How to Outsmart the Instagram Algorithm in 2020 – even if you’re not an Instagram expert
Hey friends, welcome back. If you’re new here my name is Bram van Houtum and I help brands become HEROES on Instagram. In this blog, I want to share with you 7 easy ways to outsmart the Instagram algorithm in 2020 (and what you can do when Instagram is going to hide likes for all of us).
We all want to know how to get more Instagram followers and how to get more Instagram likes, but to do that we need to know how to BEAT the Instagram algorithm.
When it comes to understanding the Instagram algorithm, it’s helpful to have the Instagram algorithm explained – like in this video (with a few Instagram algorithm tips along the way) so that almost all future Instagram algorithm updates doesn’t drive you crazy. I hope you enjoy this video on how to get more Instagram followers and likes by using the Instagram algorithm to your advantage, and if you have a few tips of your own for how to get more likes and Instagram followers, don’t forget to comment those in the comments section!
Before we do a deep dive into the algorithm you have to understand what the number one priority of Instagram is. And the best way to find out is to simply look up their mission statement, which is:
“To capture and share the world’s moments”
Without content creators, Instagram would be dead. It’s like Uber without cars or AIRBNB without houses.
And just like we love Instagram, Instagram can also love you. In fact: Instagram wants to keep promoting you if you help them reach their goal (which is you capturing and sharing the world’s moments).
Long story short: if you keep Instagram happy: they will help you. If Instagram gets bigger, and you help them achieve that, they get more ad money.
How does the Instagram Algorithm work?
Remember the good old days? This is what many content creators still say to me. When Instagram first started it was a chronological feed. This means that the newest posts were on top, and the lower you got the older the post was. I was never a fan of this feed. Yes, it did come with benefits, but from a business perspective, it wasn’t.
So how did the discussion about the algorithm started? Many love it, more will hate it. To understand this love-hate relation we have to go back to July 2016. For many content creators, this month felt like the night king destroying the wall in the north separating the realm from the domain of the wildlings who live beyond.
On that date, we entered a new era: an algorithm-based feed.
So how does this thing work? Basically, Instagram wants to show you the content you most likely want to see. This algorithm-based content feed can be seen on your home screen, but also on the explore page.
Here you will only find content which is based on your personal behavior. This means that your feed and explore page are based on the interaction you have with previous content. Did you press the like button? Did you add a comment? What was the sentiment of the comment? Or did you quickly scroll through it and didn’t pay any attention to the content?
This really is fascinating for me. And if you think Instagram is the only one who’s doing this, you might be surprised. Almost all social media platforms use this same trick: because it works.
And this is working so well that even Netflix says it’s more scared of Fortnite and Youtube than Disney and Amazon. Their CEO even says “it’s about winning time, not content.”. And he’s right. All consumers only have 24 hours to spend each day, and the possibilities to use it are endless. All platforms are working as hard as they can to keep their customers as long as possible on their platform.
Write this down and put it above your bed:
the #1 priority of any social media platform is to keep you on it for as long as possible, so they can make as much revenue as possible with advertisements.
And what’s the easiest way to do that? Put the right content, at the right moment in front of the right person. That’s it! And that’s what the whole algorithm is about.
You just saved yourself months watching YouTube videos about the algorithm!
Let me share an example. Let’s say you love cats, and you’re not a big fan of dogs. And you like & comment on Instagram almost all the content which has a cat in it. Your news feed and explore page will most likely have a lot of cats on it, and you won’t likely see your neighbor jerry’s dog at the top of your news feed.
That said, if you scroll long enough, Instagram says, that you will still see neighbor jerry’s dog. They will not hide any posts, but depending on how many people you follow it might take some time before you finally see that content.
So is this new feed a bad thing? I don’t think so. In fact, I’ve been praising this for a long time but this is actually a really good thing! The people who most likely will enjoy your content will see it on top. And those who aren’t in your corner won’t.
But how can you utilize the Instagram algorithm as best as possible?
Instagram has never explained exactly how the algorithm chooses what to show you until June 2018. The Facebook-owned company assembled a group of reporters at its under-construction new San Francisco office to take the lid off the Instagram feed ranking algorithm.
Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behavior to create a unique feed for everyone. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as someone else, you’ll get a personalized feed based on how you interact with those accounts.
Three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:
1. Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.
2. Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones.
3. Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.
Yet on the horizon looms a problem similar to what Facebook’s algorithm experienced around 2015: competition reduces reach. And that’s the reason why I made this video.
As more users and businesses join Instagram and post more often, but feed browsing time stays stable per user (this is the reason why the CEO of Netflix is sounding the alarm), the average post will get drowned out and receive fewer views.
People will inevitably complain that Instagram is trying to force them to buy ads, but it’s a natural and inevitable consequence of increasingly popular algorithmic feeds. Let’s face it: Facebook is already uncool, so Instagram must stay in our good graces.
But for you, there is nothing to worry about. You only have to use these 7 little tricks to beat the algorithm and get thousands of followers.
