We’ve all been there. You take an amazing photo, choose a filter that makes it look even more amazing-er and write a quirky caption that took you hours to think of. You post it to Instagram, expecting it to rake in hundreds of likes because its SO good… and what happens?
Sure, the likes might come in slow and steady, just like your normal posts, peaking at pretty much the same number of likes as your others. But, you’re still pulling your hair out wondering why?!
This post was waaaaay better than your normal posts…?
Well, let me explain.
There’s actually loads of reasons why this happens and I’ll get on to what you can do to fix this later.
But first, the main reason is the dreaded algorithm.
Yup it’s back.
In fact it never left.
It’s always lurking, mixing things up to ruin your dreams keep you on your toes.
So what is the Instagram algorithm and why does it do this?
The Instagram Algorithm in 7 Dead-Simple Steps
In a nutshell, the algorithm is Instagram’s way of finding out what kind of posts people like and tailoring what each person sees. It changes it up every now and again and uses a different method of doing this but it’s all about showing people what they wanna see.
If people see what they wanna see then they’ll keep on coming back to the app.
And Instagram has a clever way of making sure this happens, so lets break it down:
If you have lots of engagement on your posts, Instagram will recognise them as posts that people like and so will likely show them to other people.
And if someone has liked your post, Instagram will probably make sure that next time that person opens the app, one of your posts is sitting pretty right there at the top of their feed.
That seems simple enough , yeah?
So like I mentioned above, the more people that interact with your post the more Instagram will show it off to other people who might like it too.
So…. How does this affect you?
Aim to get a ton of engagement.
I know, I know… It’s not that easy.
It comes down to what you’re posting, when you’re posting and who your post gets shown to.
And it also depends on how quickly you get that engagement after you post.
But that’s something for another day…
Now onto the next step…
This kind of links with engagement.
If you’re posting something that your followers like, then it’ll be shown to them.
So basically, if your followers like lots of cat videos and then you post a cat video, Instagram will put the video at the top of their feed to make sure they see it. Your post is relevant to their interests.
The same way that if you post lots of pictures of makeup, your account will show up on the ‘Similar accounts to follow’ drop down if someone follows another account like yours.
Ok, let me give you an example.
I like candles, so I follow @charmedaroma…
Once I click follow, the dropdown menu appears with ‘Suggestions for you’ and shows me @diamondcandles…
When I follow those, ‘Suggestions for you’ shows me @fragrant_jewels…
See? So because the other two accounts are similar to the first, Instagram shows them to me so I can follow them too.
And before I know it I’ve followed a bunch of accounts and want a candle from all of them! (Yes, that actually happens…)
So if you want more people to see your posts, you need to be posting something that everyone wants to see.
Next up, frequency…
Okay so this basically means how often are you engaging with an account?
Think of an account you really love… A celeb, or a brand, or even your next door neighbour…(weird.)
If you regularly like their posts, spend time scrolling their feed, comment on their pictures, view their story etc. etc. then Instagram knows you like this account and therefore makes sure you see their posts every time you come online.
So another way to get your posts in front of people is to get people looking on your feed, or engaging with your content (Yep, back to engagement again)…
The more often people do this, the more likely that your posts will be put in front of them.
So if you’re ever wondering why you don’t often see posts from your favourite celeb – it’s because you’re not telling Instagram that those are the posts you want to see. You are probably spending more time engaging with other accounts and other posts that Instagram thinks these are more important to you.
Give Instagram a break, it’s not a mind reader. If your behaviour doesn’t show that you’re into a certain account, it won’t show those posts to you.
This is pretty logical. The more recent the post is, the more likely it’ll be at the top of your feed.
Although Instagram doesn’t show every post in the order that it was posted, the more recent it is, the more likely it will be shown.
So how can you control this?
Well, all you can do is post frequently so your most recent posts never get too old.
This is pretty similar to frequency…
So frequency was how often you engaged with the account, yeah? And the more you engage, the more likely people will see your account…
Well this is the same with searches.
The more times you search for a person’s account, Instagram will recognise that person as someone you really like. And so their posts will be at the top of your feed.
The account will probably end up in the ‘Suggested’ section of the search screen on the app too which means you’re probably more likely to click on that account next time you’re browsing on the app.
And on that topic…
Instagram is watching you…
Yep, and it knows what posts you spend the longest time looking at.
But this means that Instagram and it’s clever little brain can show you more of those types of post.
So, whether it’s a random post on your explore page or a post on your best friends account, the more time you spend looking at that post, the more similar posts Instagram is finding for you, and the more likely that Instagram will show you that person’s post when they post again next time.
So how does that help you?
Again, this links to engagement. The more engagement you get on a post, whether its comments or likes, the longer people are spending looking at it.
Whose posts are you sharing?
Wait, what? You can share posts?
When you screenshot a post (and yes, Instagram knows you have taken a screenshot), a message drops down from the top of your screen telling you that you can share the post with your friends:
But an easier way to do this is the small paper plane symbol which is underneath the post, next to the comment symbol.
Simply click this, choose who you want to share with and it sends it straight to them.
Woohoo! It’s so simple, I know…
But anyway, where were we… Ah yes, Instagram’s magic eyes that see everything.
Instagram knows what posts get shared. So if you share someone’s post regularly, or you share a certain type of post (like cat videos…) then these again are more likely to be shown to you.
Okay so that was a super quick 7 step introduction to the algorithm.
So, let’s see how to…
Make Sure You Don’t Get Buried On Instagram
The Instagram algorithm can be your best friend if you use it wisely. All of the steps above are how Instagram is making sure that the right people see your posts.
