One of the keys to success for content creators is to understand the algorithm for the platforms they use. This is a must for getting content seen, building an audience, and keeping existing subscribers or followers engaged.
It’s not unusual for content creators to wrestle with algorithm updates on all platforms. But one of the highlights of recent times is the massive confusion stemming from the changes in Instagram’s algorithm.
How will this impact the way content creators and social media marketers approach Instagram in 2023?
Many content creators and brands on Instagram wonder why engagement and reach have been so low in recent years. Content creators on the platform have seen around a 44% decrease in engagement on in-feed posts since 2019.
Digital creator, Joselyne Effa (@joselyne.effa), provides some insight into the decline, ”I've noticed decreased engagement in my static posts and stories for sure.” She goes on to say, “Static posts have been consistently down while story views and engagement have had high variance, but trend to the lower end of that scale for the most part.”
This sharp decrease in reach and engagement for many content creators on IG can be traced to a couple of things. The first being changes in the platform itself, along with the introduction of Instagram Reels in 2020. The second, unsurprisingly, is TikTok. The short-form video platform has been a huge disruptor in the social media sphere, stealing away significant amounts of online attention. TikTok even had more visits than Google—wow. It’s no wonder we’ve seen a decrease in engagement on Instagram with stats like that.
Reels are prioritized by Instagram because the platform is locked in fierce competition with TikTok and YouTube. As such, Reels has its own algorithm. Similar to TikTok, Reels shows you similar content based on your interests. It pushes content based on what users with similar behaviour to you are watching and engaging with.
Well-executed Reels will easily help increase reach and brand awareness—but this came at a cost for other post formats on the platform. “Reels are my best performing and most consistent posts,” Joselyne explained. “I find that my ads do equally as well as my organic content.”
Users are engaging significantly less with Instagram feed posts. This means that content creators who are still focused on using Instagram solely as a photo-sharing platform are at a disadvantage. More so than ever, content creators who do not incorporate Reels into their 2023 Instagram strategy will be left behind.
In addition to the impact Reels have had on how the algorithm works, there have been other changes that are contributing to decreased reach and engagement for many content creators.
Instagram’s algorithm shifted from a follower-based priority to a curated-based priority model. But what does this mean?
Based on certain signals, the platform prioritizes the posts that users see. In the latest iteration of Instagram’s algorithm, there are three main ranking factors to consider: relationship, interest, and relevancy. Instagram’s algorithm leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data in customizing the content served to users, based on these three factors.
The relationship between the content creator and the user impacts content visibility. Comments on posts, following each other, and even messaging each other all have weight under this factor. This is why active community management can give content creators and businesses an edge.
When the algorithm determines that a user is more likely to interact with a specific type of content or format, the user will be served more of that. This is why it’s important for content creators to know which content formats click the most with their target audience. Experimenting with different content types and iterating from there is highly recommended.
The relevancy factor speaks to the timeliness or trendiness of a specific type of content on Instagram. Recent posts are also considered more relevant than older posts.
Taking note of Instagram’s community guidelines is important for all content creators, regardless of what content format they want to publish. Misinformation, political posts, upsetting content, and content with low resolution will have a significantly reduced reach.
Instagram rewards users who use their new features early as the platform continues to evolve and compete with other apps. So using new features as soon as possible will be beneficial to brands and content creators, which is something we saw with Reels. However, make sure that you’re using original content when doing so. The platform updated its algorithm in 2022 to bury content reposted from other sites (such as TikTok), while pushing content posted for the first time on IG to the top of feeds.
Posting content on Instagram during optimal times is essential because audience interaction is favoured by the algorithm. Likes, shares, comments, and saves will increase content visibility. The relevancy factor prioritizes recent content, and this synergizes well with audience interaction.
“I find that with stories, if I post to frequently, it really drives my story views down. While with in-feed content I find it important to be consistent. I am to post five times a week in-feed, though that is not always possible!”
Building high-quality, relevant, and well-scheduled content is not enough. Content creators need to focus on building relationships with their community. Encouraging user comments, responding to comments, and promptly responding to direct messages will make a big difference.
For brands and content creators that are still struggling with getting organic reach on Instagram, paid efforts are worth considering. The two main options include the use of Instagram ads or leveraging on influencer marketing. Once paid efforts yield momentum in terms of reach, this is a good starting point for cultivating organic reach later on.