Instagram Influencer Marketing

Winning the Instagram Algorithm in 2022: What Brands Should Do

How does the 2022 Instagram algorithm work? This guide breaks down what brands should know about the algorithm and how to adapt to new Instagram updates.

Instagram algorithm cover photo

"Oh great, did the Instagram algorithm change again?” 

If you’re worried about your reach or engagement rate, we hear you.

Because Instagram is rolling out fresh features and updates faster than brands can keep up.

With over 2 billion monthly active users, Instagram is ranking more content than ever. It’s no surprise that the IG algorithm is evolving as a result.

Unfortunately, brands are often hit hardest when the Instagram algorithm changes.

Don't panic, though. That’s exactly why we put together this post where you’ll learn:

  • The latest updates to the Instagram algorithm as of 2022 (and how to adapt to them)
  • New Instagram best practices based on industry research
  • Up-to-date strategies to maximize your Instagram engagement rate and reach

 

How Did the Instagram Algorithm Change in 2022?

Just when you think you understand how the IG algorithm works, it switches up on you.

Let’s kick things off by looking at the state of the 2022 Instagram algorithm. This includes notable features, updates and trends. We’ll also cover actionable ways to respond to the latest changes.

Organic Engagement is Down for Brand Accounts (But Not Creators!)

If you’re not thrilled with the numbers on your Instagram dashboard right now, you’re not alone.

Recent data from Rival IQ notes that organic engagement has fallen 30% within the past year. Instagram’s median engagement rate sits at a paltry 0.67%.

instagram engagement data 2022

Source: Rival IQ

A similar downward trend is happening with Stories reach as well. For example, the average brand account with <5,000 followers earns an average reach of 16.85% for posts and 8.43% for Instagram Stories.

Sure, getting featured in your followers’ feeds has never been a sure thing. 

But it’s the degree to which organic reach has fallen that’s so staggering.

Competition on the platform is fierce. As a result, how the Instagram algorithm ranks content is becoming more complicated.

These numbers might seem bleak but not all hope is lost. Consider that the average influencer engagement rate on Instagram is 1.75x that of the average brand (1.18% vs 0.67%). Micro-influencers on Instagram with <15K followers have the highest engagement rates of all accounts (3.86%).

This reflects what we’ve seen across the influencer space firsthand. There are plenty of creators earning reach and engagement thanks to the dedicated audiences they’ve already built.

Instagram creator reach data

Source

Why engagement and reach are falling for brands is up for debate. It’s no secret that social media is becoming increasingly “pay-to-play.” Even so, recent reports that only 5% of Meta ads reach their target audience is a wake-up call for anyone looking to go all-in on social ads.

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Connecting the dots, this explains why influencer marketing budgets are increasing. Brands want to move away from underperforming ads and pursue creator campaigns with guaranteed reach.

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Consistent publishing and promotion are key. Consider that any given post isn’t being served to the majority of your followers. Regular content and updates via Stories help you stay relevant to the Instagram algorithm for the posts that do earn engagement. You can’t get that engagement if you’re posting at random.
  • You can’t fly solo on Instagram as a brand anymore. Network with influencers, employees, colleagues, customers, and brand partners. All of the above can give your content a much-needed boost.
  • Finding relevant Instagram influencers is a cost-effective alternative to traditional paid ads.

The New Algorithm Really Loves Instagram Reels

Food for thought: Reels represent 20% of all activity on Instagram.

And that’s why you can’t seem to escape ‘em in 2022.

The concept of social algorithms favoring video isn’t breaking news. Still, the Instagram algorithm has been pushing them hard.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri explicitly said videos are the future of Instagram in a May 2022 post. The platform will continue prioritizing video content moving forward — expect Reels to be at the forefront.

instagram feed changes explained

Source: @mosseri

If you're new to them, don’t dismiss Reels as a TikTok copycat. Bite-sized video is blowing up across social media and brands are already on board. For example, product-focused Reels are a prime opportunity to educate and entertain your audience. 

Drunk elephant instagram reel

Source: @drunkelephant

Fact: the algorithm relies on factors like engagement and watch-time when serving relevant content. That's why Reels should be central to your content strategy. For example, someone that frequently interacts with beauty posts will likely see Reels reviewing skincare brands. 

Instagram Reels are notable for how well product-focused posts perform. You can earn massive engagement as long as your videos are coupled with entertainment value.

bounce curl instagram reels

Source: @bouncecurl

We can read between the lines about the future of the Instagram algorithm based on the platform’s most recent features and updates. Similar to when Stories blew up a few years back, Instagram is regularly rolling out of new features for Reels (like templates).

