In a rare move, Instagram opened its vault and shared its algorithm secrets with a group of reporters. Unlike Geraldo Rivera’s secret vault, this announcement provided some much-needed information.
Techcruch first broke the news. Here’s what I feel are the big takeaways.
Instagram said that people were missing 70% of posts and 50% of their friends’ posts before they changed from the reverse chronological feed to the algorithm that we know today. That change has now lead to their 800 million plus users seeing around 90% of their friends posts. I believe that they gave that stat because they mentioned that they are not planning on changing back. They don’t want to add more complexity to the app but they did mention that they are listening to users.
The biggest takeaway from the article was how Instagram uses machine learning on your behavior to create a unique feed for everyone. So if you and I were following the exact same people we would still have very different feeds based on how we use the platform.
Here are the main factors in what you’ll see on your personalized feed in Instagram.
Interest – How much Instagram thinks you’ll actually care about a post. This is determined by your past behavior. So if you’re spending a lot of time looking at handcrafted hamburgers, you’re going to see more content on handcrafted hamburgers.
Recency – This is how far back the post was shared. More recent posts are going to be ranked higher than old, stale ones.
Relationship – How close are you to that person really? If you’re tagged in a bunch of photos together, that’s going to affect your score. If you comment and interact with a person a lot on Instagram, that is going to give you a higher ranking as well.
Instagram also mention some other signals that will move the needle on your posts.
Frequency – Makes sense – it’s how often you open Instagram and will show you the best content that you follow from your last time visiting.
Following- If you follow a lot of people, then, of course, you’re going to be seeing a bigger variety and not as much of a specific person.
Usage – The length of time you spend on Instagram is a factor if you’re just seeing the best posts during this short sessions or if Instagram has to dig deeper to serve you up more content during your browsing session.
Those core factors seem like common sense to me, but I do find interesting is how the team at Instagram actually pulled back the curtain to share this info. But the biggest takeaways for me was in the Mythbusting section:
- As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Instagram doesn’t have any plans on rolling back to the reverse chronological feed and stated as such.
- Feed ranking doesn’t favor photos or videos specifically, it depends on what content you like to engage with.
- Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live or other features. (this has been pretty controversial in the groups and forums I follow – many people still don’t believe Instagram on this.)
- Switching between business to personal accounts or vice-versa doesn’t help.
- Shadowbanning is not real ( this was another hugely debated comment. It all comes down to if you believe what Instagram is saying or not)
This transparency from Instagram was a welcome breath of fresh air for a social network. Just think if Facebook came out and detailed how their algorithm works! We can only hope… 😄
Below is the transcript of the live video that Erik Fisher and I did for Social Media Examiner on this topic.
Erik Fisher: Hey, I’m Erik Fisher, and I’m joined by Jeff Sieh. We have breaking news from Instagram. They have revealed how their algorithm works. You heard that right. We are going to report the facts on this, then break it down, get some thoughts and questions from you. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on this? Comment in the post below to let us know what you think. We’re going to cover your thoughts and questions in a bit, and then reply on this live video once it becomes a replay.
So, the news is this. Courtesy of TechCrunch, Instagram has assembled a group of reporters last week to explain how their algorithm works. They brought them all together in their new San Francisco headquarters that they are still in the midst of building, and they broke down the Instagram algorithm in three core features.
Jeff Sieh: Yes, first of all, they’re actually going to look to see how much you predict and you’ll care about a post, for what ranks and what matters to you. But determined by your past behavior or a comment that you think is similar.
Also, how recently the post was shared. They’re going to prioritize it for timely post versus like if you waited a week to do it. And, lastly, they’re going to be talking about relationships. How close you are to the person who shared it. For a higher ranking for the people that you interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram by commenting, or being tagged together in their photos.
Erik Fisher: So, those are the three core factors, then they introduced three other factors, which are frequency, following, and usage.
So, frequency means how often are you opening Instagram, and they then are trying to show you the best new posts for you. Following is, if you’re following a lot of people, then Instagram’s got to pick from a lot more people to show you all those different types of content. So, you’re going to be less likely to see everybody’s stuff all at once when you keep going in there, especially if you’re following a lot of people.
And then, usage. How much time you spend on Instagram is going to determine how many of those best posts you’re going to see in those short sessions when you go into Instagram, and so it’s going to have to dig deeper into the catalog to show you stuff.
So, that’s the three non-core features.
Jeff Sieh: Right, and so then they also did a cool thing where they got together and kind of broke down some of these myths that have been going around about Instagram. One of the first ones is they are actually not considering rolling back and going to the reverse chronological feed, like some people wanted to. They say if they tried to do that, it’d be too complex, but they are listening to those complaints.
Erik Fisher: Yeah. Another Instagram myth they wanted to squash, is they said this. They said they do not hide posts in the feed. You will see every post by everyone you follow if you keep scrolling. That’s a big one.
