Let me start off by saying that this is my opinion and I am writing this for the sake of showing the good side of the algorithm. (I've also added a couple of photos from my shoot with Ashley because it felt incomplete without some photos)
The algorithm was first introduced in 2016. From that point on, Instagram decided what posts were relevant and deserved to be at the top of your feed based on your engagement with other peoples content. Overall, the reaction to the algorithm has been negative.
At the time the algorithm was first introduced, I was shooting landscaped and had no direction in my work. For that year, I had a net growth of 100 followers. The struggle was real, but I wasn't going to hand in the towel just yet. For 2017, I had and goal for the year, 5k(I failed). Throughout 2017 I focused on numbers a lot. I spent my time looking at which posts did better, what times were the best, what days, what colors, who to work with, who to tag and so on... Constant changes in the algorithm made it difficult to read and react to. I came to one conclusion by the end of the year: Just take good photos and let the algorithm do its job.
I'm going to start off by listing the things we think we know about the algorithm.
- Engagement matters, more engagement means you'll be put at the top
- The type of content you are posting matters. People are more likely to see your content if they engage in other content that is similar.
- Tags matter. This has always been true, but your chances are much higher of being on the top posts of a certain tag if the algorithm favors your work. This became even more important with the addition of following tags.
- The explorer page matters. This opens your content to a much larger audience.
- Time spent seeing your content matters. The longer a viewer views your content, the better it does.
Things that I'm not really sure are true or not but I've heard about:
- The timing of engagement matters. According to different cites, Instagram measures the likability of your content with the amount of engagement that you receive initially before releasing it to your entire following.
- Fewer tags is more, filling up all 30 tags isn't the best strategy
- Shadow banning
- Editing your caption is bad
- Pods help beat the algorithm
- Business accounts are hurt in order to make them purchase ads
- The algorithm favors business accounts over personal ones
For this first reason, I will be speaking as a user and not a content creator. The algorithm does clean up my feed. I think that this one is important and is overlooked by a lot of people, it does what it was meant to do. I follow almost 900 accounts and going through everyone's content is a lot. WIth the algorithm, I get the feed that matters to me at the top, the people that I engage with regularly and other content I am probably going to like. Let's face it, not everything you post is gold and not everyone is going to like it. People seem to be blaming the algorithm for their content getting bad engagement, but maybe your content is not doing good because it's simply not good. But that's just my opinion.
Next point, quality is rewarded. This goes along with engagement mattering. Let's face it if your content sucks its not going to be shown to accounts. Speaking from personal experience, when I truly work on making a photo the best it could be to the best of my ability, it does well. I create good content because it is what I like to do, not because I want to stay relevant. Creating work that people will see and engage with is rewarded with showing it to a bigger audience in the explorer page and the top posts on tags. And I'm not saying to stop posting or to spend an absurd amount of time on your post, just to post because you want to, not because you need to.
Because of quality mattering, this evens out the playing field. You can be a small account and relatively grow like a big account. Your work is rewarded if you know how to display it. By using tags and your followers you can make it to the top of a popular tag and even more, land on potentials followers' feeds. I've seen work show up on my feed and explorer page from accounts that I don't follow and are much smaller than mine. Speaking for myself, since falling into my current flow, I have been rewarded by having my work reach an audience much larger than my own following.
Authenticity matter. This ones my personal speculation but I believe that your engagement should be good relative to the size of your following. It's all percentages and not the size of the numbers. For me, it makes more sense for it to favor accounts that have followers that actually engage with their work. And it would hurt those with fake or ghost followers.
Timeliness doesn't matter anymore. Ok, this one is also just my opinion but I think its true. You don't need to post at the right time anymore. Because the algorithm rearranges posts, it doesn't really matter when you post because you could post at the right time and be at the bottom or at the wrong time and still be at the top. Time of day doesn't matter from my experience. I have had engagement on both sides of the spectrum from posting at different times throughout the day.
Finally, I don't think people know how difficult it was growing in a world without the algorithm. Most accounts I see complaining are new and still small. Let me tell you a secret, growing a new account is difficult, with or without the algorithm. You would get outshined by other content and you would have to strategize on ways to get noticed anyways.
The algorithm is here to stay and its just something everyone is going to have to live with. Maybe its just becasue I have been benefiting from it or becasue I don't do this for the numbers but I like it. Instead of being discouraged by it, use it as motivation to take your work to the next level and show it that your work deserves to be seen. Or you can let it win and give up. But that's up to you.