How I am Beating The Instagram Algorithm By Working With It Skip to main content

Oh, the algorithm…
The one who has kept most of us, myself included, up late into the depts of the night pulling our hairs out wondering how to beat it. Well, I guess that’s the problem, wanting to beat it.

The Back Story

For the last two years I have been embarrassingly losing the fight against Instagram’s algorithm since its most drastic change back in 2016. When I first started working on my Instagram life was simple. The feed was chronological, everyone saw your post if you posted at the right time and you got that reach which is so very important for someone who is using the channel as a business outlet. Post algorithm update though, I started failing and I mean hard. My reach plummeted way more than half of what it previously was and my engagement showed that. My engagement rate went so steeply down to the point that it looked like – at least to me – that my profile gave off the vibe that I bought fake followers who were basically bots – which I did not just for that record.

So, I started researching and much to my own relief (sorry) almost everyone I knew was struggling. Now, a good chunk of them came out of it as they put in hours upon hours in pods to help fight against the algorithm. I tried that for a bit and honestly as embarrassing as this sounds, I was not as invested in the channel to put in the work even though I kind of should have been as invested considering it was something I wanted to grow as a business – bad Fatima! 

Anyways, as used to as I was to the golden days, I just carried on like I was before the change. I posted every day, engaged in some pods but other than that I simply let the whole thing just coast and glide on its own. Eventually, I ended up coming to a point where I was lacking the inspiration to create at all like nil! I went on various breaks – I talk more about it on my blog – and basically came back just to ghost yet again – it was ridiculous!

After several ghostings and appearings, I decided that enough was enough, either I commit to this or I leave for good! Well, the latter was completely out of the question as I did not want to do anything else but create so I told myself to put my big girl pants on and do this, whatever it takes. And I did, or rather I am doing it.

Don’t Beat it, Work it!

So, what is it that dawned on me, you might be wondering? Well, for starters I started listening to some great podcasts by some mind-blowing pros. One of them is the Goaldigger podcast which some of you might already be familiar with, run by the mega awesome babe Jenna Kutcher. In one of her episode on the podcast, episode 228, Jenna partners up with Puno, founder of People Map and an Instagram expert. They talk about how to be an influencer on the platform and what it takes to grow that tribe. The main takeaway from their conversation was changing the mindset from trying to beat the algorithm to working with it. Bam! What a difference!

Engage, Engage, Engage!

It’s true if you think about it. The algorithm basically observes your interactions on the channel and uses it to show you content it believes you’ll appreciate and admire. It actually makes a lot of sense if you consider the analogy Puno narrates in the podcast. She compares Instagram to Spotify. Many of us love how Spotify knows what we want to listen to without realizing we helped it understand us by liking the tracks and curating our playlists in the beginning. That’s exactly what Instagram does! Except its about posts not songs. So, how do you use it to your advantage? Well, start engaging with pictures that you feel speak to you and your tribe.

This leads me to another advice I found through Gary V’s videos. In one of his videos Gary talks about the $1.80 rule. Now, I don’t really understand the $1.80 analogy but the technique itself is quite simple. Every day you pick 10 hashtags and comment on the top 9 posts, thats 90 posts, now do it twice a day, hence 180 posts which I assume are equivalent to $1.80 if each comment is worth a cent – okay I guess I understand the analogy now ha! 

Basically, from both the talks, one thing is crystal clear: you gotta engage and you gotta teach Instagram what you prefer like you did with Spotify. Now, Puno’s People Map site has a 30-day Instagram Guide that helps you up your game. The main strategy in the guide I really liked and started using was allocating 1-2 hours (mainly 2 hours) to engaging on Instagram and I tell you it is doing wonders!

My Routine

Each morning after I am done my morning routine, I start engaging on posts I actually really admire and network with creatives on the platform for an hour. Then, right before I am done work at my home office, I allocate the other one hour to engaging on Instagram before I call it a day.

Before adapting this strategy, I did engage with other accounts but it was a very haphazard method. I’d usually be doing it in between tasks, 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. This wasn’t effective mainly because half the time I wouldn’t know how much I have engaged and thus, either feel tired and exhausted from doing it so repeatedly over the span of my entire day or I’d just skip entirely and just do like 5 minutes of it as a whole and consider the job done – eeck! 

So having this strategy in place really helps me visualize my ROI on my efforts and commitment and honestly I am seeing a massive difference in my engagement and my growth.

Hashtags Work, Only if You do!

Another thing that I am diligently working on is being intentional with my hashtags. In the beginning, I had made up a list of hashtags that I would just copy paste robotically after each post and it would work. However, now, it doesn’t. Hashtags tends to go stale after multiple uses and so in order to get the most out of them they need to be updated repeatedly. Now, every time I post I make it a point to research some hashtags beforehand that are specific to what I am posting – very important –  and have them ready to be copy and pasted as soon as the post goes live. Before implementing this strategy, I’d get around 100-200 impressions through the hashtags but now I go up to a 1000 impressions on average! Yeah! 

Timing is Everrrrrything 

Timing is everything and I am not talking about relationships here. Depending on your audience, there are certain times that are crucial for your posts’ success. If you have a business account (which you should) you get access to Insights that tell you when your followers are most active on. Using this information, you can figure out the time that would be optimal for your post to reach as many people as it can. Yes, the algorithm isn’t chronological but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take it under consideration the timing of the post – it does! So use this information, its provided for free, and get that post in front of as many people as possible, stat! 

