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  • Writer's pictureShayah Reed, Director

How to Rock the Gram'

So, how does the Instagram algorithm really work?

Let me start by saying, it’s not about “beating” the algorithm, it’s all about learning how to work with it

We all know that social media is a great way to advertise and market our businesses - but how many of us spend the required amount of time on there to increase our sales?  Not many. Statistics show that most people need to have a positive interaction with something/someone five times before they buy or invest.  Taking time to engage with your likers, commenters, and followers can be time consuming, but in my experience, that’s where you will get the most growth from. Important to remember, lots of followers does not mean lots of sales. 

Your follower count is really just a vanity metric. It’s the engagement that you want to be measuring as a KPI (key performance indicator).  Engaging with your market is what will keep them interested and returning to your posts. Plus, the more you engage outside of your own account, the higher you will be placed in the algorithm, A.K.A. the more you engage with others, the more your posts will pop up on their feed (yes!).  Instagram is rewarding us for being social. You may have noticed that in some countries Instagram has started to remove the like count from view (you can still see this metric in your analytics).  This is because Instagram wants us to focus more on providing high quality content and less on the number of likes we get.

Now, knowing that you don’t need to focus so much on your followers or your likes, and also knowing that engaging outside of your account is key to growth, let me start by providing you with a few of the algorithm’s top-ranking signals. Once you understand how the Instagram algorithm works, you can use it to build an effective strategy.

Then I’ll get into some tips and advice for how you can optimize your account and increase your interactions, as well as share my Instagram growth formula with you!

Instagram's Top Ranking Signals

1. Relationship

Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes content from accounts that users interact with a lot. If a person often leaves comments on your posts, or if they have notifications enabled for your account, or you DM each other, or you tag each other in your posts, then the algorithm recognizes that the two of you are “close.

2. Interest

The more likes and comments a post receives immediately after posting, the higher it will be ranked and possibly placed on the discovery page as this demonstrates audience interest. The algorithm also predicts which posts are important to users based on their past behaviour, like the use of past hashtags and geo-locations.

3. Frequency of Use

This depends on how often a user opens the app. The algorithm aims to show users the best and most popular posts since they last looked at their feed. If you’re a frequent scroller, your feed will look more “chronological” since Instagram tries to “show you the best posts since your last visit.” If you check the Instagram app less often, then your feed will be sorted more to what Instagram thinks you’ll like to see.

4. Following Count

If a user follows a lot of accounts, they’ll probably see fewer posts from any one specific account, even if that account is high-volume. But they’ll see a wider range of posts overall. On the other hand, if they follow a smaller number of accounts, they’ll likely see more of each account’s posts.

5. Usage / Session Time

A user who spends 45 minutes on Instagram will go deeper into the back catalogue and see more posts (by which we mean under-performing posts) than a user who scans for 5 minutes, and catches only day’s highlights according to the algorithm.


Keep in mind…

"Instagram’s primary goal is to maximize the time users spend on the platform”. 


Time to break this all down into digestible bits of advice!

Account Optimization

Why is this important? Having an optimized Instagram account not only helps you rank higher in the algorithm and SEO (search engine optimization), but makes you look like you have your shit together when someone lands on your account.

BIO & Profile Improvements:

  • Use a lot of keywords related to your content and business, but without being spammy.  Work the keywords into a sentence structure.

  • Placing a couple of emojis in your bio can make your account more friendly and display a certain mood or feeling that you want to convey. But don’t over use the emojis.

  • Having a call to action. This usually comes at the end of the bio and directs your audience to click on the link that you provided.

  • If you have more than one link you want to share you can use something like Linktree to display different clickable link options.

  • Make sure your profile image is either your logo or a professional photo relating to your business.

SEO (this is for search option within Instagram):

  • Try to keep your Instagram handle simple, use your business name or something related to your business that people tend to search.

  • Place keywords in your “name” that are related to your industry, what you offer, and what people search for.

  • Place a relevant hashtag in your bio to help get your get account in front of users who use and search similar tags.

Audit/Review who you Follow:

  • Take some time to sort through who you follow and then unfollow anyone who is not in line with or related to your brand/company in some way.  This affects the algorithm when it’s searching for similar accounts to show people.

  • When you follow a lot of accounts you will see fewer posts from any one specific account. On the other hand, if you follow a smaller number of accounts, you will see more of each account’s posts, making it easier to find and interact with your main audience (ICA).

