Experienced marketers claim that Instagram will remain one of the best platforms for advertising businesses. At the moment, this social media channel is one of the top five in the advertising world, behind Facebook and WeChat. But it has a strong competitor – Tiktok which inspired them to change and add some new features last year.
As you know, Instagram has changed a lot over the years. Starting with its main aesthetics, through its logo, and then the most important change happened. When the platform switched from chronological to the algorithmic way of showing content, a lot of influencers felt like they were losing their audience. Many people felt the drop in their reach, but eventually, everything became better.
By learning how Instagram’s algorithm works in 2021, we will be able to explore the endless possibilities of this platform and create engaging pages with great organic traffic.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Actually Work in 2021?
It is essential to know that Instagram algorithm is like a live organism, it learns every day, and it changes regularly. Instagram rankings are always based on new data and user trends, so you just have to be aware of those changes and adapt to them accordingly. In order to understand how it works, you must know its purpose.
The main purpose of Instagram algorithms is not to hide some posts and keep you away from information. It’s actually quite the opposite. Its purpose is to show you the images created by people you care about the most.
Engineers from Instagram realized that with the growth of the content production, their users are missing around 70% of the content from the pages they are following. That is the reason why they are constantly working on creating the best possible experience for their users. Their idea is to show you posts that could be most valuable to you based on your previous activity. No matter where you are, they want you to know what your friends, favorite artists or influencers are doing. That way, every person has a custom-made feed for themselves.
But don’t mix Instagram with some altruistic companies. They are doing all of these improvements, in order to keep you on the platform, so that you can see all the ads and to keep other users on the app. Basically the main goal of this company is to create an easy-to-use platform for businesses from all around the world, and we are here to help you and show you how an understanding of Instagram algorithms in 2021 can help you with expanding your own business.
The Switch from Chronological to Algorithmic Way of Showing Content
When the platform switched from chronological to the algorithmic way of showing content, a lot of influencers felt like they were losing their audience. Many people felt the drop in their reach, but eventually, everything became better.
People who are new to Instagram marketing will tell you that Instagram Algorithm has its own mysterious ways. Professional marketers who follow the latest trends from the Instagram blog, attend conferences, and read relevant websites will assure you that there is no mystery. There is only pure logic and knowledge about the basic principles of social media marketing.
This platform is not the same platform it was three years ago. Since posts don’t show up in chronological order like they used to, you will see the newest posts on the feed only if you scroll long enough. They’re all there, but they’re organized according to different levels of priority.
Before, when Instagram was showing posts chronologically, it was enough to find at what time your audience is present on social media, and post at that time. But now, when users’ feeds are based on the different factors, and businesses who didn’t know what those factors are, saw a big decrease in engagement rate.
As Julian K.Gutman, the Product Lead of Instagram, said in a conference, Instagram in 2021 will be all about engagement, frequency, and communication. But, to create a perfect mixture and have all three, you have to be committed. You must be able to use new features and follow simple rules while creating content.
Now, let’s bust some Instagram-related myths and find out how to beat the Instagram algorithm!
How to beat the Instagram algorithm in 2021 with engagement?
The goal of this platform is to have more and more users, but they don’t need just any user. They need a committed user who will spend a lot of time on their platform, who will see ads, and ultimately create profit for them. Engaging real, active users in different communities is helping them achieve this goal.
The same goes for business owners, their aim is to have a business account that has an engaged audience or to hire an influencer with a high engagement rate. Influencers and businesses with high engagement are the ones who have some credibility in their niches, and they are the ones that are creating profit on social media. They are those who know how to communicate with their audiences, to inspire them to do things, and who know how to keep the conversation going.
Further on we will discuss how to calculate engagement, and what will happen if the likes disappear.
How do we calculate the engagement rate on Instagram in 2021?
Calculating the engagement rate can be a very difficult thing to do because there are so many methods out there. Marketers are still trying to agree on whether it should be a function of a total number of followers, or impressions. They even didn’t come to an agreement should we focus on likes and comments, or should we also calculate how many times posts were saved or shared in Instagram stories. Opinions are very different, and our only option here is to give you some of the most popular ways to calculate engagement at this moment:
Engagement and Impressions
This method of calculating engagement might be based on the fact that we are only counting those people who actually saw your posts. We are interested to see how many of your viewers have commented or liked what they saw. The only problem with this calculation is that you need to switch your profile to an Instagram business, in order to see your stats.
