5 tips for working with the Instagram algorithm | #take5

Welcome to the first in this series of #Take5, where each Tuesday I'll be running through 5 practical tips / topics to help you grow your business online and pursue your dream career. Today I’m going to be breaking down something which is consistently speculated about and discussed online - algorithms.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘algorithm’ in marketing, people are most likely talking about the infamous Instagram and Facebook algorithm. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry, it sounded like a foreign language to me when I first learnt about it. But once you learn about it, I can assure you, you’ll want to be implementing these 5 methods.

If you’d rather listen than read, check this post out on the podcast below!

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An algorithm is officially defined as:

A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

And in short, the algorithms on social media platforms is what decides whether your posts get seen, who by, and when. The controversial algorithm which got everyone talking was Instagram’s. The day that they changed the post order from chronological to rule based, was the day that people began to listen. 

It’s not a process which we can access or know about, but thankfully, there are tried and tested actions we can do to ensure our content is working with the algorithm. If you're somebody who relies on Instagram to connect with your followers, generate leads and serve your community - understanding the Instagram algorithm and knowing how you can work with it, should be a priority for you. 

ARE ALGORITHM’S BAD?

I’ll start by stating that the algorithms are not a bad thing. Many content creators and marketers feel targeted by it, complaining that it’s stopping their posts getting seen and making their accounts harder to run. And yes, the algorithm is limiting how much of your content is accessed, but it’s also promoting something incredible - authentic engagement. I call it working ‘with’ the algorithm because I believe you need to act in line with it, not against it, in order to be most effective.

The algorithms favours quality content, organic engagement and active accounts - so you need to behave in a way that indicates to the platform (e.g. Instagram) that you’re legit AND that your content is worth seeing. These 5 techniques will help you to do just that.

Despite the algorithm always changing, there are some general ways you can ensure your posts continue to get seen. I’m going to focus on Instagram here, as that’s the platform which tends to have the most noticeable algorithm, but all the tips are best practice for ALL platforms and frankly, things that you should be doing anyway in order to grow your online platforms.

POST QUALITY CONTENT

Instagram is totally favouring quality over quantity through their algorithm, so ensure that you're considering the quality of what you're posting. In marketing there is often such an emphasis on consistency, but when valuing consistency and feeling pressured to get a post out,  it can be easy to sacrifice on quality. 

When I say 'quality', I don't just mean the type of photo and what camera it was taken on, I'm talking about the core of what you're posting.Ask yourself before posting anything... Is this content something which my followers want to see? What's the purpose of this post? How does this post connect people to my website / blog / etc? What's the CTA? How do I want my followers to feel after reading this post?When you carefully consider the quality and worth of what you're posting, your  is far more likely to resonate with your followers and as a result, be recognised by Instagram as a quality post. The algorithm will totally favour 2-3 weekly posts which are super effective and of quality, as apposed to daily+ posts which are average at best.

ENCOURAGE ENGAGEMENT

When working in line with the algorithm, your goal is for Instagram to recognise that what you're posting is worth promoting. It's believed that your post is only initially shown to 10% of your followers, and depending upon the response it gets within the first 20/30 minutes, your post may or may not be shown to the remaining 90%.Pretty significant right? So in short, you need to be doing all you can to encourage engagement on your content. The easiest way to do this is to encourage likes and comments, with 3 word+ comments being the most effective. It sounds so simple, but you'll be amazed by how having more comments on your posts, your post will be exposed to far more of your followers.How can you encourage comments? Ask questions! Instead of just showing people your breakfast, ask them - How do they like to start their day? What's their favourite brunch spot? What did they have for breakfast today?A really important element of this is speaking back with the comments / engagement you're getting. Acknowledging a comment by a simple reply or comment, indicates to Instagram that you're engaging in two way conversations with your followers and therefore behaving authentically.So, ask more questions, encourage people to talk back / tag you etc and watch your posts get seen by more people!

INTERACT WITH OTHER ACCOUNTS

This technique moves on well from the previous. Instagram's algorithm isn't just watching the behaviour on your posts, but also analysing your behaviour as a user. They want to see that you're invested in and growing other peoples' accounts, as well as your own.You can no longer get away with being a passive follower, so become an active one! Like/comment peoples' posts you enjoy, tag friends in posts they might like and engage with what other accounts are doing - the algorithm will most certainly favour you if you do.This technique goes further than the algorithm, because interacting authentically with other accounts also helps new followers to reach you. Let me give you an example... you're a wedding photographer and want to be found by more potential clients (ie - brides). If you follow and engage with accounts which have a similar ideal follow to you, such as a florists or wedding planners, your account is far more likely to be suggested to their followers, on the discover page or suggested followers.It's a great technique for growing your account with minimal work - so connect to accounts in the same industry as you and start getting engaged with their content!

USE NEW FEATURES

People often assume that acting in a favourable way means just focusing on your posts, but the algorithm goes so much wider than that, and as I mentioned in the previous point, it looks at your overall behaviour too. 

If you see it from Instagram's perspective, their priority is to put a spotlight on and grow accounts which are actively using and implementing their newest features. We saw it when Instagram Live was launched, any account which used them was instantly showcased at the front of the home page and notifications were sent to followers. This indicates that the more you get on board with their new features, the more likely you are to get exposure.This is a simple one, but I truly suggest you do it. When you see Instagram has released a new feature or update, be quick moving and implement it into your strategy. Whether that's using polls, following hashtags, stories, ads, new fonts or live, show to Instagram that you're an account that's adapting to their updates and being innovative.

PLAY FAIR & PATIENTLY

This final technique is both a warning and a reminder that growing anything online is a marathon not a sprint. 

As growing a following online becomes increasingly desire-able, we're seeing more and more ways you can 'cheat' the system. Whether it's using automated engagement pods, buying followers / likes or spamming with generic 'like' hashtags, you can very easily grow your account un-authentically. And yes, the instant statistics from doing these things are great, but let me tell you - this is not a game you want to be playing. 

Instagram's algorithm is all about organic growth, and if it can see that you're using quick fix's to cheat the system, your account is pretty quickly going to stop showing up on peoples' newsfeeds. The last thing you want is for Instagram to see that you're engaging in shady business - so do not do it!Additionally, if you're buying followers or gaining followers un-authentically, your followers are no longer going to be the right people for your business. If a follower doesn't translate to a customer down the line, is it effective for your business?So play the long-term game, grow organically and be patient! I promise it's the way you want to do it.

THAT'S IT!

If you’re regularly implementing these steps and practicing organic and authentic engagement through your online presence - you’re actively working with the algorithm, not against it.

Keep at it!

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