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Post Reels regularly! If you’re posting most of your video content to your feed or Stories, consider putting the Reels format first.
  • If you’re new to Instagram video content, try repurposing user-generated content as a starting point. Think: slideshows of customer photos or republishing tagged videos.
  • If you’re working with influencers, integrate Reels into your campaigns. A recent eMarketer survey notes that 62% of shoppers are more likely to buy a product when they see a customer video of it in action.

Increased Rankings for “Originality” (and Content Unique to Instagram)

In April 2022, Adam Mosseri said that the new algorithm would reward accounts that create "original content."

Not a huge surprise, right? “Create original, quality content” has been the go-to, cliche advice for brands on social for over a decade. 

But Instagram algorithm changes are rarely so straightforward.

We can interpret the call for “originality” as a push for accounts to publish content native to Instagram. This is a call-back to last year’s claims that Instagram would punish content containing the TikTok watermark.

instagram algorithm 2022 new features

Source: Twitter

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Make a conscious effort to create more content with Instagram’s native formats and features (Reels, Stories and Carousels).
  • Don’t just dump your brand assets from elsewhere (think: commercials, TikToks) into Instagram and expect to be rewarded with reach. 
  • If you’re cross-posting content across networks, prioritize Instagram as your “home base” when it comes to creation.

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The Explore Feed Levels Up with Keyword Searches

The Explore feed relies on the Instagram algorithm to source its posts.

And the feed is a  goldmine of insight for brands that take the time to, well, explore.

That’s because everything presented in "Explore" is comprised of content that Instagram deems “relevant” and engagement-worthy. If you’re looking for trends, topics and terms related to your target audience, look no further. 

instagram explore feed

If you haven’t noticed already, you can now enter keywords into the Instagram Explore search bar. Prior to this, you could only search via hashtags and accounts.

instagram autocomplete search

Thankfully, this update didn’t drive brands to go full-blown SEO mode by stuffing their captions with keywords.

How the “Explore” feed works is complicated at a glance. The short of it? Instagram serves content based on your activity, the activity of the people you follow and the perceived “relevance” of a piece of content. Keywords work alongside Instagram’s AI to figure out what you'd most likely be interested in.

instagram search example

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Captions still matter. Experiment with longer-form captions if you haven’t already.
  • Complete your business’ information to give your account more visibility to the algorithm.
  • Make an effort to interact with content yourself. From like-minded brands to your customers, becoming an active participant can help your brand thrive.

Despite Popular Belief, Hashtags Don’t Matter Much for Reach

Hashtags have been an oft-cited “hack” to beat the Instagram algorithm.

The reality? According to Instagram themselves, hashtags are “not going to meaningfully change the amount of reach when you post.”

instagram hashtag explanation 2022

Source: Twitter

Recent industry research backs this up. Social Insider recently analyzed 75 million Instagram posts and guess what? They found that hashtags had little-to-no impact on impressions.

social insider research

Source: Social Insider

That’s not to say that hashtags should be left out of your social strategy. Instagram recommends between three and five hashtags for any given post. They explicitly say that using 10+ won’t help your content by default. In their words, relevant hashtags are  “a tool that provides context” to the Instagram algorithm.

  • Don’t rack your brain trying to “optimize” your hashtags. Your content comes first. When in doubt, look at your analytics.
  • If you have been seeing success with a hashtag-heavy approach, you don’t necessarily need to stop.
  • Be more critical and conscious of the hashtags you use. Longtail or niche hashtags (#unicornhair) are more meaningful than broader terms (#hair).

Hidden “Likes” Encourage Brands to Look Beyond Vanity Metrics

“Likes” are integral to Instagram’s identity.

And despite concerns, letting people hide “Likes” wasn’t as big of a deal as critics initially thought. 

The algorithm and user behavior are mostly the same. After all, it’s not as if “Likes” went away altogether. The metric is still 1) available for people who have them enabled and 2) visible for brands via analytics. 

Even as a vanity metric, “Likes” are still valuable currently for brands and creators. Knowing firsthand which pieces of content are relevant to your audience is obviously important for future posts. 

“Likes” shouldn’t be the only measuring stick for your Instagram presence, though. More meaningful interactions (like comments, shares, bio taps) signal customer intent. They represent higher-effort engagement than “Likes," too.

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Avoid like-farming and engagement bait.
  • Let “Likes” serve as an indicator of interest and a tool for deciding between content formats.
  • Prioritize conversations and interactions with your audience that go beyond "Likes."

The Return of the Reverse-Chronological Feed (Sort Of)

Critics have begged for the return of a reverse-chronological feed on Instagram for years now.

That is, you see the most recently-published posts first from accounts that you follow.