In this video, I will share my tactics which have been successfully been used to not only grow my own accounts, but also those of my clients. Trust me, I’m not special. The tools I share with you in this video will also make it possible for you to reach over 7 million people with a single post.
Are you ready to go viral? Let’s dive in and find out what you can do to outsmart the Instagram algorithm in 2020!
Step 1: Know your audience
If you own a business you might not know why your clients are your clients. Finding out why people follow you on social media may be an even harder code to crack.
By knowing your audience I don’t mean using Instagram insights to see what age they are or where they’re from. This data might be interesting but we cover that in step 3 of this video. For now, I want to focus on finding out what your audience actually wants.
Either you are an influencer or a business owner, we all want the same thing: more followers. And if you want followers it requires your potential followers to take action: press the follow button.
So while information from the Instagram insights is great for analysis, it requires emotions to put your audience towards action.
If the result you want to achieve is getting more followers, you have to help your audience to do so. You can do this by answering these three questions”
1. What problems can I solve for my audience?
2. Which questions can I answer for my audience?
3. And last but not least: how can I remove any roadblocks for them?
The easiest way to do so is by sharing tons of value to your audience. Like I try to do now with this video, you can do the same for your audience. In my case, I try to help you figure out how you can beat the Instagram algorithm, but maybe you can help your audience by answering their questions or solve their problems.
If you understand your audience better than anybody, you can get the algorithm in your favor. Because the first ranking criteria is “Interest”. How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post
Step 2: Use hashtags
You’ve probably heard either hashtags are dead or that you should not use them at all because it doesn’t help you rank your post on the explore page.
Let me put it like this: if you could get 40% more reach with your post for free, would you do it? That’s the case with hashtags now on Instagram. But, you have to use relevant hashtags. Did you know that the algorithm of Instagram is smart enough to scan your photo or video? If for example you post a photo of an apple, but you use #banana, the algorithm knows that photo should not appear in the hashtags of a banana, because it’s an apple.
To take it even to the next level, Facebook has just been awarded a patent for technology that could let the social network scan through your photos, see what products you like, and then send that data to advertisers in the hopes of selling you more of the product.
Instead of using #follow4follow or hashtags that do not relate with your content at all, you should give hashtags a new try. I’ve shared a link in the description below on how you can set up your top Instagram hashtags. Trust me, hashtags are still going strong and with a single post, I got 109.000 views for free, which was 64% of the total impressions of that post!
Step 3: Use insights to “trick” the Instagram Algorithm
If you have set up your Instagram account and turned it into a business account (you can do that for free, I link it down below in the description). You get access to Instagram’s Insights.
Now I don’t really want to focus on what Insights has to offer for you, but there is one aspect I want to highlight, which is: when the majority of your following is active on Instagram.
Basically what you want to do is post your content when the majority of your following is online. In fact, I always try and post 30 minutes prior that time because (and this is only a gut feeling) I believe that it gives the algorithm some time to go through my content and categorize it properly. In the image, you see now the top times are 12 pm and 3 pm. In that case, I would post at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm.
If your content, for whatever reason, doesn’t work at 11:30 am, you can archive it (I never would delete it because the data can be used for examination later on) and try it again at 2:30 pm. Maybe you’ve used a hashtag which has been banned recently by Instagram and the post is limited due to that, or maybe the right people weren’t online. This part is also important to get to know your audience better. If they don’t like the type of content you’ve posted, and you’ve tested it a couple of times you know that the format doesn’t work. Get back to the drawing board and try again!
Step 4: Have a good story
Ever wondered why meme pages perform that well? Meme pages perform really well because they touch strong (mostly) positive emotions making it easier for the audience to share or engage with.
You need to have a good story (ie which emotions do the viewer need to feel?). Keep in mind: your audience wants to identify themselves with your values.
Being successful on Instagram is creating recognition with your audience.
So don’t try and sell your audience features, for example:
* Our car has 200 horsepowers
* Ice-cold airconditioning
* and is a 4-wheel drive
Instead…. share benefits:
Do you have an important meeting and you’re running late? We got you covered! Our car will not let you miss any more meetings, even if you have to go off-road. And by the way: it also makes sure you won’t break a sweat: even during the hottest days of the year.
It’s the same information, packed in a story with emotions you can relate with. Chances are with a story it’s easier for people to engage. And engagement is needed for the algorithm to put your content in front of millions of people on the explore page.
Again, information is analysis, emotions are action.
Step 5: Don’t use any bots
This might sound crazy to you if you never used any, but there are plenty of software companies out there who offer cheap likes or followers but there is only one thing you have to do: share your login credentials.
If we go back 12 months this was still possible, and with the right software, you could go sky-high. But times have changed and a lot of spam networks have emerged. When you are part of these companies you are part of a huge botnet that uses your account for automation. This could be you liking thousands of photos a day or following up to 7,500 random people without you even knowing.