Also, if you need more clarity on the timings and want to pin point the exact time that would help you push your posts to your audience, there are several tools that you can use that will help determine when to post. Some of the tools that I have used are Iconosquare, People Map, Instagram Insights and Tailwind. They are all great apps, Iconosquare seems to be the most comprehensive of the three and it is the most pricey one too, Tailwind is great if you are using Pinterest as well as Instagram since you can have them all accessible through one site, however, I am currently using Tailwind only for Pinterest (which is very helpful, I’ll talk more about it in a later post) and am using People Map for Instagram, which I just started using it and its been great so far.

Steady Wins the Race!

The final one is kind of an obvious one that everyone keeps telling you. Well, they keep telling you that for a reason: because it works. You have to stay consistent. You have to show up. Every day, if not multiple times in a day. Post every day and engage every day. You can’t expect to do this a few times a week and start seeing results. Ain’t gonna happen, I am sorry.

Don’t Just Show Up

Also, keep in mind that by just showing up, you’re only doing about a half of the task. In addition to posting every day, you have to ensure that the content you’re posting is quality. It is something that your audience is going to appreciate and value. I know I fell prey to this as I was just mindlessly posting every day and wondering to myself what gives? Why am I not getting the results? Well, I guess posting pictures I shot on a whim and copy pasting a quote wasn’t really all that exciting for the audience, – to be honest it wasn’t exciting even for me! Thus, lately, I have started to plan out my content weeks in advance and am more intentional with the content that I produce. Everything I do now is based on the principles of storytelling. I want my work to be a showcase of stories that resonate and touch my audience rather than creating two-dimensional gatherings of pixels I used to call content which did not make an impression or stimulate any sort of emotional reaction from my tribe.

Hence, moving forward, it is my intention to induce a story (or stories) in everything I create, whether that is a photograph or a caption, that will resonate with my audience and be able to help them relate because isn’t that the whole point of building a community? To connect and to relate?

Trim the Fat

So this is a new one and something that I am currently employing. After searching through various recourses and advice that is available from credible sources online, it is clear that if your following doesn’t engage with you, your account is dead.

Now, some of us took years to build a following and thus some, or rather a lot, of those followers might be irrelevant to our brand. For instance, in the course of 4 years, some of my followers may have switched accounts or entirely left instagram, rendering their accounts as inactive. Another instance would be that throughout the evolution of my account, my niche, aesthetic, and messages may have changed, resulting some of my following to not find it relevant enough to engage with my content anymore.

All of these instances result in lack of engagement from your following and thus leads to a massive decrease of reach and engagement.

If you’re stubborn like me you’d want to do everything you can to make your following engage with you rather than losing out on that number. Well, unless you’ve found a way to do that, I think it’s a sinking ship.

So, as much as it pains me to see that number go down, I am now cleaning up my following. I use the app, Cleaner, to select inactive, ghost, and any follower with no display picture. The idea is to get rid of anyone who hasn’t engaged with your account in the last 3 months. I mean, they won’t be seeing your account anyway as they haven’t engaged in so long, so why carry them around and slow down your progress on the platform?

You’d rather have 1000 engaged following that help you boost your content, than to have a 50k following that does not engage, pushing your content to the end of the line, and resulting in near to zero reach and horrible engagement.

The key is always to see long term and focus on improving conversion. There is no point putting all this effort in, if you’re not converting and getting the ROI you need for your brand. Even if you’re here for vanity, the engagement numbers would show how poorly your content is doing and thus, there is basically no win for anyone if they keep on gathering irrelevant followers.

We Done!

Anddddd that’s it! If you use these strategies diligently and evolve your strategies and methods as time goes on, I promise you you will get results. Yes, there are a ton of easy ways to get that following up and that engagement sparkly but its really all glitter not gold. Doing follow-unfollow or buying likes or followers may help you spike up the number but it won’t get you your tribe which is what we should all ultimately be aiming for because at the end of the day if you’re creating all that content that no real person or an interested audience is seeing, well… aren’t you wasting your time in that case?

The Roundup:

To summarize:

  • Work with the algorithm not against it. It is your friend, trust me you gotta have faith in it
  • Engage, engage, engage. Use Gary V’s $1.80 rule or simply allocate 2 hours every day to engage in posts that you admire and appreciate – authenticity can’t be beat, trust me!
  • Timing is everything so use it to your advantage. Use Iconosquare, Tailwind, People Map or Instagram Insights to figure out when your audience is most active and engaged and post during those times
  • Use hashtags and keep them fresh! Using the same hashtags repeatedly will cause them to go stale so keep updating them and try using new ones each time you post and make sure they are specific to your content.
  • Get rid of followers that are not interested in your content and focus on creating a tribe that is interested in what you have to say and would likely convert
  • And last but not least, stay consistent and show up! I know this advice has been dragged on over and over but that’s for a reason. Post every day even twice a day if you can. The more you post the more opportunities you’re giving the channel to show your content to your audience. With that said, remember quality over quantity, so be intentional, have a message that resonates with your audience and don’t lose sight of a bigger picture: you’re here to make quality connections not just to have an empty presence.

fatima zehra

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    A true storyteller at heart, a wanderess in search of magical lands and an aesthete who is perpetually dazzled by the enchantment found in the every day. Fatima's love for stories and the magic they ooze out, led her to co-found Zehra Studio, an atelier of magic. As the Chief Branding Officer (CEO), her intention for Zehra Studio is to help brands form authentic connections with their audience through storytelling and intentional design. Crafting stories with a touch of magic, Fatima has worked with a range of awesome clients to help them find their voice to tell their stories and elevate their brands while doing so.

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