principles of this social application.

In this article, we’ll show you how the Instagram algorithm works, which is responsible for what we see in the feed. If you want to find out why you see pictures of cats and dogs all too often, stay with us.

How did instagram work before 2016?

Before June 2016, Instagram worked differently than it is today, and the change was convinced by how users behave. At that time, the application hid 70% of published content and 50% of friends’ photos. The reason for this was the number of users, but above all the huge amount of content they posted. – When Instagram grew, it became increasingly difficult to show all photos shared by users. This means that sometimes they didn’t see the posts they cared about the most.

An example of a movie that we made for a bar which is in center of Munich.

Square format used for social media.

Another issue is chronology. At that time, the feed showed chronologically posts – the newest ones above, the older ones below. Instagram showing posts in this way was explained by the fact that users always prefer fresh content to those from several dozen hours or even minutes ago. As you can see, not everyone liked it, so an update was needed.

After her, Instagram changed for the better – certainly for the better for Instagram, because the change brought more users and kept with them those already registered. Now application users can see 90 percent of posts posted by friends and followed. How is Instagram now filtering the content we see on the screens of our smartphones?

90 percent of content from your friends

The new Instagram algorithm is based on several factors that it analyzes when launching the application. His goal is to create a unique feed, tailored to our needs. Turning on the application, we see the effect of the algorithm, which displays posts taking into account:

1. Interests. Instagram most often shows content in the circle of your interests. If you follow many users who deal with programming and often upload photos of monitors or work places – you will definitely see such photos on the first screen after starting the application. Many people are probably interested in the format of the displayed content, i.e. how often Instagram shows photos and how often videos. In this case, our interests also play a major role. If we watch movies more often than photos, then we will see more video content in the feed than other users.

2. Topicality / Popularity. The posts that take precedence are fresh, recently published, but also somehow (e.g. through commentary, likes or sharing) have been noticed by our friends or the people we are following. Instagram explains this fragment exactly: “If your favorite musician publishes a concert recording in the evening, it will wait for you until you wake up, no matter how many other accounts you observe and in what time zone you are in.” This means that the most important posts will not be hidden from us, even if many other users have published interesting and more engaging content. Another thing is the speed of the post’s popularity. If, after a few minutes of publication, it collects hundreds or even thousands of likes, it will definitely not be missed in your feed.

3. Relationship. If we’re in constant relationship with X, we’ll often see his posts. Writing about the relationship, we are talking about comments, likes and shares, but also about tagging us in photos and Instagram Stories. The people with whom we maintain contact on Instagram are the most important for the algorithm, because it supposes that this content we want to see, not other. Unfortunately, Instagram never explained how to chat with users and whether it affects the frequency of showing their content, but we suppose it is. The more often we write with someone, the more likely we will see his post high in the feed.


However, these are not all factors that guide Instagram’s algorithm to display selected posts. The next are: frequency, number of watched and time. The frequency of opening Instagram by us means that the posts we saw last time (i.e. 5 minutes ago :)) will not be displayed again in the feed.

Thanks to this, the images do not duplicate, and we always see something new in the application, which convinces us to continue using it. If we observe many accounts, Instagram will not be able to display on the first screen all the most interesting photos published by influencers, but argues that we will not miss any – if we continue to scroll the screen. The next factor is time, i.e. how long we stay on Instagram. For the algorithm, it makes a difference whether we spend a moment on Insta, or whether we review the entire feed every time.


When do friends see my posts?

User involvement is probably the most important factor in determining whether all our friends will see the photo, video and video we publish. Below is a step-by-step guide to what happens after your post is published.

1. The published photo is displayed first to a small number of friends, probably first see those with whom we maintain a constant relationship. And it depends on them whether others will see the post.

2. How quickly after publication of the photo it will get the interaction of friends (in the form of a likes, comments, or sharing) has an impact on whether our content will be seen by others. If you don’t collect likes quickly, it’s likely that your friends will have to scroll the screen for a long time before they see them.

3. Instagram compares the publication of a photo on Saturday at 9 a.m. with how quickly a photo published about a week ago on Saturday at 9 a.m. gained interest. This is to eliminate the situation in which everyone publishes posts only at 12 o’clock, because then there is the highest probability of collecting likes from others. This mode would cause that in the morning there would be little news, and at noon – their excess. (Hint: there are tools like Squarelovin that you can use to find out when your followers are turning Insta on.)

4. We return to the topic of engagement. If our post gains a lot of interest within a few minutes, it can even reach users from around the world.

5. If after a longer period of time the photo continues to gain new interactions, it will be kept high in the feed all the time (of course, each user will only see it once).

As you can see, engagement is a key word in your Instagram relationship. Maybe that’s why you can find so many tutorials on how to create engaging content online. Both influencers and Instagram recommend using e.g. Instagram Stories, where we can create surveys. Collected from the followers’ answers to the question posed, it can serve as another post that will particularly interest the participants of our mini-survey. However, the most difficult thing is to build a community around a young profile, but the answer is interesting content. Unique photos always find interest, which translates into greater range. And greater range means greater possibilities.


Sources I used to work on this article:

hubspot blog


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