The Instagram Algorithm

Instagram revealed today how it organizes users’ feeds, including how it considers different factors in its algorithm. Up until now, Instagram’s feed was sort of a mystery science. Posts from family members and close friends show up near the top, which was the goal of the company’s decision to move away from the reverse-chronological feed in 2016, but the way the app filled in the blanks between those close friends was slightly mysterious.

Julian Gutman, Instagram product lead, explained to TechCrunch and other outlets, that it ranks three main factors when creating users’ feeds: interest, recency, and relationship. Interest refers to how much Instagram thinks you’ll care about a post, with the most important obviously coming to the top. Recency just means Instagram prioritizes newer posts, and your relationship to the poster is of course also considered.

The more you’ve interacted with someone on Instagram, the more likely you are to see their content up front. There are also three other factors Instagram takes into account: frequency, following, and usage. Frequency is how often you actually open the app, as it wants to show you the best posts since you last opened. Following means that if you follow lots of people, Instagram might show you less from one specific person so you can see more from all the people you follow. Usage is how long you spend on Instagram, so the app determines when to show you the best posts and whether you’ll see less important posts.

Instagram also cleared up some other misconceptions. It’s not considering an option for the reverse-chronological feed, so you’re stuck with what the app’s doing now. It also doesn’t hide any posts in the feed, and if you keep scrolling, you should see everything posted by everyone you follow. Instagram also confirmed that it doesn’t down-rank users for posting too frequently or for including too many hashtags.

A lot of this is somewhat obvious: Instagram shows you posts from the people you care about first. That’s what an efficient algorithm is supposed to do. But the fact that Instagram had to address these additional myths shows how much people worry about their posts actually showing up in feeds. Some users might not care about their engagement, but for the growing number of people whose livelihoods and businesses rely on the platform for brand awareness, it’s crucial.