5 simple ways to increase your engagement on Instagram
Ask any social media professional what their greatest pain point is and many will tell you that it’s keeping up with Instagram’s ever-changing algorithm. While many marketers would rather throw their hands up entirely and give up on the Gram, the fact remains that 63% of Americans check the platform daily, making it a powerful marketing channel that every brand should be using.
Ever since the platform’s system moved away from reverse-chronological to a curated content feed, it’s not always easy to understand how to get your content in front of your target audience, not to mention your followers! If you feel like Instagram’s updates have rocked the organic reach of your feed posts, then this guide is for you.
In this article, we’ll break down the state of the Instagram algorithm as we know it and give some practical strategies to help you maximize your organic reach as the algorithm continues to evolve.
The Instagram Algorithm: What We Know
First, let’s do an Instagram algorithm review.
Believe it or not, Instagram began taking steps to change its feed algorithm back in 2016 to prioritize “the posts you might care about the most.” Rather than ordering photos in users’ feeds based on chronology, the platform announced it would be ordering posts based on users' predicted interest in the content, their relationship with the person or brand posting, and the timeliness of the post.
Along with these metrics, the network has described additional ranking signals:
Interest: Your likely interest in content based on engagement with similar topics.
Timeliness: The relevance of the post based on when it was posted.
Relationship: Your interest in the post based on how you’ve interacted with the account in the past.
Frequency: Your interest in the post based on how often you open Instagram.
Following: Your interest in the post based on the volume of accounts you follow – you may see less content from any one account if you follow a lot of accounts.
Usage: Your interest in the post based on how much time you spend using the Instagram app - spending more time on the app scrolling through your Instagram feed means you’ll see more.
Finally, just last month, Instagram came out with another blog post providing more detail about their algorithm. For feed posts and stories, they highlighted four key ranking signals, including:
Information about the post: This includes general engagement information about how many people like the post, when it was posted and location, if any.
Information about the person who posted: Signals that indicate how interesting you find the person or brand posting the content including how many times you’ve have interacted with the account previously.
Your activity: Includes how many posts you’ve liked and your interaction level with content in general.
Your history of interacting with someone: Evaluates actions such as commenting as an additional indicator for interest level in the account.
Now that we’ve reviewed the key factors in Instagram’s organization of a user’s feed, let’s tackle how to outsmart Instagram’s algorithm for better engagement on your brand’s feed posts.
1. Use Instagram Stories Daily
As we’ve discussed, Instagram’s algorithm has pushed profile page impressions down across the board. No longer are chronological feed posts given priority in users’ feeds. So, why exactly are we discussing Instagram stories?
For one, it’s a great way to outsmart Instagram’s algorithm since no matter how prioritized your feed posts are, your story content always stays at the top of everyone’s feed if you’re regularly posting stories.
Second, Instagram stories are a powerful marketing channel with 500+ million daily users watching stories, and one third of the most-viewed stories coming from brands.
Takeaway: Rather than prioritizing feed posts over stories or vice versa, take a “Why not both?” mentality by posting on both Instagram channels regularly. Remember: having consistent Instagram story posts will keep your profile popping up to your users. If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of adapting specific content for stories, start by always reposting your feed posts to your story with a quick caption and gif.
2. Write Longer Captions
Instagram caption length impacts engagement, which is what Instagram’s algorithm evaluates when it ranks ‘Information About the Post’. Writing longer captions can enhance this ranking by increasing the measure Instagram gives your post for “time spent on post”.
In 2019, posts that were 1000+ characters saw an average 5.97% higher engagement rate. In 2021, this rate is expected to increase with the average caption length hitting 405 characters (65-70 words). For reference, Instagram’s caption character maximum is currently 2,200.
Additionally, getting creative with your captions to ramp up their interactivity can increase your engagement. For example, using tag-a-friend or question-based content is a great way to get people talking in the comments of your post. Conversations encourage post interactions which is a positive signal to Instagram.
Takeaway: Write captions that are a minimum 500 characters per post. Test effectiveness of longer captions (1000 characters). Also experiment with interactive caption content with ‘tag-a-friend’ incentives and questions to encourage comments to ramp up Instagram’s engagement ranking on your post.
3. Harness the Power of Hashtags
Hashtags are a surefire way to engage new followers on Instagram since users can follow hashtags as they do accounts. Trending hashtags are also algorithmically shown to users on Instagram’s Discovery Page. If you haven’t been using hashtags on your captions, it’s a missed opportunity. Here are some best practices to get you started:
Test a Range of Hashtag Amounts: Fewer hashtags (5-10) used to be the standard but now Instagram’s algorithm seems to be responding favorably to brand posts that tag up to 30 hashtags (max allowed per post). A higher volume of hashtags can be hidden in the comments of posts.
Don’t Use the Same Hashtags Every Post: Instagram’s algorithm may penalize accounts that consistently use the same hashtags, pushing posts down in the search for those tags. Rotating & diversifying hashtags is key!
Use Niche Hashtags Too: Adding some smaller-volume hashtags to compete in a smaller pool of content is better than only using hashtags that have the highest volume of tags.
Takeaway: Try not to use the same hashtags on consecutive posts. Rotate and test 3-30 hashtags per post that feature a mix of large and small tag volume. See the graphic below for the top volume hashtags in 2021.
4. Post Carousels in Your Feed with Saveable, Shareable Content
No surprises here, the number of comments, shares and saves on your Instagram posts heavily affects engagement. Aim to create content that users want to share on their story, DM to friends or save for later. Offering carousel posts rather than posts with just one slide also encourages users to spend more time on your posts.
Examples of saveable, shareable content include: carousels of timely and trending information, quotes, self care tips or information based on different “types” (Zodiac Sign, Love Language type, Human Design type, etc.).
Takeaway: Create carousel posts with information guides relevant to your user to promote shares and saves.
5. Post on Your Feed at the Right Time
Posting at the right time is the easiest way to outsmart Instagram’s algorithm. Keep in mind that every brand’s audience is different so peak posting times for different brands will vary too. To understand when your audience is most engaged on Instagram, check your audience insights page to see the top days and times when your audience is scrolling through their feed.
On a case-by-case basis, if you’re struggling to balance multiple content promotions in the same day, keep in mind that posting more frequently is always better. Instagram has said that posting “often” is within their best practices:
“We don’t down-rank people for posting [frequently]. We do make sure your feed feels diverse so we may break up posts.”
That being said, don’t be afraid to increase your posting frequency to more than once a day if you need to. Still feeling stuck? Ask us about social media planning and management. We'd love to collab.