Jeff Sieh: Yeah. They also talked about how people’s feeds are kind of in tuned with what they’re engaged with the most. So, if you’re watching a lot of videos, you’re going to see a lot of videos. If you’re not, you’re going to see fewer of those. So, it is based on what kind of content you are consuming.
Erik Fisher: They also said that Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor people who use stories, or live, or other special features of the app. So, again, if you’re using those other things hoping to get seen more in the newsfeed, that’s just not the case, they say.
Jeff Sieh: Yeah, and they don’t give extra feed presence for personal accounts or business accounts. So, we’ve talked about should you switch or should you not. Should you switch back and forth, it doesn’t matter. So Instagram has said that, as well.
Erik Fisher: And, they also say they don’t down rank people for posting too frequently, or for other specific behaviors, sorry, but if you’re posting a lot … again, this has to do with that amount of people, that following number, that if you’re posting a lot, and people are following you, they’re going to potentially, if you’re doing rapid fire stuff, show other stuff for a while in between, so that it breaks down the newsfeed into more of a variety.
Jeff Sieh: Right, and they also said, and this is another big one, shadowbanning is not a real thing. Instagram said they do not hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags, or anything. So, and this article by TechCrunch did say that hey, they haven’t verified any of this stuff. This is what Instagram has said. So, that’s kind of the news, Erik. It’s kind of interesting.
Erik Fisher: Yeah. So, that’s the breakdown. They have never literally given us a breakdown algorithmically, of how, again, their algorithm works. So, we’ve got some comments and questions. Before we go into that, I want to say this just makes sense. It does make sense. And, it does answer some of the questions that we’ve had about … People have said well, I’m just not seeing everything. Well, honestly, it depends on how often you’re going into the app, how many people you’re following, what type of content it is that you’re engaging with, so they show you more of that.
So, it is still bubbling up certain things to the top, but, again, I really liked that they stated you can get to the end of the feed. Hence, that new feature that we’ve talked about that they’re testing, which is you’re all caught up. So.
Jeff Sieh: So, let’s go and jump into some-
Erik Fisher: Very cool.
Jeff Sieh: Comments really quickly how about that, Erik-
Erik Fisher: Yes.
Jeff Sieh: You want to do that? Let’s do that. Okay, so here we go.
Erik Fisher: Let’s do this, let’s see what you guys have to say here.
Jeff Sieh: So, first of all let me pull up the comments, here. Thanks for everybody who’s sharing this. And, let me go here to Iraimi, she says … I think that’s how you pronounce her name. I’m sorry, just a second. There we go. Shadowbanning is not a real thing. I think that’s what she meant, shadow naming. I want to say hi to Fiona, she says evening from the UK.
And Brian brings up this question, Erik, I’m not sure what you think about this. It says, “thought if you don’t like the quote images, it won’t show as much.” So, I’m unsure of what he’s actually meaning right there.
Erik Fisher: So, I think what he’s referring to is the … where was that. It was if … it’s the type of content. So, feed ranking doesn’t favor the photo or video format universally. So, in other words, your feed is going to be tuned to what type of content you engage with, whether it’s images or videos. They don’t, here, though, actually explicitly say a breakdown or differentiation between a quote graphic and an image, a photo. So, I don’t know. I don’t like a lot of … not photographs, text quotes in my Instagram, but I still see them. But, that’s because I see everything. So, now we know.
Jeff Sieh: Can we go ahead … Erik, can you drop that in, the link to the TechCrunch article? We’ve had some people who-
Erik Fisher: Sure.
Jeff Sieh: Asked this. Jocelin says she mostly watch comics and videos, and so that’s what she gets. And I agree with this quote, this comment by Brian. He goes most places don’t give out the algorithmic details, which you and I both … I mean, we’ve been on Instagram and kind of checking the news daily for this stuff. This is a big deal. It would be really great, in my opinion, if other developers start doing the same thing. Because they really did spell it out, and the brought … and they’re building this headquarters out in this TechCrunch article, they’re saying, and it wasn’t even finished yet, and they brought them in there to kind of break this stuff down to them.
Andrés says that-
Erik Fisher: If anything … go ahead.
Jeff Sieh: Go ahead, you said “if anything.”
Erik Fisher: If anything, this gives us more confidence in … And, now, again, here’s the thing. People who have been feeling that, for example, shadowbanning is a thing, aren’t going to necessarily trust them and believe that that’s true. Of course Instagram has to come out and say shadowbanning’s not real is what they’re going to say. But, for the most part, this breadth and depth of the breakdown of the algorithm makes me trust Instagram more.
Jeff Sieh: Yeah. Andrés says this. Yes … where did it go. I’ve seen Facebook just stop my feed like I’m caught up on it, but sometimes I want to search for a post I want to revisit and can’t. I think we’ve all felt that same way.
Vivian agrees with you, she goes I scroll right by the text quotes. Instagram is for beautiful pictures and videos, in my humble opinion. Well, Vivian, I post quotes every once in a while, so hopefully [inaudible 00:08:41] my … And this is a good question, and I think some people may be confused about this. Nathan says is Facebook and Instagram using the same algorithm. And they’re totally different things, right Erik? I mean, they’re totally separate.
