INSTAGRAM RULES OF ENGAGEMENT... Literally
I found myself reading an email from a THB Community member this evening and feeling like I was having déjà vu for the thousandth time this week (and it’s only Tuesday). I read the same email everyday; it’s about the Instagram Algorithm.
Truth be told, I’ve lost the will to try and discuss this recurring issue because we can’t and won’t ever know how to beat it for sure, but we can do out best. We’ve read tons of articles from Instagram insiders and trustworthy sources and they all say generally the same thing so, we thought it was worth a share for anyone with inquiring minds.
(Sorry if this isn’t new information to you, we want to make sure we’re providing help to everyone!)
First, things first. Try getting into the mindset of Instagram as a business. They need to make money! The type of technology that allows us to utilize the advanced tools and programs to create content, let alone monetize it, is probably so far beyond any comprehension for people like us. Bottom line though, it’s expensive to operate!
At it’s core, the platform is basic. Whether or not someone has 1 follower or 1 million followers, every person on the platform is a “content creator”, it’s just that some users are more valuable than others. Long story short, each user equates to some level of profit for the program and the algorithm is set in place to capitalize on content that is going to be the most profitable for them.
At the same time, be sure to consider that although a lot of the algorithm’s shortcomings feel like they are destroying your business, these features were likely put into place to do more good than harm because users abused the system for so long. Just a few examples are the abuse of hashtags and geo locations. Users would put every trending hashtag on their posts or tag popular locations to get more traffic to posts that are irrelevant to the category or location. Simply avoiding a few behaviors can likely help you. I’ll explain more further down.
(MY OPINION: Although they state the algorithm is meant to be dynamic for the user, I find it more likely that it’s entirely based on profitability for them.)
The more valuable your content is, the more they are going to show it because the more time people spend on the app, the more money they make. So, even though the algorithm feels like an arbitrary personal attack, you can actually control how Instagram rewards you if you pay attention.
With that in mind, it seems that there is a fairly reliable reward system in place that can either boost or destroy your engagement. We read tons of articles and they all included a similar set of rules to play by to make your content more “profitable” to Instagram:
Post Photos / Videos
Participate in Instagram Lives
Create IGTV videos
Reply to your DMs quickly
Reply to Comments quickly
Okay, I know that sounds like a total no brainer, but all of these should be done REGULARLY, as in everyday, if possible. The more time you spend using features they’ve spent a lot of money on creating and operating, the more they are going to favor you.
LET’S GET SPECIFIC!!
TIMELY RESPONSES: In theory, if you’re spending a great deal of time creating content with all of their features (and we know how long it takes just to post ONE THING) than you should be on the app very frequently. Hence, you would be free to respond to messages and DM’s quickly. We’ve read, from numerous sources, that Instagram expects you to respond and interact VERY QUICKLY to DM’s and Comments or else you’ll see your engagement suffer. We’ve also heard that the first 60 minutes will determine the success of your post. This means replying to every comment as quickly as possible within the first hour. From there, Instagram will either push or throttle your content.
EDITING YOUR CONTENT: I’d love to give you a piece of advice that made a lick of sense about this but I don’t. For some reason, editing your caption or location after the content has been posted will significantly drop your chances of success. The same goes for deleting and reposting the same content. EXAMPLE: You don’t like the way your photo turned out so you delete, or archive it and then repost it. Apparently that has been tested and proven to hinder engagement of the new post.
HASHTAGS: Just when you thought hashtags were your friend, they turned into a backstabbing bitch. In all fairness, this is the result of users abusing them. You can use over 30 hashtags on each post, however I would strongly encourage you to take it down to less than half or even cap it at 10 max if you don’t want to risk being marked as spam. Additionally, there are ways Instagram can tell if your hashtags are too mainstream or don’t match your content so you need to make sure they are unique to your post.
Another big issue is recurrent hashtags. Now, they have a problem with using the same hashtags for every post. This can be incredibly tricky for influencers with super niche content that is very consistent. Like, really Instagram, how many unique hashtags can one use for daily #ootd inspo?! Anyway, add that to your daily to-do list and start getting creative on your hashtags.
It’s been said that the hashtags should be in the caption instead of the comments however, we didn’t find any evidence that supported this. Sample this with a few of your posts and make the best decision on that.
GEOTAGGING: Remember, if you forget to geotag on the first submission, don’t go back and add one! Any edits are an engagement killer. We’ve read that tagging popular tourist locations can help drive traffic. So, instead of tagging the exact coffee shop you’re at, try tagging the city or landmark nearby. DO NOT tag locations that you’re not actually near though. Insta can tell where you are when you post. It’s unclear if there is an issue with tagging your photo’s location after you’ve left. For example: you went to Paris and took a photo and then posted in while you were in California with the location of Paris. You may need to test this out, but I’m confident Instagram can tell if the photo is genuine to that location so avoid tagging locations you weren’t actually at.
Lastly, Instagram comes out with new features all of the time so be sure to use them right away and add them to your daily activity to keep Insta on your good side. Bottom line, spend more time on the program, interacting with users, using new features and stay away from any actions that could be perceived as spam or like you’re trying to game the algorithm. Be an authentic, money maker for Instagram and they’ll reward you!
SIDE NOTE: The term “bot” gets thrown around a lot. Generally speaking, there are good bots and bad bots. BEWARE, in the eyes of Instagram, all bots are bad and you will be punished for using them. A very simple example of what you might consider to be a “good bot” is an app or program that can block or remove spammy looking profiles from following you. These can be very helpful at cleaning up your account and keeping your audience at top notch, however Instagram doesn’t care whether you’re using a program that is actually beneficial or using a program to generate fake likes, it’s all the same to them. Actions done by bot programs are sequential, it’s a machine running on a program so the actions are rhythmic and fast. Normal, human actions are typically more sporadic. That’s why you may see a block notification if you’ve ever tried to follow a lot of people at once or comment too many times in a short period of time - they think you’re a bot. The point is, DO NOT use any program that performs even a basic, harmless function. They can tell and you will be penalized. `