The downside is, your account get’s flagged as a spam account. Because you randomly like, comment or follow people without your knowledge. As the algorithm is smart enough to know you don’t know a Nigerian prince who’s looking for overseas investors for an opportunity, yet you like his content. But also seeing you like hundreds of photos per hour and you do so day-in-day-out 24/7.
So what happens? After some time, and some warnings (if you get any) you get in the Instagram dungeon. This means you get:
- an action block; this means you cannot like, comment or follow anyone for 24 hours up to months of time
- you’re account gets disabled; meaning you had many violations of the terms of services on Instagram, and unfortunately, you cannot get your account back…
There are also services out there (private and paid) which asks for your login credentials so you automatically like (and comment) each other’s content to make it easier to go viral. Depending on the quality of these networks you might get some good successes out of it, but unfortunately, these networks are working with proxies, which Instagram dislikes. Also, Instagram now checks where you are logged in from. Meaning if you are like me, from The Netherlands, but the service is based in The United States and the proxy is also from there, my account can get flagged. Not only because of the proxy but also from the number of automations performed by my account.
In other words: yes I do believe that likes and comments still hugely contribute to getting your content viral and in favor by the algorithm, but by all means, do not use automation tools or software where you have to share your login credentials. Because as shared in 2018: Instagram’s algorithm does look up what your relationship is with the content owner. How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.
Little side note:
Also please don’t try the follow-unfollow technique. For those who don’t know what this means. Basically you follow hundreds or thousands of people per day of your biggest competitor, and unfollow them after an x amount of time.
This does not create loyal followers, they mainly follow you because you have either a lot of followers or your brand is famous. And the majority of them do not follow you because of your content.
Instagram growth hacks are great but remember this is a marathon, not a race.
Step 6: Don’t buy fake engagement or followers
Honestly, I think this is my worst nightmare when a company is hiring me: an account with 100.000 followers but 99.000 are fake followers from for example Russia or India. Basically, it means that the team and I have to remove 99.000 followers manually because automation can (as described earlier) get your account flagged as a spam account (if that’s not already the case when 99% is a fake follower).
Not only will fake followers not engage with your content, the majority of the grammers know when something off. If an account with 100.000 followers only gets 10 likes your gut feeling will say something’s off right?
But why do businesses still buy fake followers and engagement? Because they think it gives them social proof. People who have a large following can ‘influence’ people easier to buy their products.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. And I honestly think that’s also the reason why Instagram is now testing the hiding likes feature. I don’t believe that the number of followers or likes should be a KPI for any company or influencer.
Why? Because I can buy 1000 followers for only $1. This means that if I spend only $100 I could become a macro influencer with 100.000 followers.
In any case, your real followers will most likely not see your content, because the algorithm will punish you for the number of fake followers. They see that the majority of your following is not engaging with your content (and even if you buy fake engagement, it will not come from the same accounts which follow you).
For the algorithm, it’s important that your followers engage with you. Those who don’t follow you need to have a relationship with you, and last but not least if you have tons of followers but don’t share for months will give you problems with the recency. This means that your post won’t be on top but most likely at the bottom of your followers’ home feed.
Again my dear friends, Instagram (or any social media channel) is not a sprint!
Step 7: is Instagram hiding likes effecting my performance with the algorithm?
Instagram has officially announced that they will begin hiding likes for some of its users in the USA.
Here you can see how users in other countries where this is tested (Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and more to come), currently experience it: You, as a user, will still be able to see who liked or viewed someone else’s post, but there won’t be a total number of likes displayed on the screen. You will still be able to tap into the list of people who liked and viewed it and count the numbers manually if you so choose.
Instagram claims to be doing this to protect their users from the negative impact the app has on their mental health.
Although this gives room for speculation, we have to agree that there is little to nothing we can do about it. On the bright side: if this test ends and they continue hiding likes it will affect all of us, including your competition.
Yet it does show some alarming results.
In this recent study of 154,000 Instagram users, the influencer marketing platform HypeAuditor saw a decline in likes from at least 30% of their following coming from users in the regions in which Instagram’s hidden like counts test is currently running. If this trend continues when Instagram rolls out like hiding in the USA, we can expect more people to be less happy with their Instagram accounts as well as pay more for sponsored posts to make up for the decline in engagement.
Yet I hope that these little tricks can help you boost your engagement by at least 30% to make up with the potential loss we are facing with the hiding likes feature.
Final note: Does my account type (personal, creator or business) have any effect on the algorithm?
Nope. As Julian Gutman explains: “The Instagram algorithm doesn’t give extra feed presence to personal accounts or business accounts, so switching won’t help your reach.”
In other words: if you’re a business owner I can highly recommend switching to a business profile. This will not only give you benefits with the Instagram Insights which you can use to create better-performing content, but it will also allow you to get the swipe up feature for Instagram Stories, once you hit the 10.000 followers.
Thank you so much for reading. If you liked this post please give your thumbs up. If you like this stuff please leave any questions in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as possible. Thanks for reading and see you in the next post, bye-bye!