Erik Fisher: Yeah. What you need to take in mind is this was just Instagram having just reporters come and hear just the Instagram algorithm breakdown. Now, probably there’s some similarity here, I’m sure, but it’s not like … at least, in my personal opinion, I don’t think Facebook’s coming in and saying here’s how we do our newsfeed, now you do the same, so.
Jeff Sieh: Right. And, another question was did they mention anything about Instagram Stories, only that it doesn’t matter if you are going and spending a lot of time looking at and creating Stories and watching Stories. It really doesn’t matter that they’re going to make your stuff bubble up more than anybody else. That was the other big thing that I remember reading in that myth busting section.
Let’s see. What [inaudible 00:09:38] other questions you have up there. Here’s a good question by Mark. He goes, joined late, can you once again shadowbanning? Well, the big thing out of this is Instagram says that it doesn’t exist.
Erik Fisher: Yes.
Jeff Sieh: Now, take … that’s Instagram saying that, who of course … Shadowbanning is a negative thing, but they said they don’t limit with hashtags if you post too many or whatever, they don’t do any of that. So, that’s their official statement. So what are your thoughts on that, Erik?
Erik Fisher: Well, and he’s asking define shadowbanning, so my definition of shadowbanning is you’ve done some shady stuff, potentially, or … again, they’re saying it doesn’t exist. But, the slang term, or definition, essentially shadowbanning is doing something that’s going to get your content not seen, or act as if it’s in the shadow, it’s banned, it’s not going to show.
Jeff Sieh: It’s shadowbanning.
Erik Fisher: It’s called ninja … insta-ninja.
Jeff Sieh: Ninja banning. And, I agree, Dan. He goes this kind of transparency, it’s really needed with all the network. So, I agree. Let’s see if there’s any other questions … what we see so far.
Erik Fisher: I like Valentin Vesa’s comment, here. He says what is important to note is that they specifically mentioned that using as many Instagram Story elements as you can will not promote you better. So, be creative but don’t over create, or over produce I guess, your stories, is in a way what that’s being translated as.
Jeff Sieh: And Nathan says promoting as a business on Instagram, will this algorithm affect this. They said it didn’t make any difference. There was some advice going around, like people thought they were limiting business accounts so that they would make them spend money on ads, and so people were saying hey, we’ll switch back to a personal, and then after a while switch back to a business. Instagram went out of their way in this kind of, I guess, press briefing, if you would say that’s what it’s called. That didn’t matter. They don’t have anything to do with it. So, if that’s kind of what you’re hinting at, Nathan, that’s [crosstalk 00:11:48]-
Erik Fisher: They explicitly state Instagram does not give extra feed presence to personal or business.
Jeff Sieh: Nick asked a question, have they indicated what the benchmark is for organic reach? They didn’t say anything really about that, that I saw in that article.
Erik Fisher: No, nothing in regards to any kind of reach metric. It was all just this is how your content is seen or gets treated by the algorithm.
Jeff Sieh: Brian Fanzo, thanks for watching Brian. We’re going to bring his comment up here. He goes I believe the next big move will be giving more love to the accounts whose Stories you watch in the feed, as they push toward Stories for Instagram in the fall. So, I think that’s a great point. I think that they’re going to give you more of what you want, they did say that. So, if you’re consuming a lot more stories, I have a feeling that’s going to show up, and those accounts will show up more. Would you agree with that, Erik?
Erik Fisher: Yeah, I agree. If that’s the way they go, then that’s the way that will work. One other thing that somebody else, Valentin, is mentioning, is that … keep in mind, this is all the organic algorithm. So, there are still things that’ll come into play in terms of paid promotion when it comes to your posts being seen in the newsfeed.
Jeff Sieh: Right, right.
Erik Fisher: Got to mention that.
Jeff Sieh: And a lot of people are saying this, like what Leigh said. I hope the transparency with the algorithms will create more of the same from other platforms. Totally agree. I am ready for-
Erik Fisher: Totally agree.
Jeff Sieh: Total transparency.
Erik Fisher: Yes.
Jeff Sieh: I think we’re getting to the end of our comments, Erik. You have any final thoughts. You know, we’d love for you guys to share this out on all the social, because this is kind of, like a lot of you have mentioned, this is a big deal, when they’re kind of spelling out what the algorithm actually does. So, we would love for you guys to share this on Facebook, on Periscope, on Twitter, wherever you see it at. We would love for you guys to share that out, and [crosstalk 00:13:37]-
Erik Fisher: Yeah, especially if you found this breakdown helpful, and again, we’re always around when the live video turns into a replay, we come back in and so if you’re watching this on a replay feel free to still comment and interact. Because, we’ll be back, and we will be here to hit reply and talk with you more. We want to know more about what you think about this news. And, with that, again, hit share and comment and we will talk to you soon.
Jeff Sieh: Thanks for watching, everybody. See you next time.
Erik Fisher: Thanks.