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The 2021 Instagram Algorithm

You may have noticed that Instagram has switched from its traditional chronological algorithm to one that is more engagement-based.  The new algorithm may first appear to organize content unconventionally, but once understood can be used to your brand's advantage.

This new algorithm works to showcase the most relevant social content, which is influenced through user engagement. Here are some tips for adjusting your content strategy to increase reach and engagement -ultimately making the best of the new Instagram algorithm!


Your IG feed is made up of user behaviours, including the photos and stories you post or are tagged in, photos you like and nearly any other form of engagement on the app.

The more the algorithm believes you will interact with a certain type of post the more likely it is to appear on your feed. Instagram uses machine learning technology to cater your timeline to best suit what you "like" on the app and uses your interactions to suggest content. This likability is calculated through six key factors; interests, relationships, timeliness, frequency, following, and usage. 


Instagram’s technology predicts what posts you’ll be interested in by looking at past activity. Each user likely interacts with a certain genre of content and these genres will be ranked from highest to lowest on your feed.

This way it is not only posts you follow that receive a spot on your timeline but also ones the algorithm predicts you would like. Although Instagram does focus on engagement it is not a popularity contest and instead will cater posts to each individual user.

user relationships

Although Instagram’s new algorithm surfaces posts from accounts it may think you’ll like, it also prioritizes accounts that you follow and frequently interact with. Instagram can detect who is closest to you by who you search, follow, direct message, and interact on the platform with most. 


Instagram works to show you the latest posts and keep your timeline up-to-date with the most recent content. Instagram also works to show you likeable posts and it re-orders only the new material from your current visit and your last. Instagram wants to show you the most recent most interesting posts, so it is important to find your brand's personalized prime time to post to increase the chance of views and likes. 

If you are a frequent Instagram user your timeline may appear more chronological because the algorithms attempt to show you the latest material, however, if you only periodically log on this is when you will notice the more engagement-based algorithm as Instagram works to show you the most important posts first.


The more accounts a user follows the more work the algorithm must do to decide content to surface on your timeline. This means if you follow a large number of accounts you may be seeing less from each individual account. As a brand, you may be more focused on your followers than following, however, it is important to sort through your following as an inactive account can do more harm for your algorithm than good. 


The final ranking criteria is usage, which looks at how long a user spends on Instagram. If you are on the app for a long period of time you may run out of content to see on your timeline and will see the notification “you’re all caught up” this is when Instagram surfaces suggested content. This means If you spend a long time on Instagram you’re going to see more content from suggested accounts based on your previous engagement with accounts you currently follow whereas users who have minimal usage are likely to see only the highlights of the algorithm. 


Instagram stories appear from left to right depending on the accounts you engage with most and timeliness. Instagram wants to showcase the latest stories from your favourite accounts, so if you frequently engage with an account on the platform Instagram will boost the story to the far left so it can be seen by you first even if the user has already seen the previous stories posted that day. This means it is important for a brand to frequently post Instagram stories to increase views. One way to increase reach on stories is to encourage audience engagement through question stickers, emoji sliders, and polls. These Instagram features work to boost your story by the Instagram algorithm. 


Generally, the feed and explore page work quite similarly. The explore page and feed use the same six ranking criteria except the explore page is made up of content from accounts you don’t follow yet. To increase the chance of appearing on a user’s explore page you can use hashtags and captions with keywords that will reach your target audience. Like your timeline, the explore page prioritizes posts with high engagement and ranks searched hashtag photos based on likes and views thus meaning search results will be the same for every user, unlike your feed. 

IGTV Videos and Reels

The IGTV videos and Reels use the same machine learning technology as the feed, explore page, and stories. For IGTV videos you can share a one-minute preview to your timeline to help increase exposure whereas reels should always be shared to your Instagram feed. It is important to include hashtags on reels to boost their position in the algorithm. Reels are newer to Instagram so your brand needs to jump on the trend while Instagram gives their new feature a boost and encourages users to view them. 

You need to use all channels when promoting your brand and even using multiple channels at once to drive audiences to seek out your more recent content. This can be as simple as sharing your most recent post to your feed as your story.

Stay On Track of Your Best-Performing Content

Using Instagram analytics to track your engagement is the most useful way of knowing what is getting your followers attention and what isn't. tracking how your content is performing will help to boost your position in the algorithm and help your brand to tailor your marketing strategy to create your best performing content. 

Instagram uses the following ranking criteria to determine the most relevant content, so everyone’s timelines look slightly different in 2021. So, it is important to use this ranking criteria to increase engagement and reach the highest amount of profiles possible. 


Abbey Hills

AUTHOR: Abbey Hills

Marketing Assistant

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