To calculate this you can use a simple formula, where you divide the total amount of likes and comments with the number of total impressions and multiply it with 100 to get the percentage. It would go like this:
(Likes + Comments) / Impressions x 100 = Engagement rate
Engagement and Followers
For calculating engagement rate with the number of followers, you can use the same formula. Just, this time you don’t divide the number of likes and comments with impressions. You divide it with the number of followers. This option is much better for those who want to see how their competitors are doing because all the data (number of followers, likes, and comments) is available for everyone.
(Likes + Comments) / Followers x 100 = Engagement rate
Saved posts also count!
Saved posts work like bookmarks for Instagram posts. When you save an image, it goes to a private tab that only you can see and revisit. Since people are using this occasionally for the content that they find valuable, the number of saves should be also calculated when you want to know the engagement rate.
Instagram introduced this feature in 2016, but many social media managers are still not using this metric when calculating the engagement rate. Our advice is to definitely use it and check it out from time to time because it can show you what your audience finds valuable. Since you can not see what is the number of saved posts for other profiles, you can use this metric only to improve your content.
So which technique is the best for calculating engagement?
There is no correct answer, and our advice is that you should use all of these formulas. The first one is the best for finding your engagement rate over time, and the second one can be used when you want to see how your competitors are doing.
Also, it is good to explore tools that are free, and which you can use to calculate your engagement rate, and maybe the engagement rate of your competitors.
Will removing likes affect the algorithm and engagement rate?
As I mentioned earlier, the algorithm focuses on finding which accounts are interested in your content. Now that Instagram is testing removing likes, how do we get high engagement rates that are valuable to its algorithm?
Before you start to panic, remember that engagement is not about likes. It’s about sharing content, saving it to collections, and starting conversations about it. Now that posts can be saved in our own private mood-boards, and shared via Insta Stories, the reach can be calculated differently with the formulas I mentioned above.
Removing likes might not be as huge a deal as it sounded in the first place, and it may actually have a positive effect on the whole community – but we can discuss that when it happens.
From all of this it is the most important that Instagram algorithm in 2021 will be focusing on checking out how saved and shared was your post. So focus on creating content that people would like to share with their friends, or to save it for later.
How to beat the Instagram Stories Algorithm in 2021 with content?
Now that you know how to calculate engagement, it is time to talk about how to create engagement on your feed. As I mentioned above, the most important is that the content that you are creating is making people share it or save it. Instagram in 2021 knows that it takes only a second to like a post, but it takes a bit longer to decide to share it or save it to your gallery. So, they are focusing on promoting posts that other users shared and saved.
That is why you need to create content that will inspire your audience to do so. You need to create professional, branded images, with clear and insightful copy that will help or inspire your audience. It sounds easier said than done, but with simple rules you need to follow, you will be on the right track.
Find adequate design tools for the branded look of your Instagram feed
To have a branded look, you need to create basic rules around your Instagram feed. Ask yourself which colors are welcome, and what is the overall vibe of it. Will it be geeky, girly, serious or something totally different. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you stick to it. You can use colors from your logo as the color of your feed.
You can use design tools such as Photoshop or online design tools such as Appy Pie Design, to add letters across the images or other shapes. The hardest part is to find your vibe, and when you succeed to create your template, you just need to use it every time for a constant Instagram feed. This should be done with the help of designers, and if you are a small startup without a budget for designers, pay attention to the paragraph where I wrote about Instagram aesthetics for 2021.
Adjust images before posting them
Instagram filters were fun in the beginning, but marketers are avoiding them because all of them are recognizable and just seem retro to people who are using this platform longer. Instead of using filters, try editing tools to adjust contrast, brightness, warmth, and saturation. You can do that on your phone with VSCO app, or any other Instagram editing app you enjoy using.
