From SEO to social media, algorithms are often what determine who actually sees the content you publish and who doesn’t.

As these algorithms change, yesterday’s marketing tactics might become less effective tomorrow. That’s why your strategy on each platform needs to constantly evolve too.

On Instagram in particular, simply posting on a regular basis with the right hashtags won’t necessarily guarantee that your new content always reaches its intended audience.

Instead, you’ll need to consider how you can work with the new Instagram algorithm updates to shake up your approach to Instagram marketing.

How the Instagram algorithm works for the feed

The new Instagram algorithm dictates the order of the posts that users see when they’re scrolling through their feed.

Based on specific signals, it organizes the best posts, pushing the most relevant ones toward the top and giving them the most visibility, while other content ends up being placed further down.

While it’s important to note that the new algorithm is subject to change, these three main ranking factors can still help inform your Instagram strategy:

  • Relationship with the user. If a certain person has interacted with a lot of your past Instagram content, they’ll be more likely to see your future content. 

  • Interest the user has shown in other posts. This signal is based on whether the user interacts with similar posts and accounts when they explore Instagram. Users who engage with similar content are more likely to see your own posts.

  • Relevancy. When you post a post on Instagram, the algorithm gives it a relevancy score, which impacts who it shows in the feed.

There were also other considerations that Instagram shared, which you should make note of:

  • If users follow a lot of accounts, you’ve got more competition for the top spot in their feed.

  • If users either don’t spend a long time on Instagram or don’t open the app that often, you decrease the odds of having your content seen if you aren’t in one of the very top spots.

  • Business accounts on Instagram are not immediately at a disadvantage in terms of organic reach compared to personal accounts.

How the Instagram algorithm works for Instagram Story

Instagram Stories that appear first in a user’s feed are from accounts they engage with the most. Comments, likes, and DMs all count toward your place in a user’s feed. Users are also shown Stories by location, which is why using location hashtags in Stories is becoming more common.

Tips for working with the Instagram algorithm in 2021

Focus on relationships, not just reach

Audience loyalty and continued engagement from your followers is now more important than ever, especially since it can earn you one of the top spots in their feeds.

Some ways to create these relationships with your content include:

  1. Post-user-generated content on your Stories. User-generated content is content about your brand that your followers have posted. 

  2. Share Reels. Instagram Reels are short, entertaining videos your business can post on Instagram. Reels are shared on your feed and can appear on the Explore page to reach more people.

  3. Produce IGTV content: IGTV features long-form, immersive videos that take up a user’s entire screen. IGTV content shows up on the Explore page, so it’s easy for them to discover and watch videos from creators and follow them on Instagram. 

The Instagram algorithm tends to broadly share content from its newer features, which today is Reels, so now is the time to really focus on video content.

  1. Comment on posts from relevant users and brands: You can also engage with users on their posts to build relationships outside of your own content by leaving interesting and involved comments on content from potential customers, relevant influencers, and related businesses.

  2. Posting first on larger accounts that have a big following can help get your comment more visibility and get more Instagram followers for your profile. Think about accounts that your target audience is likely to follow, follow them, and join the conversation.

When doing this, be genuine and add value. Don’t try to just look for opportunities to get in a public sales pitch or leave generic responses. For example, if they tell you to check out the link in their bio about their new product, actually click the link in their Instagram bio, check out their product, and leave a thoughtful comment. Show your brand’s personality and engage in a meaningful way.

You can even opt to get notified of new posts for specific accounts so you can comment early, increasing the likelihood your comment will be seen, thanks to the Instagram feed’s focus on recent posts.

To do this, you need to be following the account first. Then, click on the three dots located in the top right-hand corner of the app and tap “Turn on post notifications” to start receiving push notifications whenever they publish a new post.

Post when your followers are most active

This should be a given since timeliness is still a factor in where your content ends up in your followers’ feeds, so use it to your advantage.

Finding your peak posting times may take a little bit of trial and error, but a good place to start is in your Instagram Analytics report, available to all Instagram Business profiles in the mobile app.

If you click on the Audience tab in your Insights and scroll all the way down, you’ll see a small section showing you when your followers are online. You can view this information by day of the week or by the hour on specific days.

You’ll want to test out specific posting times to see what works. Maybe posting right before a big surge of activity will work best for your account, or maybe you’ll find that it’s better to post right after a surge starts.

Respond to comments as quickly as possible

Have you noticed a lot of other business profiles responding to as many comments as possible on Instagram?

This creates social proof for your content, increasing your comment count while also encouraging further replies. But it also boosts your chances of earning more engagement while your post’s potential reach is at its peak.

Encourage engagement in your Stories

Instagram Stories get a lot of attention because they aren’t on the same algorithm as posts in your feed. They’re also a great way to speak to your followers and build loyalty, resulting in more engagement on your static Instagram posts and thus, more reach.

There are several ways you can use them:

  • Share Stories from other users. Instagram allows you to not only be notified when someone shares a Story that mentions you but also to then share their Story directly to your own. You can even encourage or incentivize your followers to share one of your posts to their Story.

  • Inspire engagement with interactive stickers. This includes poll stickers, emoji sliders, and question stickers. This allows you ask users questions and then post their replies to additional Stories later on. 

Embrace direct messages

Instagram’s private messaging platform has been gaining popularity as the app’s usage and a number of chat features increase. More and more users are sending businesses private messages to ask questions and get in touch.

Direct messages often involve longer conversations, and it gives you a chance to nurture an individual relationship one-on-one.

This also works when you use direct messaging for outreach. You can get in touch with qualified customers, potential partners, and influencers you’d like to work with, either by messaging them through their profile or their Story.

Pay for reach with Instagram ads and influencers

The fastest way to solve limited organic reach on any platform is to pay for it instead. Done correctly, this can give you a burst of momentum that can help you drive better organic results later on. You have two main options here: Instagram advertising and influencer marketing.

Instagram ads do cost money, and the ad spend can add up quickly if you’re not careful, but it’s a good investment if you’re having trouble gaining traction on the platform.

Make sure you have excellent graphics for your ads! Potential customers will love it, engage with your page, and help get your content in front of more people

The Instagram algorithm may change, but building relationships doesn’t

If you want to get the most out of Instagram, it’s not enough to focus only on publishing content regularly. Instead, it’s essential that you also focus on overall relationship building and high-quality content while engaging with Instagram users outside of your posts and on them.

Instagram algorithm changes will always happen. But if marketers are willing to change with them, you’ll find surprising new ways to reach your intended audience.

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