Feed Aesthetic:

  • Try to stay “on brand” with your colours and filters. 

  • Create and follow a posting schedule in order to create a visual pattern for your feed. This demonstrates to followers that you put thought into your posts and content.

  • You can use something like Canva or Illustrator to create branded graphics and templates.

  • You can use something like Later or Planoly as a content scheduler and to design the visual pattern for your feed.


In 2021, Instagram is really focusing on boosting accounts that offer value.  It measures value based on a few things: the length of your posts, how quickly people comment and like after you publish a post, and how much time your viewers spend looking at/reading your post before scrolling or moving on.


  • Provide real value for your audience.  Providing valuable content consistently is what will position you as an authority figure in your field.  Whether its educational, promotional, inspiring, entertaining, etc. your audience will turn into customers if they continue to receive value.

  • Know your ICA (ideal client avatar) and speak directly to their pain points with your content.

  • Make sure not all of your content is promotional, use a good mix of content types.  Nobody wants to be spammed with your offerings.

  • (depending on your business) Be personable. This relates to the “know, like, and trust” factor.  When you are honest, open, and vulnerable with your audience they are more likely to relate to you/your offerings.

Best Practices:

  • The first line of your content should be attention grabbing because that’s what people will see as they scroll before clicking to read more.

  • Use emojis when necessary and as they relate to your content to add value and tone, but don’t overuse.

  • Separate your content into small paragraphs so it’s easier to read.

  • Use hashtags throughout your post when necessary instead of bunching them all at the end.

  • Add CTA’s (calls to action) that instruct your followers how to engage with the content.

  • Try to use high quality photos when ever possible, after all, Instagram is a visual platform.

  • Post at least twice per week but not more than once per day.


This is what Instagram is all about – the engagement.  It’s a social media platform so we need to treat it that way and keep things social!  Build connections and meaningful relationships with your followers.  This does take time and effort but, in my experience, this is where you will see the most growth come from.  As I mentioned before, relationships are one of Instagram’s top-ranking signals.


  • Try to always have something active in your story (they clear after 24 hours).

  • Share all UGC (user generated content) in your stories whenever possible, this validates your brand and service/product from other customers/consumers.

  • Create 3-6 story highlights that speak to your brands products/services, mission/goal, and also include one that is fun and not related directly to your business.

  • Create story highlight covers using Canva or Illustrator that match your brand’s aesthetic.

  • Make use of the story interaction stickers such as poll, questions, slider, etc. to increase your story engagement.

  • Use GIF’s to strengthen and draw more attention to a CTA in your stories.

  • Use the locations and account tagging feature when necessary to increase your reach.

  • Interact on other people’s stories as a way to boost your own engagement.

  • Use the story interaction stickers such as poll, questions, slider, etc. to increase your story engagement.


  • The max is 30 hashtags per post but the algorithm views this a spammy especially if you bunch them all together at the end of your post.

  • Aim at using between 9-14 hashtags that are related to your content.

  • To incorporate more hashtags, try posting a few into your comments section immediately after you release a post.

  • Switch up hashtags (don’t use the same ones all the time) to avoid posts being viewed as spammy behavior by the algorithm.

  • “Follow” certain hashtags where your ICA is hanging out and use these in your posts to increase the chances of your posts being seen by them. 

  • Try to use more niche hashtags (less than 100k posts) for a higher likelihood of your posts being seen.

  • Place hashtags strategically in your stories to increase your reach.


  • Always post during optimal times for your audience. Your analytics will show you when your following is most active online.

  • Spend at least 30 minutes each day engaging outside of your own account.  Like and comment on other people’s posts and create relationships with potential customers.

  • Engage with content outside of your own account directly before and after you post.

  • Leave comments not only on accounts who are your prospective customers/clients but also on your competitors/collaborator’s accounts (accounts with the same ICA as you). This increases the chances of your account being seen.

  • Add a CTA (call to action) at the end of your post to encourage people to comment, like, tag another account, or direct them to the link in your bio.

  • Reply to comments on your posts as soon as possible. This is not only good for brand loyalty but also bumps you higher in the algorithm.

  • You can search and discover potential customers using hashtags and geo-locations that are related to your ICA (ideal client avatar).

  • When conversing with your potential customers via comments, ask them questions to keep the conversation going.


Once you become familiar with the above practices and begin to implement them into your Instagram strategy, you will undoubtedly begin to see growth within your account.

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Good luck on the gram’ :)





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