Create posts that your audience will save
This one is the trickiest, and it gets you the best results. You have to figure out what information is valuable to your audience and create a post about it. It can be an infographic, meme, or a fun discovery that can help them in everyday life. If you are in the makeup industry, it can be a post about types of skin, or a new line of lipstick that you have tested. If you are selling shoes, then you can create a post about the best ways to preserve leather shoes. And if you are a travel blogger, you can create lists of your favorite spots in different cities and be very sincere when you write. Whatever the niche is, you need to be fresh, informative, and fun. Some content creators are successful when they speak about their struggle, and people are easily related to that. So if you are not in a good mood for a caption, you can share that as well. You know that famous caption for selfies: “feeling cute, might delete it later”. That one was so successful because it was relatable and sincere.
Source: @nikkitravelled on Instagram
Remember to use the call to action in your caption, because many people will just forget to save it if you don’t tell them. It can be just a simple and sweet reminder like this: “Hey guys, if you liked this post tap that saves button on the right corner to file it away for the future.”
Engaging Aesthetics For Instagram Feed
Many brands today have come to realize that their Instagram feed is becoming their new home page. And so, a carefully crafted feed aesthetic becomes really important. Instagram is, after all, a visual platform, and exhibiting a unique aesthetic will help your brand to become memorable.
With a descriptive bio that focuses on your target customer and good aesthetics, it will be easier for them to connect. The name part of your profile is the only part of your bio that can be searchable, so put a bit of effort into crafting it.
When it comes to aesthetics that will be interesting in 2021, we can’t overlook the rise of non-edited images and images that are “more real”. It seems that we’ve come a long way from the first “Instagram vs Reality” meme that appeared in 2012.
In the past few years, influencers realized that being vulnerable and relatable is the thing that brings them a lot of attention. When I say attention, I mean to reach and ads.
That’s why it’s not uncommon to see freckles, no-makeup looks, tears, and images that look like eastern European flea markets. Minimalistic, pale pink and retro feeds still communicate well with young audiences, and it will stay that way for a while. Pay attention to that retro vibe, use nostalgia, and don’t be afraid to experiment with “realness”. Everybody likes to see something cute, nostalgic, relatable – and it all has to have a story behind it.
All in all, it seems like Instagram in 2021 will be so much different than the one in the beginning: no Instagram filters, no overly perfect aesthetic, and fewer likes than ever (but we are now OK with that). As your inspiration, you can check out a few micro-influencers (who typically count anywhere between 1000 and 1 000 000 followers), and get the picture. You will notice a lot of carelessness and everyday situations more often.
Instagram feed of @lindatol_
Create Stunning Instagram Feeds with our Guide to Developing the Perfect Instagram Color Palette
A new type of content: Pay attention to microblogging
Instagram is going through a writing renaissance, and with more space for captions, microblogging via Instagram became a very important part of content strategy. Users are spending more time on the platform, reading long captions, and the Instagram algorithm loves that. Brands can use this trend to get personal, give tips, or write relatable stories about their employees.
Microblogging gives the brands and influencers the chance to capture the attention and speak about their ups and downs, and the audience is really responding to that because it is more relatable than a short caption. With long captions, you are creating better connections with your audience, and you seem more approachable if your content is well written.
It is good to know that in 2021, Instagram is planning to optimize their search engine and it will probably work similarly to Google search engine. That means that you can start preparing your content for that type of search. If you don’t know anything about optimization for search engines, now is the moment to learn a little bit about keywords, and to expand your knowledge in that area. But if you already know something about SEO and blogging in general, you can sleep tight, your Instagram is going to bloom in 2021.
Pro tip: If you have good photos or great articles on your website that weren’t seen because of Instagram’s algorithm changes, you can try to recycle that content with microblogging.
How to create engaging and relatable Instagram Stories?
In August 2016, Instagram introduced Stories, and this form of content is now one of the main factors behind its popularity. With more than 500 million people watching Instagram Stories every day, this feature has great potential. If you learn your way around its algorithm, the Stories feature can become the perfect tool to help you convert followers into regular customers.
When creating an Instagram Story, you must be careful of the structure and aesthetics in order to get your audience involved. The Stories algorithm works very simply, showing you the profiles you’re most interested in, according to your interactions (likes, messages, comments, story watching). It also shows you active accounts from your friend’s list that have new content.
By creating relatable Stories, you’re starting a conversation with your audience, and Instagram sees that as a signal to put your content on top for the people who actively engage with it. There are many ways of creating good Instagram Stories, and I will give you a few examples.
