Algorithm. It’s a funny word, when you think about it (which we have been). It’s quite hard to spell correctly the first few times you write it. And when you think/say it too many times is starts to sound kinda like algae. Algae which likes dancing to music. Musical algae.

It also sounds like the bain of most social media marketers’ and influencers’ online life: How do you beat the dancing algae? Can you beat the dancing algae? What even is the dancing algae musical algorithm?

Well, Instagram recently lifted the lid on all these questions – and more. The tech giant invited a select group of reporters into its tech giant lair, and spilled some of its deepest, darkest tech-gianty secrets. According to Techcrunch, who was in the room; “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.”

Or in the words of another algorithm commentator: “There’s a reason that all of Kim Kardashian’s posts are always near the top of my feed. I’m a Kardashian fan, and I always like both her posts and posts about her, so Instagram knows that I really want to see Kim’s posts. But while lots of my friends follow her, they’re not all crazy Kardashian fans, so if they aren’t engaging with her content often then her posts will probably show up lower down in their feeds.”

Techcrunch reported how three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

  • Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, based on your past behaviour with similar content.
  • Recency: How recently the post was shared, with recent posts prioritised over weeks-old ones.
  • 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.

Then, these three factors also come into play:

  • Frequency: How often you open Instagram, as it will try to show you the best posts since your last visit.
  • Following: If you follow a lot of people, Instagram will be picking from a wider breadth of authors so you might see less of any specific person.
  • Usage: How long you spend on Instagram determines if you’re just seeing the best posts during short sessions, or it’s digging deeper into its catalog if you spend more total time browsing.

This information is important because everyone has been hating on the algorithm since it was changed in July 2016. But, despite backlash about confusing ordering (which has led to the growth of things like pods), Instagram now says relevancy sorting has led to its 800 million-plus users seeing 90 percent of their friends’ posts and spending more time on the app. And this is the first time Facebook-owned Instagram has explained exactly how.

Techcrunch reported the ‘gram officials also busted some ‘rithim-related myths.

  • Instagram is not considering an option to see the old reverse chronological feed. Techcrunch said this is because, “it doesn’t want to add more complexity (users might forget what feed they’re set to), but it is listening to users who dislike the algorithm”.
  • Instagram does not hide posts in the feed. If you keep scrolling, you’ll see everything.
  • Feed ranking does not favor the photo or video format universally, but people’ will see more of what they engage with – so if you skip videos, you’ll probably see less of them.
  • Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app.
  • Instagram doesn’t downrank users for posting too frequently or for other specific behaviors, but it might swap in other content in between someone’s if they rapid-fire separate posts.
  • Instagram doesn’t give extra feed presence to personal accounts or business accounts, so switching won’t help your reach.
  • Shadowbanning is not a real thing. Instagram says it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.

These revelations may come as a surprise to many (they definitely raised a few eyebrows in the Mosh offices). Whether you swear your personal page gets more engagement than your business or you’re sure you’ve been disadvantaged by a “shadowban” – this is, according to Instagram, a myth.

And that myth likely stems from a system bug last year which, according to some experts, classified posts using the same hashtags over and over as “spammy” behavior. One thing we can guarantee though, is Instagram will be trying to avoid Instagram becoming “uncool” like Facebook has. The reality is, as more users and businesses flood the platform there is more content to organise yet people are not spending the same amount of extra time online to see it all.

As Techcrunch so eloquently put it, “Competition reduces reach. As more users and businesses join Instagram and post more often, but feed browsing time stays stable per user, 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.”

That’s where new features like Stories and information sessions like the one mentioned here come in: The more users know about how Instagram works, the less they will complain and the less chance Instagram will have of becoming “uncool” like Facebook. And, when it comes to engagement, at Mosh we can’t help but keep pushing the point that good content will always prevail.

Genuine engagement comes through thoughtful, authentic and original content created specifically for your audience to reflect your brand and ethos. When mixed with the expertise of social media gurus who know how to optimise content through analytics and just general finesse – that’s when you’ve got an engagement-winning combination.

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