It’s been near­ly two years since Insta­gram switched up its algo­rithm from show­ing all posts in reverse chrono­log­i­cal order to a more com­plex, machine-learn­ing dri­ven approach. As soon as the plat­form announced this change, uproar ensued. (A group of users even spear­head­ed a peti­tion implor­ing Insta­gram not to move away from the reverse chrono­log­i­cal for­mat.)

When Insta­gram (which is owned by Face­book) start­ed pri­or­i­tiz­ing one account’s con­tent over anoth­er, users and busi­ness­es start­ed com­plain­ing about fair­ness, espe­cial­ly for those try­ing to build brands and bol­ster mar­ket­ing on the plat­form. It was a mys­tery to many users: What would cause Insta­gram to rank posts from one account over anoth­er in users’ feeds? And the fact that dif­fer­ent users would see posts from the same account at dif­fer­ent inter­vals made it all the more opaque and hard to crack.

To demys­ti­fy the change, the com­pa­ny recent­ly host­ed an infor­ma­tion ses­sion at its San Fran­cis­co offices to set the record straight to a group of reporters about how the algo­rithm decides what an indi­vid­ual user sees.

As TechCrunch reports, pri­or to the flip to algo­rith­mi­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed feeds, the aver­age Insta­gram user would nev­er see 70 per­cent of all posts by brands and friends they fol­lowed — and 50 per­cent of friends’ posts alone. Today, the com­pa­ny says that users see 90 per­cent of their friends’ posts and spend more time on the app than they did in ear­ly 2016. Yet, despite there being half a bil­lion dai­ly users, the plat­form is more sat­u­rat­ed than ever with indi­vid­u­als and brands vying for eye­balls.

The com­pa­ny report­ed­ly has no plans to give users the option to revert to a reverse chrono­log­i­cal feed, despite demand. Instead, it’s decid­ed to edu­cate users about how the algo­rithm works. Here are the fac­tors that go into how Insta­gram pri­or­i­tizes what an indi­vid­ual user will see as they scroll, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny:


Insta­gram uses machine learn­ing to sur­face up the posts a user is most like­ly to care about based on past behav­ior. If a user has liked, com­ment­ed on or lin­gered over sim­i­lar con­tent in the past, they’ll like­ly see it again. For exam­ple, if you always hov­er over pho­tos of slices of cheesy piz­za, Insta­gram will show you sim­i­lar images more often.


Even though Insta­gram has ditched show­ing posts in chrono­log­i­cal order, it still won’t show you some­thing post­ed too long ago. Most posts users see are a few days, if not min­utes old.


If you inter­act with a cer­tain per­son or account fre­quent­ly — com­ment­ing on their pho­tos, being tagged togeth­er in their posts — you’ll see their posts more often.

Insta­gram also detailed three ways in which usage pat­terns influ­ence the make­up of feeds:


The more often a user opens the Insta­gram app, the more often Insta­gram will refresh that users’ feed, with the above con­sid­er­a­tions in mind, to sur­face new, rel­e­vant con­tent.


The more accounts a user fol­lows, the more options Insta­gram has of what to serve up. Insta­gram will try to diver­si­fy feeds of users who fol­low a large vol­ume of accounts.


The aver­age dura­tion of an Insta­gram user’s scroll ses­sion also comes into play. If you have short ses­sions, you’ll be more like­ly to see the most rel­e­vant posts dur­ing those brief peri­ods. But if you tend to scroll for longer peri­ods of time, you’ll see a wider vari­ety.

In addi­tion to out­lin­ing the algorithm’s inner­work­ings dur­ing the media info ses­sion, Insta­gram also took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­pel some com­mon myths about how it gen­er­ates feeds.

  • For one, if you scroll long enough, you’ll see every­thing from every­one you fol­low — Insta­gram won’t pur­pose­ly hide any­thing from you just because it thinks you aren’t inter­est­ed.
  • You’ll see more pho­tos (ver­sus videos) if you tend to linger look­ing at pho­tos longer; like­wise you’ll see few­er videos if you tend to scroll past them with­out watch­ing.
  • If a user often posts Sto­ries or Live videos, tak­ing advan­tage of all of the app’s bells and whis­tles, Insta­gram won’t val­ue them as a pow­er user and pro­mote their con­tent in users’ feeds, con­trary to sus­pi­cions.
  • Just as Insta­gram doesn’t reward pow­er users, it doesn’t silence or “down­rank” those who post extreme­ly often or add dozens of hash­tags to their cap­tions. How­ev­er, a user is not like­ly to see mul­ti­ple posts from the same account in a row.
  • Insta­gram weights con­tent from per­son­al accounts (i.e. friends) and busi­ness or brand accounts equal­ly.

Back in March 2016, when Insta­gram announced plans for the feed algo­rithm, Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tor and Insta­gram expert Lesya Liu told read­ers to embrace the algo­rithm change away from chrono­log­i­cal feeds.

It’s in the plat­for­m’s best inter­est to show engag­ing, rel­e­vant con­tent to its users, so that they stay longer on the plat­form,” wrote Liu, who offers an online course titled “Crack­ing the Insta­gram Algo­rithm.” “That’s why the algorithm’s only job is to scour through the plat­form and find awe­some con­tent, which will be shown to more and more peo­ple.”


Users have a say in what con­tent they see — they more they like, com­ment and linger on cer­tain types of Insta­gram con­tent, the more Insta­gram will show it. But if you’re look­ing to get more eyes on your account, engage­ment can help you, too. As Liu has point­ed out, the more you inter­act with oth­ers on the plat­form, the more like­ly your con­tent is to land in Instagram’s Explore sec­tion, where users can find new con­tent from accounts they don’t fol­low. This is true even for those with low fol­low­er counts — Insta­gram offers a mix of pop­u­lar and less­er known accounts in Explore.

And as always, indi­vid­u­als and brands look­ing to grow their Insta­gram audi­ences can also use hash­tags rel­e­vant to the con­tent of their posts to expand their reach, espe­cial­ly now that users can fol­low hash­tags in addi­tion to accounts.

Update, June 5, 2018:

Liu shared her thoughts on Instagram’s expla­na­tion of how its algo­rithm works with Entre­pre­neur via email, dis­put­ing aspects of what the com­pa­ny shared based on her expe­ri­ence with and knowl­edge of the plat­form.

The claim that busi­ness and per­son­al accounts by default have equal weight in the Insta­gram feed rank­ing con­tra­dicts par­ent com­pa­ny Facebook’s busi­ness mod­el, she notes. “Busi­ness pages tend to have an ever-declin­ing organ­ic reach ver­sus oth­er types of posts, such as posts from your friends or groups,” Liu says. In Jan­u­ary, Face­book announced it would de-pri­or­i­tize brand and pub­lish­er posts in News Feeds in favor of those from users’ friends and fam­i­ly.

Liu also expressed sur­prise at Instagram’s insis­tence that it doesn’t silence users when they engage in a flur­ry of activ­i­ty over a short time peri­od. Anec­do­tal­ly, she says she’s seen sit­u­a­tions where users that were too active had “unex­plain­able” low­er reach rates tem­porar­i­ly.

When you like or fol­low too many posts or peo­ple in a short peri­od of time, you get an in-app mes­sage that you’ve hit hourly lim­its,” Liu says. “If you con­tin­ue to break hourly lim­its pret­ty con­sis­tent­ly, then, you start notic­ing decreased reach rates. If you con­tin­ue to pow­er though these signs, you will be even­tu­al­ly banned.”