How to Work With the Instagram Algorithm (Not Against It!)


Raise your hand if you've ever felt personally victimized by the Instagram algorithm. Can I get real with you for a moment? Like, really real? 

Instagram is not out to get you.

Every single time I go online I'm inundated with posts enumerating all the crazy ways the Instagram algorithm is personally ruining their lives. It has a vendetta. It's out for blood. 

Y'all it's a few lines of code. Okay, probably a lot more than a few. But seriously, the so-called algorithm isn't specifically targeting you. Instagram as a company is not looking for ways to make bloggers' and brands' lives worse. 

I keep seeing all these "Instagram gurus" publishing blog posts full of scare tactics and rumor-mongering about only using 15 hashtags or not editing your caption after you post or ways to avoid being shadow-banned which may or may not include protective hexes. 

Instagram does not have all these crazy arbitrary rules, it's not fight club. If you're able to do it - as in, if it's a feature Instagram offers - it's not going to punish you for doing it. Edit your caption. Use all 30 hashtags. Send posts to groups of people. Yes, even - gasp! - engagement pods. 

So many people are obsessed with these crazy ways to "beat" the Instagram algorithm. Spoiler alert: you're not going to beat it. It's not some secret code you can crack by posting the perfect number of flatlays or only using hashtags that begin with vowels. 

Yes, engagement is down. Yes, that sucks. No, it's probably never going to go back to the way things were. You need to learn how to work with the algorithm. If you keep trying to fight it, you're only going to hurt yourself in the long run. 

So how do you work with the algorithm? Glad you asked.

Upgrade to a business account.

If you're a blogger, influencer or brand, you need to be using a business account. There's been tons of talk about Instagram punishing business accounts or else making it harder for people to find their content, like on Facebook. It's a semi-valid concern, but I promise it's not the case.

All that a business account will do for you is make it easier for people to contact you, and give you access to invaluable analytics about your followers, your posts and your activity. Trust me, the benefits far outweigh any possible cons. 

Find your best time to post.

Using those aforementioned Instagram business analytics, you can find out the best time for you to post each day. Basically, this boils down to the times when the majority of your followers are active and engaged on the app, thus making it more likely that more of your audience will see your posts. Simple!

Post consistently.

Another no-brainer, but if you only post once or twice a week, and at random times, then it makes sense that your engagement is going to tank. Once you find your ideal time to post, try to commit to posting every day, or at the very least, 4-5 times a week. This will keep engagement up and keep your content in front of your followers. 

Create beautiful, helpful content.

Here's the thing: even if you're using all the right hashtags and engaging and finding the right time to post... it won't matter if your content is no good. You don't have to rush out and buy a fancy expensive camera and you definitely don't have to copy what all the "popular, insta-famous" people are doing, but you have to find what works for you and create content that people want to see.

This extends to captions too. You'll get tons more engagement if you post a longer, thoughtful caption that tells a story and/or asks a question. I've been struggling with this one a lot. It's easy to just drop a few emojis or say something totally banal about your photo, but try to dig a little deeper and write out something that will get people talking. Engagement is key!

Engage with your followers and the people you're following.

It's called SOCIAL media, so get social baby! For a long time I got so caught up in the cycle of creating and editing and scheduling content and focusing on my own profile that I forgot the importance of commenting and engaging with my followers and the people I follow.

To quote Pretty Woman - big mistake. HUGE. 

The algorithm (praise be) values authentic engagement, especially comments. The more people engage with your content, the more Instagram will show it to more people, and the cycle starts building. Always be sure to respond to comments on your posts (I'm terrible at this but I'm getting better!) and comment on other people's! If you really loved something, tell them! I guarantee it'll go a long way. 

Post to your Stories.

Snapchat whomst?? Instagram Stories have completely left Snapchat (which they totally ripped off) in the dust. Love them or hate them, Stories are here to stay. And the best part is, they're always at the top of your feed. Sure they have their own little algorithm to contend with (you'll see Stories from people you interact with most first) but still.

Post to your stories, start a conversation, share silly snippets of your day, and play with their fun features like polls and GIFs. It's another great way to connect with your audience and be a bit more genuine. 

Be genuine and authentic.

Speaking of being genuine, in my mind, the best thing you can do is forget about numbers and engagement rates and algorithms altogether and try to just have a good time and engage. Believe me, it's really hard. I've struggled with it for ages. But trying not to obsess so much about what I'm posting and how many likes it gets and focusing instead on starting genuine conversations and connecting with people has been so much better for my mental wellbeing. It's like your mom always told you on the first day of school - have fun and be yourself. 

Try boosting posts. 

If you're feeling a little advanced and want to test the waters, try boosting some of your popular posts. Don't feel like you have to go broke doing this or anything, but putting $10 or $20 behind a post is a great way to get it in front of a new audience. It's very hit or miss, but I've had quite good luck with mine. The key is getting really specific with your audience so that the best possible people see it and immediately want to follow you. 

Use all the tools in your arsenal. 

Once again, Instagram is not going to punish you for doing things it makes possible. Use all 30 hashtags in your post. Use stories. If you want to participate in engagement pods, go for it. If automatic posting is super convenient for you, then by all means take advantage! Use everything available to you to make the most out of your Instagram experience. 

Questions about Instagram? Leave a comment or find me @lizziejacklyn. I'd love to chat!