A few days ago, I hit the 70k followers mark on Instagram. It took me over two years to get here. This journey connected me with a tribe of similar folks (aka creators) who rely heavily on Instagram for business and/or their livelihood.
Creators and social media managers often talk about “beating the algorithm.” Instagram as a platform rarely gives any insight into how their algorithm works. Technically speaking, when people refer to the algorithm they are referring to:
● Which posts (whether IGTV, Reels, Carousels, etc.) get seen more by followers;
● Which posts make it to the Explore tab
Instagram changed from a chronological feed in 2016 to curating a feed out of whatever posts Instagram algorithm deemed best fit for you. No surprise, around the same time Instagram fully opened up to in-feed ads. Ever since, every creator I know has been desperately trying to work around the ever evolving algorithm that has constantly been lowering their organic reach and engagement.
In this article, I’ll share my understanding of “the algorithm”, share a few instances that other creators and I have experienced and provide the best practices to make peace with what it is. What’s Happening Now? Back in December, I met with a friend who runs an influencer management agency – she has been managing accounts of various influencers since the TikTok era. The average Instagram following size on her roster is 350k (with a few crossing 2M followers).
She gets invited to workshops by the Instagram Partnerships team and has befriended a few insiders too. I got a ton of useful advice from chatting with her. The most important thing I learned was that it’s not four or five parameters (contrary to what a lot of self-proclaimed Internet gurus might have you believe) but hundreds of different signals which decide how well your posts would perform.
Top Insights You Can Leverage in 2021
1. Get Creative with Reels
Reels are meant to be a TikTok replacement. No wonder Instagram is boosting organic reach for reels. In my experience, 3 out of 10 reels stand a chance to blow up (i.e. reach people who weren’t following you). Instagram recommends you make reels using the in-built reels camera option, that way you stand a chance to get featured on the reels explore tab. Instagram has an in-house team that manually programs the reels tab and handpicks reels that are easily recreatable.
2. Sacrifice Overall Reach If You’re Not Reel-ing
To facilitate reels supremacy, every other post type on Instagram has taken a further organic reach hit. In fact, the word has it that it may go even lower, if you’re not reel-ing. Takeaway? Produce at least 2-3 reels / week if you want to sustain reach for other post types.
3. Sacrifice Reach If You’re Not Consistent
Say you take a 2 week break from Instagram, once you return – thou shalt be penalized with low reach. The algorithm has one job – to keep people watching, scrolling, coming back and attention-giving for the longest possible. Instagram rewards you for creating consistently and keeping their users entertained. But the flipside is also true. Keep the lord Instagram happy by working hard regularly and you’ll survive.
How the Algorithm Is Failing the Reel/Real Creators
There used to be a time if you had 1000 followers, Instagram would show your post to almost all 1000 of them. But the present scenario couldn’t be any more different. Regardless of who you are and what your following is, Instagram shows your content to about ~10% of your audience and based on their response/engagement, it decides whether it should broaden the circle to more of your followers.
Moreover, since the feed is algorithm driven, posts that do well are usually content that is mass-y and not necessarily value-packed. So all the creator’s effort into creating well-researched value-packed content most likely goes down the drain in terms of reach. In short, you DO NOT own your entire audience on Instagram.
What should creators do now?
Rethink your power.
The solution, in simple words, is to own your audience and foster it into a community. What does that mean? Every single one of your followers follow you because they like your content for multiple reasons. But what’s the point if 90% of them don’t even get to see your content? Deepen your relationships with your existing followers and funnel them to a different platform where you can curate that community (Telegram, Discord, Scenes by Avalon, etc).
No question, Instagram will always remain an essential because of scale. So use Instagram as your top-of-the-funnel; get discovered and grow your audience. But once they’re in, funnel them to one of these community platforms where things are not algorithm driven and you get 100% reach and full ownership of your community. You get full reach to your community, there’s no algorithm you need to fight and you get to set your own rules there; that’s what I mean by owning your community.
The top 5% of creators have already entered the community game and are killing it. Start owning your community before the algorithm ends up owning you.