- Use stickers to engage more people
Instagram now has polls, question stickers, and many more options that can help you to involve your audience in conversation. You can use them for short and simple quizzes, just like National Geographic does. They don’t have to be educational, as long as they are fun.
- Use Instagram Story Tools
These tools will give you more choices if you need different fonts and shapes. Some of my favourite tools are Unfold, Mojo video, and Nichi. Unfold has a clean minimalistic design, that is helping you create a clean and polished look of your stories. Mojo video is the next best thing on Instagram, and some say that it is even better than Unfold. Nichi is a retro and girly app and has a lot of beautiful stickers for free. I love Nichi because it can help you create a poetic design and your own templates. Just see it for yourself here in the picture.
- Mix and Match
When people are spending a lot of time on one platform, they easily get bored. Instagram is constantly creating new stickers, filters and fun ways to connect with your audience, and your only job is to try to find the perfect mix. Maybe you will be using VSCO filters and Instagram stickers for voting the best filter, or maybe you will learn how to use Instagram Live and Instagram TV. Possibilities are endless, but you must always experiment, and mix everything to look good and original.
How to use Reels in 2021?
As we all know, 2020 was big for TikTok and the short video content on that platform. While TikTok was being downloaded over 2 billion times, the Instagram team worked hard on creating Reels. Reels are quite similar to a video format from TikTok, and we strongly suggest you try creating content on Reels if you have it as an option in your country.
The reason is simple – at the moment Instagram is promoting creators who are using Reels, and you can jump on that train and gain actual benefits from this amazing competition between TikTok and Instagram. Also, don’t be ashamed to resume some content that was already made for TikTok, and remember that you can always pre-record everything with and edit it with some free online video editor before you post it and add music or somebody’s audio recording.
If you are asking yourself how to use Reels now in the beginning, we have some quick tips for you:
- Use them to show off your product or service in video form
- Teach people some useful tips
- Show how it really feels to be behind the scenes
- Introduce your coworkers or show pets who are sleeping while you are working
- Share inspiration or support community
- Use other people’s popular audio to get more views on your Reel’s
- Don’t forget to share Reels in your Instagram Story or your Feed
How to beat the Instagram Algorithm by being a social butterfly in 2020?
As we already learned, Instagram’s algorithm is trying to show you, on your feed, people that you know and care about. Since it cannot dive into your soul, it uses simple metrics such as the number of replies and the amount of time spent on other people’s profiles. If you get involved in someone’s Instagram feed or their Stories by sending some kind of reaction, the algorithm will remember that. Simple communication will be understood as friendship, and you will appear more frequently in their feeds.
That’s why it is so important to turn on notifications for comments on your Instagram. When you do that, you will never miss a chance to communicate with the active members of your audience. If you’re just starting out, good advice is to comment and send reactions to people that you consider your target audience.
If you’re using Instagram Stories to spread the word about your brand, make sure to send at least an emoji to every reaction on your Story. That is what makes all the difference. It might look like a waste of time, but it is actually time well spent on widening the number of regular viewers of your Stories. Show them respect and love, and they will love you back.
Last but not least: in 2021, you have to stop thinking about bots. Focus on creating bonds with influencers that are popular in your niche. Comment on their posts, ask engaging questions, share their content, and cultivate a community that supports you no matter what.
Beat the Instagram Algorithm With Consistency
This platform loves having its audience around. That’s the reason why they used the basic principles of human psychology when creating their algorithms. And that’s why they made use of our natural human tendency to stick to habits and rituals.
For example, if you post only on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday, people will remember that and return to your profile then. If you don’t have a schedule for your posts, they will forget about you. Some brands can manage to post a few times during the day, and when they stop doing that for one day, you can see the effect of the algorithm.
You can choose what’s best for your brand depending on the amount of content you have. Whether that’s going to be one post per day or four per week is up to you, but you must stay focused and consistent. The algorithm will memorize your frequency, so when you forget to post at the expected time, you will be “punished” with less engagement.
The same rule goes for Instagram Stories. If you post Stories regularly, you will automatically appear at the Stories row on the top of a user’s feed, because Instagram loves content creators. But don’t stop there. Explore all that Instagram has to give (stickers, hashtags, Reels, IGtv, Guides etc), and follow our blog regularly to explore what are the latest updates for social media platforms.
