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The Wizard of Oz from the movie of the same name famously offered this piece of advice to Dorothy and her friends once the curtain was pulled back and the Wizard’s true identity was revealed. Much like Dorothy, digital marketers today have been in the dark for some time about the inner workings of Instagram and, specifically, how it determines which content is served up to users across each of its key features. Until now.

A recent blog post by the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, entitled “Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works,” offers insight on how the platform behaves—helping to answer questions like “How does Instagram decide what posts to show first?” or “What factors determine what shows up in a user’s Explore tab?” Knightsbridge Park offers a quick summary of our key takeaways below.

1. The Myth of “the Algorithm”

Despite what you may have heard, there is not just one algorithm that controls what users see on Instagram. Several algorithms are at work, depending on the feature (Explore, Feed, Stories, or Reels), and these are activated by how each user interacts with the platform or “signals.” More on signals below.

2. Signals Point the Way

Very simply, signals can be understood as 1) what content was posted, 2) the people who made these posts, and 3) a user’s specific preferences. There are literally thousands of signals, and these data points include everything from what time a post was shared to whether Instagram users were on their phone or a web browser.

Instagram uses these signals to make a series of educated guesses that help predict how likely users are to interact with specific content and leverages this information to “surface” posts based on users’ behavior on the platform. This data then helps determine which posts have a higher ranking within a specific user’s feed.

See below for a quick guide below on how posts are ranked across Instagram’s key features.

3. Entertainment Is Key

Instagram’s Reels feature is designed to entertain. Much of what users see is from accounts they don’t follow; the platform relies on its signaling process to make predictions about what reels people might like and then orders them based on how compelling, funny, or engaging they might be for specific users.

The signaling process for Instagram’s Explore feature closely mirrors Reels. When a user engages with a specific post, they will be presented with other content from analogous creators. In practice, this means that if a user is interested in interior design, for example, they may be presented with posts about related topics like color theory or soft furnishings.

4. Content Is (Still) King

How quickly users like, comment, and save posts, as well as a user’s history of interacting with the one that posted the content, helps determine what shows up in Instagram’s Explore feature.

For marketers, this means that compelling content has a higher probability of finding its way onto a user’s Explore tab. Conversely, engaging content from your competitors may also be presented to your followers within the Explore feature, so having the edge on creative content is crucial.

Our Take

Instagram is clearly committed to demystifying the mechanics of how the platform works and should be applauded for these steps toward greater transparency.

As Alexandra Cave, SVP of Knightsbridge Park, points out, a better understanding of how content will be consumed by current followers and new audiences is an exciting prospect for digital marketers:

“Armed with these new insights about how the platform works, we’re helping our clients craft content strategies designed to broaden reach and boost awareness. The immersive, playground-like experience of Reels and Explore means there are countless opportunities for brands to engage new audiences in fun and authentic new ways.”

Get in touch today to discover how Knightsbridge Park can help with digital strategies, social media, and content creation for your brand.

Beyond standard Instagram posts, our team is leveraging the platform’s emerging video and location-specific features to enrich 1228 Madison’s story. The new Guides feature gives us a perfect place to support the second pillar, tying 1228 Madison into the historic tapestry of the Carnegie Hill neighborhood. IG Reels are ideal for video tours of individual homes, bringing together the first and third pillars by giving prospective residents the first-person experience of being inside the building.

This holistic approach to organic social media is paying dividends. We’ve already seen a 74% increase in followers and a 95% jump in impressions for this client, with a 41% improvement in engagement during the launch month alone. Results like these empower our team to continue to innovate and match all our clients with discerning homebuyers and tenants. Reach out to our team of real estate digital marketing experts, to learn more about our services.

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