Organic Reach — Instagram Algorithm

It is estimated that on average 10% of a user’s Instagram audience get to see the user’s organic content. Though this looks small, it is much greater than Facebook where organic reach is estimated to be just 1%.

From the viewpoint of user experience, what is important is the composition of the content on their feed. Social networks have been criticized for circulating more and more emotionally charged content from strangers, which can keep people hooked onto their platform.

Based on various sources, on average, about 90% of a user’s Instagram feed are posts from friends or family. So, the remaining 10% would be from advertisers and strangers. Of course, this varies depending on how much time users spend on the network and how far they scroll.

There are many variables built into the Instagram algorithm that determine the ranking of posts. When users open their home page, Instagram crawls through the available content applying a set of rules to determine the order in which the content is served. Understanding how these rules work helps users maximize their Instagram marketing efforts.

The algorithm, according to Meta, has been changed on numerous occasions. However, the core factors that determine how a post is ranked remain centred on engagement, and these factors are similar to the ones used by Facebook.

Ranking algorithms in general are a form of personalization that benefit both users and marketers. Users get to see what interests them most and marketers get their posts across to those users who are most engaged and interested in their messages.

This is vital for social networks. If they do not effectively sort their content users will get less interesting and less relevant information which will dilute their experience on the platform, and eventually they might leave. And marketers who seek a return on their investments, would walk away if their efforts are not directed at their target audience.

There are 3 key factors — relationship, interest and relevancy, and timeliness — that Instagram considers most important. In addition, there are three more factors Instagram considers in feed rankings — frequency, following, and usage.


Relationship or affinity is a measure of the strength of the connection between the viewer and the content creator. It relates to whether the viewer follows the content creator and the extent of the viewer’s engagement.

The algorithm is not explicitly biased in favour of content creators who use Stories or Instagram Live. And it does not matter if a content creator has a business or personal account. What matters is the relationship. As mentioned above, on average, about 90% of a user’s Instagram feed are posts from friends or family.

The relationship score is one-way. It recognizes that the extent of person A’s interaction with a friend, B, is not the same as the extent that B interacts with A.

The algorithm takes into consideration variables such as how much time the user spends on the content creator’s account, how long the user looks at the posts and how frequently the user engages with the posts through likes, comments, interactive stickers (in Stories) etc. Instagram Live can also raise engagement quickly with followers in real time. The algorithm also considers the affinity between the user and content creator within Facebook.

For marketers this means that their brands need to engage regularly with their followers. To foster engagement, they need to answer questions, respond to comments, and actively seek out opportunities to engage.

Content creators should add interesting details to their post descriptions so that people spend more time reading their posts, since the time they spend on a post is one of the variables that the algorithm considers.

Interest and Relevancy

This relates to whether the user typically interacts with the type of content in the post. Instagram prioritizes posts with content that is of greater interest or relevance to the user.

Relevancy is also based on how well the content is aligned with trending topics as well as the timeliness factor (recent posts are considered more relevant than old ones).

Unlike some other platforms, Instagram does not explicitly rank video over photos, or photos over videos. A type of content will rank higher if a user engages with it more often.


Instagram only sorts new posts between a user’s current visit and their last visit. For instance, if a user scrolls through his Instagram timeline at 10 am and then checks it again at 3 pm, Instagram would only sort the posts created between 10 am and 3pm. This means that marketers need to post content frequently as users only get to see those posts that were created after their prior check-in.

However, posting too frequently or posting low-quality content can also have a negative impact on engagement and reach. It is important to find a balance and create high-quality content that resonates with your target audience.


The frequency of a user’s Instagram usage can impact the content that they see in their feed. If the user does not use Instagram very often, they will only see the most relevant content when they do open the app. This means that less relevant posts will be crowded out of such a user’s feed by posts from family and friends.


The more accounts a user follows, the greater the competition for the space in the user’s feed. The content that such a user will receive is less likely to be centred on a few brands or persons.


Usage refers to the duration of the session on Instagram. When users spend less time on the platform, they are likely to only see top-ranking posts from friends and family they interact with most often, making it more difficult for posts from marketers to surface in their feed. When they spend more time, then Instagram retrieves content from a broader range of followers.

Note that since the platform does not filter content out, if users scroll, they will eventually see everything by everyone they follow.


Shadowbanning, also called stealth banning, hellbanning, ghost banning or comment ghosting, is the practice of blocking or partially blocking a user or the user’s content from some areas of an online community in such a way that the ban is not readily apparent to the user. (Wikipedia).

While they do not acknowledge it, there are clear indications that shadowbanning is practiced by some social networks.

If a user is shadowbanned on Instagram, their content will only appear in their followers’ feed, and they are unable to reach out to non-followers. This occurs when certain conditions or limits are violated. For instance, use of automated tools to run an account, the excessive use of hashtags, or the use of a hashtag that has been overtaken by inappropriate content. Information on banned hashtags is readily available on several online sites.

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