How to re-engage your audience?
There is nothing worse than a dead Instagram account. When no one is liking, sharing or looking at your content, having an Instagram account is pointless. Luckily, when you know the basic principles of Instagram, you can easily reengage your audience.
If your low engagement rate is due to the long absence of a social media manager, or if you haven’t posted long enough, the best thing is to start posting regularly. Twice a day is a good starting point, and later on, you can get back to your regular posting schedule. Your job is not done when you post twice a day, because you should also post Instagram stories with stickers that work as conversation starters.
When people start to reply to your content, stories, and videos, you must reply. Even if they send you a simple Instagram reaction, you should respond to that. The Instagram algorithm is then aware that communication occurred, and when there is a conversation between two accounts it results in better positions in their news feed.
If no one is answering, or replying to your post, you should start doing that. Send heart emojis, comment on their posts, or ask questions. Start the conversation that will be beneficial for the growth of your engagement rate.
Being socially active and posting regularly can help you if you are not creating audience-oriented content. Ask yourself, what do my followers want to read, and create informative and fun content. This can be quite hard to answer if you are not a part of a social media agency or marketer. In that case, you should try provocative questions, or to ask for help or advice.
It is still a big sin to buy followers, but it is not a sin to steal a meme. Find memes in your niche, to engage more audience, and don’t forget to credit the creator of the meme, or the profile which posted this meme first.
The same rule goes for Instagram Stories. If you post Stories regularly, you will automatically appear at the Stories row on the top of a user’s feed, because Instagram loves content creators.
Find the best time for you to post on Instagram and read our article: Best Time to Post on Instagram for MAX Engagement.
Other Ways To Get Great Engagement
Recycle and schedule content
If you have trouble with creating content constantly, you should invest in tools that can help you with that. Mavsocial has a feature that helps recycle your old Instagram posts. It also helps you maintain consistency with content scheduling.
Maybe you’ve been posting content without success before, but now that you have all this knowledge about Instagram’s algorithm, you can try to reuse your most interesting posts and present them at the right time.
Social Media automation should be a part of every digital marketing strategy in 2021 because it makes beating the algorithm easier and faster. So for example, when you make use of content scheduling, you can prepare your posts in advance, take the time to craft them carefully, and ensure they will be published at the right moment. Also, if you plan ahead, you can put all the pieces together carefully and tell your story better.
Use #hashtags correctly
They might seem irrelevant, but hashtags are powerful weapons for creating viral content. It’s important to know that Instagram now has an option of following hashtags, which is giving hashtags more relevance.
You can place them after your caption, or use the comment option when you post. It’s advised to post 30 hashtags to boost your engagement, but some marketers find that tactic spammy and prefer between 3 and 11 hashtags. My advice is to use as many hashtags as you want. Just make sure each one is relevant and place them as a comment beneath your post.
Two other good places for hashtags are within your copy and within your Instagram Story. They’re always an interesting addition to your content because people know that when they click on a hashtag, it will lead them to similar posts.
When you look at it closely, there are only a few things every marketer should do to beat the Instagram algorithm.
- Post engaging content with good content and calls to action.
- Cultivate a memorable aesthetic: pick 3-5 favorite colors, and create your own aesthetic
- Post content regularly and maintain consistency. To help you succeed, you have a number of marketing automation tools at your disposal.
- Facilitate interaction and take part in the dialogue with your audience. That way, you’re setting yourself up for success by creating meaningful bonds with your followers.
- Follow the latest blogs about Instagram upgrades to learn how to use their features the best way possible.
According to the head chef of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, the platform is concerned about the wellbeing of its visitors. He claims that they’re doing everything they can to give us the most relevant and fastest user experience with these algorithm changes. They understand that this platform needs to be mindful of its role in modern society and the mental health of its users. If it isn’t, it will become useless and forgotten, just like many social platforms that came before it.
So after all of this, remember that the most important thing about using any tool is to make our life easier, and enjoyable, and try not to stress too much if all of your efforts are not as successful as you expected. Competition is enormous, and the best way to get in front of the audience is to keep your sanity and stay human and polite in every interaction. In the time of alienation and chat robots, that will be more and more appreciated.