In a news briefing Instagram outlined to a group of reporters in its new San Francisco office what its news feed algorithm looks for when displaying content to its 800 million active users.
Before its update in 2016 to ditch the reverse chronological feed, users were missing 70 percent of all posts and 50 percent of their friends’ posts. After updating the algorithm, Instagram reported that users are now seeing 90 percent of their friends’ posts while spending an increasing amount of time on the app.
Instagram Provides Insight Into How Its Algorithm Works
Factors that Determine Instagram Content in Newsfeeds
The Facebook-owned platform relies on machine learning to display content based on personalization and how you interact with various accounts to provide a unique experience for every user. There are six main factors that determine what you see in your Instagram feed:
- Interest: Like Facebook, content is shown to users based on the algorithm determining whether you’ll engage with the post or if it will matter to you.
- Relationship: This is based on how close you are to the account and how much you like or comment on that user’s posts. It’s clear that intimacy and relationships are determining factors in Instagram’s newsfeed updates as 85 percent of Direct Messages go to the same three friends.
- Recency: Timeliness is a key factor with more priority being placed on newer content compared to posts with older upload dates. The recency factor stems from many user complaints about seeing content from the same user in their newsfeed despite some posts being days or weeks old.
- Frequency: Instagram will show you the best posts since you last visited the platform
- Following: If you follow a significant amount of people, a wider variety of content will be displayed and you may see less posts from specific accounts
- Time Spent on Platform: This ties in with frequency; if you’re spending more time on the platform, Instagram will dig deeper into its catalog compared to just showing you the best content since your last visit.
Image Recognition Tools the Future of Instagram?
One interesting spin is that Facebook utilizes image-recognition to determine the relevance of an image compared to what a user is searching for or actively engaging with. These image-recognition tools would be perfect for Instagram to pull specific objects within still images and may eventually be tied in with its Explore Feature, which pulls content from topic-specific channels.
Instead of relying on hashtags to find new content, using image-recognition would be a great addition to the platform by providing users with content they’ll be more likely to engage with. The current hashtag system is flawed in that any user can post any hashtag and have their content display in those search results, even if the image or video in question has no relevance to the hashtags they’re using.
This change would cause marketers to evaluate their digital strategy and produce different content compared to just text-based images, although it’s a popular practice to overlay text and quotes over transparent stock photos.
Instagram Dispells Myths Surrounding the Platform
Alongside these updates, Instagram dispelled certain myths and misconceptions that surround the platform:
- Instagram has no plans at this time to allow users the option to set their feed to display in reverse-chronological order.
- Instagram doesn’t hide posts in your feed and you’ll see all the content from the users you follow if you keep scrolling
- Feed ranking doesn’t favor photos or videos, but rather displays content based on user intent and engagement, so if you don’t watch many videos you’ll see fewer of them in your newsfeed
- The algorithm doesn’t factor in stories or live videos when determining what account content is displayed to users in their newsfeeds
- There’s no preferential treatment between personal or business accounts; you’ll receive the same amount of engagement or reach through either type of account
- Shadowbanning isn’t real; users can post as frequently as they want or use any hashtag without fear of having their content hidden from newsfeeds, although Instagram will intersperse your content with other content so it isn’t clogging up user’s newsfeeds.
Instagram to Follow Facebook’s Footsteps for Paid Ads?
This first whiteboard session to reporters will go a long way with educating users on how Instagram’s algorithm actually works. One foreseeable problem in the future is the number of users migrating to the platform, as more accounts will result in more competition in vying for reach and engagement amongst followers.
Organic reach has been on the decline since Facebook organically displays posts in the news feeds of one percent of page followers. In reality, Facebook uses one percent of page followers as a form of A/B split testing; the more engagement a post receives, the more likely the post is to be shown at the top of a user’s newsfeed, and Instagram may implement something similar in the future.
While users were upset with their newsfeeds being determined by an algorithm instead of reverse-chronological order, time spent on the platform for users above the age of 25 increased from 21 minutes to 24 minutes, which is a significant boost when considering the number of monthly active users the platform has.
Stories also have a hand in increasing the amount of time users spend on the platform as users under the age of 25 spend on average more than 32 minutes a day on Instagram. With 20 new features being added to Instagram Stories, many users creating new stories as the platform continues to stand ahead of competitors like Snapchat with the functionality and creativity it offers.
Like Facebook, paid ads may be the price to pay in the future to get an adequate amount of reach, although a workaround is for Instagram to encourage its users to post excess content in their stories to make room for meaningful posts and engagement in overpopulated newsfeeds.
This should come as no surprise, but with Facebook’s move away from organic reach it’s more important than ever that businesses allocate funds to promote their posts as other platforms will follow a similar model in the future. Fostering conversations and getting post engagement is important, but as Facebook focuses its efforts on family, friends and groups first Business Pages must look toward paid promotion on increasingly “pay-to-play” platforms.
What do you think of Instagram’s algorithm changes or the future of the platform as more users spend an increasing amount of time on the platform? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment’s section below!