Now you know exactly what Instagram is looking for (well, for the moment until the algorithm changes again…), there are ways to work with it and use this to your advantage.
Let’s look at the 5 steps to stop you getting buried on Instagram:
Post great content
Yes, I know you’ve heard this a million times.
In fact you’ve probably heard more than one of these tips a million times.
But that’s because they’re important. And if you want to get seen on Instagram, you need to actually put these into practise.
No one wants to see a blurry photo or one taken in dim light so you can’t tell if it’s a photo of a car… or your grandma’s cat…
Think about the lighting and if the photo isn’t clear… don’t post it!
And by good I also mean the kinda content people wanna see.
People probably don’t wanna see that picture of your grandma’s cat (… or was it a car?).
So if you want to be seen on Instagram, and want engagement, post things that people wanna see.
People liking your photos = more engagement = happy Instagram algorithm = more exposure, more follows and more engagement.
Attract likes and engagement straight away
Now, this one can be a little tricky because you’re counting on other seeing the post straight away annnnnd pressing that like or comment button.
So how do you do that?
The easiest way is to ask people to turn on notifications. That means that every time you post a new photo on Instagram, they will get a notification to let them know.
This lets your followers stay on top of when you’ve posted and make sure they don’t miss anything!
But if you’re a small account starting out, it’s gonna be pretty hard to get people to turn on notifications.
So what can you do instead?
One of the ways to get people to notice you’ve posted is by engaging with others as soon as you’ve pressed post.
Go through your home feed and like/comment on a bunch of pics. Then follow some accounts similar to yours.
You can pretty much guarantee that if the accounts are a similar size to yours, they’ll see the notification and click on your profile.
If they’ve made it that far there’s a good chance they’ll like your latest post in return… This is sometimes what people call a ‘like for like’.
Another way to attract engagement as soon as you’ve posted is to…
Be in an engagement group
If you’ve never heard of an engagement group, let me explain what one is…
An engagement group is basically a big group message which is part of your DM’s (Direct messages) and it is generally made up of several people with accounts in the same niche (same category, for example quotes or makeup).
The ‘rules’ of each engagement group are different as it’s usually the person who made the group who decides how it will work.
Basically, every time you post on Instagram, you let the engagement group know and they will respond with likes or comments.
You can have up to 15 people in a group message so that’s potentially 15 likes as soon as you’ve posted (if they’re all online at that time).
Now if you are in an engagement group, don’t expect those likes for nothing. You must return the favour and keep on top of your liking and commenting on those accounts too.
It’s only fair, right?
Engagement groups might seem like a lot of effort for some people. So, if it’s not your cup of tea, stick to the hashtags…
Use relevant hashtags
Here we go again with the hashtags, yes I know you know you should use hashtags and you always put a couple on your post.
That’s a good start.
But soooooo many people under estimate the power of the hashtag.
The most important thing is using relevant hashtags.
And by that I mean hashtags that actually relate to the picture you’ve posted.
So, back to the picture of your grandma’s cat (which you’ve retaken in excellent lighting and the cat is posing with a smile for the camera)… relevant hashtags could be #catsofinstagram or #catsofinsta.
So anyone searching for those hashtags actually has a chance of seeing your photo.
That’s pretty simple yeah?
Buuuut there’s a catch.
You see those two examples I used there? There are 65,507,370 posts which have used #catsofinstagram and 1,234,445 posts which have used #catsofinsta.
That’s a heck of a lot of posts.
So how do you make sure your post gets seen and not buried under all those millions of posts using the same #?
Well, unfortunately, if you are relying on hashtags then using the big ones like those two won’t help you.
You’ll press post and then by the time you’ve copied your hastags into a comment (Yes, you should always put them in a comment and not the caption) then thousands of other people have posted since and your post is already thousands deep.
No one is going to scroll through thousands of posts under that hashtag to see yours now are they?
So how do you solve this?
Don’t use the big hashtags.
Look at the number of posts each hashtag has when you type it into the search bar. If it’s less than 1 million then you’re probably okay to use it.
But try mixing it up and use different sized hashtags.
You can use up to 30 hashtags on a post so make sure you use your 30 wisely. If you want more people to see your photo, don’t just use 2 hashtags. Use as close to the 30 limit as you can.
Do your research and find as many relevant hashtags as possible. Yes, I know this is tedious and might take a while but it’s the best way to increase exposure.
There is a shortcut however… but we will talk about that another time.
Hashtag as soon as you’ve posted!
This is suuuuper important.
Like I said above, you put your hashtags in a comment, and not in the caption. This is to keep your post looking nice and tidy and not just a post with a sea of hashtags under it.
But this means that your hashtags aren’t going to be there the second you’ve posted.
So be prepared and have your hashtags copied and ready to paste into your comment as soon as your post is shared.
But why is it so important?
Well, you see, as soon as you hashtag, your post will show up on searches for those hashtags. And when you search for a hashtag, the posts are shown in chronological order of when they were posted.
So, if you post a picture and then wait 5 minutes to hashtag, your post will be 5 minutes deep into that hashtags search page.
You don’t want to be 5 minutes deep. You want to be there at the top of the search for everyone to see.
Yeah? I thought so.
So get those hashtags ready and fire away as soon as you’ve posted.
The 5 steps to stop you from getting buried on Instagram are:
- Post great content
- Attract engagement as soon as you’ve posted
- Be in an engagement group
- Use relevant hashtags
- Hashtag as soon as you’ve posted!