The platform recently answered the call halfway with the introduction of a “favorites” feed in March 2022. The feature allows you to create a reverse-chronological feed of posts from preferred accounts. 

instagram favorites feed

Source: The Verge

We say this is a half-measure because 1) “favorites” is not a default feed setting and 2) you can only deem 50 accounts as “favorites.” This provides people more control over the content they see but the algorithmic feed is still here to say.

What does this mean for brands? Honestly, not too much.

Getting marked as a “favorite” by followers and customers is a nice added bonus, sure. Otherwise, it’s business as usual when publishing content and interacting with followers. Your end-game is to send positive ranking signals to the Instagram algorithm.

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Frequently interact with your followers to increase the likelihood of becoming a “favorite.”
  • Regularly publish Stories to keep yourself front-and-center in your followers’ feeds whether you’re a “favorite” or not.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule to increase your visibility for both feeds.

Shadowbans for Accounts that Break the Rules 

It’s common for accounts that have suddenly lost reach to cry that they’ve been “shadowbanned.”

Shadowbans restrict your Instagram account’s visibility and reach. They’re a form of punishment for accounts that spam, violate Instagram’s terms of service or publish inflammatory content. Posts from a shadowbanned account won’t be seen by followers or served under any hashtags.

Most shadowbans are automated and Instagram doesn’t talk much about them outright. If you’re sticking to Instagram’s best practices, you shouldn’t really worry about them. For brand accounts, comment spam and excessive DMing are common causes of a shadowban.

Still, the anecdotal rise of shadowbanning signals that Instagram isn’t afraid to bite back at accounts that try to game their algorithm. 

Tips and Best Practices for Brands

  • Don’t do anything shady! If you’re on the fence about a post or campaign when it comes to Instagram’s community guidelines, err on the side of caution.
  • Despite popular belief, there are no shortcuts or “hacks” to gaming the Instagram algorithm.
  • If you do suspect you’ve been shadowbanned, follow this guide to get your account back in good standing.

What are the Biggest Ranking Factors for the Instagram Algorithm?

Figuring out what the algorithm “wants” means reading between the lines of:

  1. Instagram’s own explanation of the algorithm and how it works
  2. What’s anecdotally working for high-engagement accounts
  3. Industry research and analysis

Based on all of the above, here’s are the three key factors that influence what ranks (and doesn’t) with the new Instagram algorithm:

  • Activity and interactions. No huge surprises here. Interactions such as comments, shares and tags serve as signals to the Instagram algorithm. Consistent engagement and frequent interactions imply that your content is valuable. The interactions of both your own account and the people you follow or interact with ultimately influence what you see on Instagram.

  • “Relevance.” Piggybacking on the point above, content is deemed relevant based on the interactions above. Relevance is also influenced by actions such as frequent profile visits or the amount of time spent on a piece of content.

  • Interests and artificial intelligence (AI). It’s crystal clear that Meta relies heavily on AI for their ad platform — the same applies to Instagram’s organic content. Machine learning, big data and AI all play a crucial role in what gets served to you and your followers. Are these factors beyond your control? Not necessarily. That's because everything from the visual makeup of a photo or video to its caption is read by the algorithm.

how instagram's ai works

Source: Instagram

Machine learning will continue to change how content ranks on both Facebook and Instagram. In a recent Meta earnings call, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg described feeds of the future being "exclusively curated by users’ social circles to being recommended by AI."  

For now, the primary ranking factors on Instagram are related to interactions. There’s a reason why brands with tight-knit communities thrive no matter how the algorithm changes. 

Which Instagram Ranking Factors Aren’t as Important in 2022?

If you’ve been burned by “tried and tested” ways to beat the Instagram algorithm, we get it. 

Below is a breakdown of ranking factors that are often overblown in terms of positive impact on engagement and reach:

  • Hashtags. As noted earlier, industry data shows that hashtags make a negligible difference in reach and interactions in 2022. Instagram has said as much themselves. While tacking on some tags probably won’t hurt your post, they won’t transform your ranking potential.

  • Timing. Data from Sprout Social says that weekdays during the late morning and early afternoon are among the best times to post on Instagram. That said, obsessing over “optimal” timing isn’t particularly proactive. Consider factors such as your industry, time zone and audience demographics when it comes to timing. Consistent posting and audience interaction are much more important than posting down to a specific minute. Instagram’s analytics already tell you firsthand when your audience is most active.

instagram analytics most active times

Source

  • Content “unicorns.”  While some types of content typically earn more reach and engagement than others, no two accounts are the same.  For example, Reels are seeing a ton of reach but consider that there are accounts with millions of followers that rarely (or never) publish them. Check out the analytics breakdown below from two different accounts below, for reference:

instagram creator data 1

instagram creator data 2

Source / Source

Brands should familiarize themselves with trending post types, sure. Still, experiment and confirm before tying yourself to a strategy. 

