Explained: The Instagram algorithm 2021 (and how to use it to your benefit!)

Ok, let’s clear up the basic terms before I dive in:

What is an algorithm? – An algorithm is a piece of code that essentially decides what posts appear at the top of your feed whenever you open Instagram.

Why is an algorithm used? – Well, contrary to popular belief, simply putting all the posts of the people you follow in chronological order is not the best way for you to enjoy Instagram.

Instead, Instagram uses the algorithm to predict which posts you’ll like the most and puts them in an order to keep you on the platform longer. This in turn means you actually end up seeing more posts from the people you love.

The algorithm also determines the ‘reach’ of your posts.

What is ‘reach’? – This is the amount of people who see your post. Basically, if the algorithm thinks your post is really cool and people will like seeing it, it’ll pop up at the top of people’s feeds when they open up Instagram.

If it’s really good, the algorithm can even show it to people who don’t follow you.

So, what does the algorithm look for? And how can you increase the reach of your social media posts?

The algorithm considers thousands of data points to make these decisions. Not only does it learn everything about the user, but it also scans the images and videos posted to see what is in them. (This part of the algorithm is starting to get scarily good)

This means if you post a video of you spraying paint in a house, the algorithm will scan the video and understand that it contains a person spraying paint in a house. Even if you don’t mention that in the caption.

In the same way, if you consistently stop to watch football highlight videos when scrolling through social media, you’ll end up getting loads of football highlight videos near the top of your feed.

Hootsuite explain it nicely with what they call the three C’s.


The algorithm bumps up posts from accounts that a user already interacts with. Exchange DMs, tag people in posts, and leave comments to build a focused community of loyal followers.


If users have enjoyed certain posts in the past, the algorithm is more likely to show that type of post to them in the future. Keep your aesthetic and tone consistent to build momentum in your engagement.


Recent posts are more likely to be pushed to the top of people’s feeds. Know when your audience is most likely to engage and plan your content accordingly.

Bonus tips to improve your reach:

Carousel posts (the ones where you put several photos on the same post, so people must swipe through them) make up 17% of feed posts, and according to Hootsuite’s research they pull 3x the engagement and 1.4x the reach of other post types.

Be consistent – When it comes to posting content about your business, consistency is a great way to build a relationship with your followers. Not just because it means they are more likely to see your posts, but also because it shows you are active and available to do business with.

Use new features as soon as they are released – This is a good rule for all social media platforms. Whenever a new feature is release (For example, on Instagram this is ‘Reels’) you should do your best to incorporate it into your posts. The algorithm wants to show off its new feature to as many people as possible, so if you are one of the first people using it, the algorithm will reward you with increased reach.

Don’t recycle TikToks with the watermark. – Outside of the algorithm, there are still some humans making decisions on what posts get loads of reach (I’m talking the big viral stuff). This is currently the case for ‘Reels’.

These humans aren’t going to handpick a video that has a Tiktok watermark on it, so if you do this, don’t expect to go viral.

Use hashtags – Even though they are getting a little old now, Hashtags are still a great (and free) way to increase reach beyond your followers.

People can search and follow hashtags on Instagram, so think about the sort of hashtags your audience might be interested in and start using adding 3 or 4 to your posts. For example, someone looking to get their home decorated might be following hashtags such as #interiordesign #colourinspiration #decoratingideas

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