Understanding the Instagram Algorithm in 2021

Everyone is always asking how Instagram decides what content to show users. Well, guess no more!

Instagram has stated these 6 factors play a role in content ranking.

1. Interest
2. Relationship
3. Timeliness
4. Frequency
5. Following
6. Usage

Keeping these factors in mind when creating and planning content will help your brand reach the optimal number of followers AND free your mind from endlessly wondering where your posts are going. 


The content that appears in your Instagram feed is what Instagram believes you will “like” the most based off of your personal activity on the app. It combines your likes, comments, shares, follows and unfollows to rank content based on its relative chance of performing well with you. Then, Instagram systematically shows you content with the highest “interest” ranking first. This is the biggest component of the algorithm.


Next come relationships.

Software engineers at Instagram know that you prioritize content from people you actually know – family and close friends. So they try to figure out who your close contacts are in real life. The app tracks how frequently, and with what level of interest you interact with someone’s content by serving you their content as soon as you follow them and monitoring your engagement.


Remember when Instagram content was shown based on when it was posted? Those were the days! While Instagram has moved away from a timeline-centric method, it *does* still take timeliness into consideration. While posting something when your followers are online doesn’t guarantee it will rank higher, it has an upper-hand over content posted hours before they logged into the app.


A user’s frequency of use comes into play in the algorithm as well. All other factors held equal, a user who scrolls through the app five times a day is more likely to see your post than a user who gets on once per day, solely because your brand’s content is more likely to be shown once they’ve moved on from higher-prioritized content from family and friends. Similarly, the more often you post the better chances your content has of being seen.


Of course, at a basic level users only see content from who they are following. However, how many people a user is following and how active those accounts are plays into how much content the algorithm has to work with and thus how strictly content will be ranked.


Lastly, the level of use a user has with the app comes into consideration. Depending on how active users are, Instagram works through its rankings of content until the user has seen or interacted with all new posts from who they are following. Once this occurs, Instagram will show users suggested content from accounts they might like based on their previous activity.

Is your head spinning, yet? Planning and creating social content that resonates with your audience is no easy task. Understanding how the Instagram algorithm works is one step you’ll need to take towards generating leads or sales for your business on Instagram alone. If your social media could use a hand, contact us for an audit or to book a social media management consultation.

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