What Should Brands Post to Beat the Instagram Algorithm?

Again, there is no “right” answer here. 

But based on industry trends and ranking factors, brands should prioritize:

  • Posts that drive direct interactions such as comments. This includes questions and opinion-based content, “this or that” posts and calls for UGC.
  • Posts that encourage people to spend longer on your page. For example, Instagram Stories with polls and Q&A stickers.
  • Relevant content that features people. Fact: new data from Meta says creators boost engagement across all Instagram content.

When in doubt, focus on the following:

  1. Carousels for more interactions and time spent tapping through your profile.
  2. Stories to boost your in-feed visibility and stay fresh in your followers’ minds.
  3. Reels for greater reach due to the feature’s popularity.
  4. User-generated content on all of the above for more engagement.

Each type of post above is fair game for building out a content strategy that earns reach and interactions.

watch the webinar: how to drive sales with user-generated content in 2022

Instagram Algorithm Do’s and Dont’s for Brands to Remember

To wrap things up, let’s review some quick best practices (and common pitfalls) for business accounts navigating the latest Instagram algorithm.

What Brands Should Do 

  • Reply back to comments ASAP. Remember: Interactions ultimately influence what gets seen and served by the algorithm. That’s why swift replies to questions, comments and concerns are ideal. Not only that but quick replies show your followers that you care. Pay close attention to your notifications. Whether it’s a shout-out or a call-out, don’t leave people left on read.

  • Put thought into your captions. From keywords to questions that grab your followers’ interest, captions are important real estate. Couple your post with hashtags or consider putting them in your first comment to avoid clutter. Don’t neglect niche, industry-specific hashtags (#veganbeauty) versus general tags (#makeup).

  • Consider an influencer campaign. Fact: 93% of marketers plan to use Instagram as part of their influencer strategies. Remember what we said earlier about partnering with people to maximize your reach? Relevant influencers can get more eyes on your brand and help you generate much-needed worth-of-mouth. 

  • Plan out your grid. The importance of your aesthetic on Instagram can’t be overstated. Stick to content themes and color schemes that reflect your brand’s vibe. In short, your grid should give new visitors a good idea of what you’re all about at a glance. 

  • Post consistently. Think of each post as an opportunity “feed” the algorithm, proving your value and relevance in the process. Whether it’s every day, five times a week or every other day, find a publishing schedule you can realistically stick to. For reference, Rival IQ’s data says that the median posts per week across all industries are 4.55. Peek your own Instagram data to confirm when and how often you should post.

instagram publishing frequency data 2022

Source: Rival IQ

What Brands Shouldn’t Do

  • Don’t assume that more posts = more reach. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity in your quest to conquer the algorithm. For most brand accounts, posting once per day is plenty (although you can publish more Instagram Stories).

  • Don’t post low-effort photos. Low-quality photos won’t earn you any love from the algorithm. Not only that, but rushed or blurry photos can harm your feed’s aesthetic.  Off-the-cuff and authentic content is awesome. Don’t mistake “authentic” for “low-quality,” though.

  • Don’t post without a caption. Celebrities and brands with millions of followers might be able to drive engagement with captionless posts. That said, going captionless means missing an opportunity to interact with followers or grab their interest. Again, don’t let this real estate go to waste.

  • Don’t resort to bots or buy followers. Instagram isn’t afraid to punish people who break their rules.  Attempting to game the algorithm by using bots is an obvious no-no, as is purchasing followers. 

  • Don’t ignore your Instagram analytics. All the tips and best practices in the world can’t replace your firsthand marketing data. Want to know the “best” times to post? Curious about your top-performing content? Double-check your own numbers before making any significant changes to your strategy.

instagram post insights dashboard

Source

Struggling With Instagram Algorithm Changes? 

Growing your Instagram presence means staying in the good graces of the algorithm.

And despite frequent changes, brands can still grow their engagement. 

After all, the algorithm updates are just going to keep on coming. Being proactive about these changes will help you grow long-term versus ignoring the direction Instagram is headed.

The good news? The current Instagram algorithm favors creativity. There’s plenty for brands to experiment with in terms of content types, tactics and so much more.

In terms of strategies that actually work, consider influencer marketing. Partnering with creators extends your brand's reach and drives immediate conversations around your products.

Curious what an influencer campaign could do for your business? Talk to one of our consumer-to-consumer marketing specialists to find out how we can get more people talking about your brand on Instagram ASAP.

Instagram Influencer Campaign Manager Spreadsheet

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