How to Hack the Instagram Algorithm

(and start growing your account)

If you have a business social media account, or are friends with people who run small businesses, you’ve probably heard that organic reach and engagement is down across all channels.

Whereas some things in life are great when they drop (for example, interest rates, fees, your cholesterol…), when it comes to organic social media results, going down is NOT a good thing.

And when I say going down, I mean plummeting. In fact, the most recent data I’ve seen is that Instagram organic reach has dropped 17%. Oof!

Man in kayak falling down a waterfall

POV: The waterfall is Instagram, the kayaker is organic reach

Abi Gatling

Source: Giphy

This continual lowering of organic reach is making it harder and harder for small businesses to see results for their efforts online.

But, there are ways to tackle this issue and start getting the results you deserve.

What is organic reach?

Firstly, let’s go back to basics… what is organic reach anyway

And why do you need it?

On social media, reach is a measurement of the number of unique accounts who saw your post in their News Feed, watched your Story, or browsed your account.

There are two types of reach: organic and paid.

John Doe

Organic reach is the number of people who have seen your content through unpaid distribution, i.e. without you putting any money towards paid content, such as Instagram ads (which counts towards paid reach).

Now, achieving good reach is not as simple as creating lovely content, posting it and – voila – all of your followers seeing it.

Social media networks are businesses. They are made to make money, so they are constantly looking for ways to encourage people to spend time and money on their platform.

They want people to spend hours scrolling through news feeds, and they want businesses to pay for the privilege of their attention.

Because of this, each social media platform has devised a special algorithm that defines how organic content is distributed on the platform and who gets to see your posts.

And the trend we are seeing these days is that the algorithm is limiting the exposure of organic posts more and more.

How does the Algorithm work?

While the algorithms are changing all the time, here are the basics of how Instagram’s algorithm works.

First, it takes the content that you have posted and shows it to a limited number of accounts. This is a small (unknown) percentage of your followers.

Then, it monitors whether people engage with your piece of content. If you get a high number of views, likes, comments or shares, Instagram then considers your post to be important and worthwhile sharing further.

Instagram then pushes your content to a higher percentage of your followers.

If your post continues to get high levels of engagement, Instagram will continue increasing the reach of your content amongst your followers, and then expand to showing your content to non-followers on the Explore section of Instagram.

That’s the ideal situation. But, can be hard to achieve…

Beating the algorithm

Now most small businesses don’t have the budget for paid social media advertising, so let’s focus on how to tweak your Instagram approach to beat the dreaded algorithm.

Driving engagement is a long-term strategy, but here are my basic tips for getting started:

1. Create quality content

If your mind is drawing a blank on what types of content you should be posting, take a step back and think about your clients. 

Ask yourself: what is the content that your clients want to see, and go from there.

John Doe

2. Be consistent

People love to rely on a steady stream of quality, authentic content. If you are posting every now and then, in an inconsistent manner, then your content will be more likely to be missed. 

Set yourself a weekly target, say 3 - 5 posts, and then commit to it (see some of my other posts on how to structure your time to get the most out of your social media).

John Doe

3. Create videos and stories

The way people use Instagram is continually changing. Currently the TikTok style of content has seeped through to other social media networks and we are seeing more emphasis on video and stories.

Film a short piece to camera on your iPhone, or create an animated video on Canva. Start small and go from there.

4. Engage with your audience

Social media isn’t a one way street. If you want people to engage with your content, do the same back for them. Being active on Instagram helps you build relationships with your audience, but also helps reset the algorithm.

Spend 5 - 10 minutes scrolling through Instagram, liking and commenting on your followers posts before posting your own content.

John Doe

5. Drive people to your channels

There is no point creating lovely content on socials, if no one knows about it. Put some strategies in place to encourage people to find, connect and interact with you online.

Announce that you are active online in your next client newsletter, pop your social media links in your signature block and on your website, and invite people to like your pages.

John Doe

For a more indepth, customised Instagram strategy for your business, get in touch with Abi today.

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