While Instagram’s image-focussed approach can be off-putting to B2B marketers, excluding Instagram from your social media strategy may actually be a missed opportunity. Instagram’s algorithm - much more sophisticated now than at its inception over a decade ago - actually favours personalisation and niche content, allowing you to reach your target audience in a more informal, personal context. Read on to find out how to make Instagram’s algorithm work for you.
Why use Instagram?
Like Twitter, Instagram is often dismissed as a B2C-only platform because of its heavy reliance on visual content, informal tone, and very broad reach. However, when used in conjunction with other platforms, Instagram can be a great way to reach your B2B audience in a different setting, and its many image and video-based features can open up a whole world of new opportunities for your social media strategy.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
In a 2021 blog post, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri succinctly explained how the Instagram algorithm works:
“We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.”
Seems simple enough - Instagram doesn’t want to waste users’ time with irrelevant, uninteresting content, so personalisation sits at the core of how the algorithm works. However, the signals it uses to create personalised experiences are much more nebulous and complex. Below we’ve broken down the primary and secondary ranking factors for Instagram’s algorithm:
Primary ranking factors
‘Relationship’ here refers to the degree of connection between users; do you follow each other? Do you like and/or comment on each other’s posts? Do you DM each other? How frequently do you interact? The more connected two accounts are, the more likely they are to see each other’s posts on their feeds. For personal Instagram accounts, this means that you’re more likely to see content from people you know and interact with; for brand accounts, this means that community management and interacting with your target audience is extremely important.
Much like Twitter, Instagram takes users’ past behaviour on the app into account, using this data to show them content that they may be interested in. Hence, the algorithm will typically prioritise posts that match users’ interests on their feed; this is even more apparent in the Explore tab, which encourages users to explore posts from accounts they don’t already follow. Once again, tailoring your posts specifically to your target audience will be key not only in being more visible in their feeds, but also in reaching new users through the Explore tab.
The most nebulous out of the three primary ranking factors, ‘relevancy’ seems to take into account both timeliness (i.e. how recently the post was published) and trending topics. The timeliness element can be easily tackled by posting frequently and consistently; Hootsuite recommends posting between once a day and 2 times a week - and if you’re a smaller account (under 1,000 followers) your posting schedule should be on the higher end of that spectrum. The ‘trending topics’ element should be looked at alongside your target audience’s specific interests, and how you can relate them back to your business/offering.
Secondary ranking factors
These factors have more to do with your audience’s Instagram habits than anything you can influence with your Instagram strategy - but they’re still important to keep in mind.
Frequency of use: users who open their Instagram app more frequently will see a wider variety of content, while users who only log in occasionally will only see the most relevant content from close connections.
Followed accounts: the more accounts your audience follow, the more competitive their feed will be - on the other hand, fewer followed accounts mean more opportunities to get your content in front of your audience.
Session time: as with frequency of use, Instagram’s algorithm will prioritise relevant content for users with shorter average session times, while users who tend to spend longer on the app will be shown more kinds of content from different sources.
Tips & Tricks
As businessman and author Seth Godin puts it, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but the stories you tell” - and Instagram is the perfect channel to put this philosophy into action. Because Instagram is a visual-first platform, there are many opportunities for marketers to communicate their messages through visual storytelling and connect with their audiences. Make use of images, videos, and the carousel format on Instagram to communicate with your audience in a more personal and engaging manner.
Use all the formats
When Instagram first launched, users really only had the option to post a single, static image to their profiles. Today Instagram boasts a wide variety of posting formats - and they all have their place in a well-rounded Instagram strategy. These are:
Feed posts: the classic Instagram post format, this can be a single image or video that appears on users’ feeds, or on the Explore page if you’ve used hashtags and keywords cleverly.
Feed carousels: a collection of images and/or videos which users can scroll through as with a carousel. This makes it the perfect medium to communicate big ideas in smaller chunks, in a way that keeps users engaged with your content.
Stories: these appear in the ‘Stories’ section at the top of users’ feeds, and are only available to view for 24 hours (though you may choose to keep your favourite Stories pinned to your Instagram page indefinitely). Stories allow for more interactivity than regular posts and can include stickers, Q&As, polls, and most importantly links - something that is still missing from feed posts.
Reels: these are short-form (maximum 60 seconds long) videos that are shown in users’ feeds, Stories, and Reels page. More importantly, Reels may also appear on non-followers’ feeds based on the algorithm - allowing you to reach new audiences that could be interested in your content.
Live: Instagram Live allows you to livestream to your account’s followers. Live content appears in the Stories section of users’ feeds, playing before any Story - meaning you can capture users’ attention without much competition.
Hashtags are a key feature of the Instagram user experience - they’re also a great opportunity to expand your posts’ reach and get your content in front of new audiences who are interested in a particular topic.
You may be tempted to just drop a bunch of popular hashtags into all your posts, but ideally you want to tailor your hashtags to your target audience - much like you would with keywords for any other kind of online content. When it comes to hashtags, best practice is to use a combination of high-traffic keywords and niche ones, in order to get a reasonably large reach while still appearing in front of interested users. Research and experimentation are really key in nailing your hashtag strategy.
Hopefully this article has inspired you to add Instagram to your B2B marketing arsenal - and if you still need convincing, check out how B2B brands like Shopify, Mailchimp, and Hootsuite are using Instagram in fun and engaging ways to bring their content in front of their audiences. Ultimately, you don’t need to be a Kardashian-level influencer to excel at Instagram; you just need to know your audience, which is the cornerstone of any good marketing strategy.
Looking to better understand the LinkedIn algorithm instead? You can read about it in our LinkedIn Algorithm Guide here.