Creating content for Instagram can be time-consuming, so you’ll want to make sure your content gets in front of as many viewers as possible. Instagram’s algorithms can seem a bit unpredictable, but there are ways to improve your experience. Read on to learn more about Instagram’s post ranking system.
What Is Shadowbanning?
If you use social media often and follow a lot of content creators, you may have heard the term “shadowbanning” before. If you’re not familiar with the term, shadowbanning refers to the theory that certain social media platforms deliberately “hide” content or profiles that they may consider unfavorable, so that fewer users, or no users, can see them. Accusations of shadowbanning can arise when a content creator sees that certain posts don’t perform as well in engagement as that creator’s posts normally do. However, shadowbanning as a practice is outright denied by most platforms and that lack of visibility is likely a symptom of other factors at play.
You may notice a stark difference in likes for certain Instagram posts when compared to others, or feel that you are not getting the viewership you should. You may wonder if there is a reason or if there is anything you can do to increase your overall visibility on the platform. Thankfully, Instagram does provide some guidance on how their algorithms work and how your content may surface.
Instagram uses the term “ranking” to describe the way that content surfaces for potential viewers. A variety of circumstances can affect the visibility of your posts. In fact, the app hosts several types of content in different spaces and each one has its own ranking system. The different ranking systems prioritize different aspects of the content, based on what users may be looking for.
Instagram stories are viewed mostly by those who already follow you. They are ranked higher for the users who interact with your account the most, based on criteria including their history of viewing your stories, how often they engage with your other posts, and if you have any mutual followers. Since stories are less likely to bring in new followers, they’re a good place to promote special info for your most loyal readers.
When you open Instagram, you are generally brought to your feed. Years ago, the feed was organized chronologically, starting with the most recent posts by those you follow, but now the process is quite a bit more complex. At risk of oversimplifying, Instagram’s algorithm ranks content in a user’s feed by showing both the most recent posts from accounts you follow and recommendations of other content based on what you’ve previously interacted with. This can mean that your feed contains a mix of content from accounts you follow and accounts you don’t. For this reason, the feed is a little unpredictable to work with when you are trying to ensure that your followers see your posted content. Here are some things you can do to help:
1.Include calls to action. If someone likes and comments, that makes it more likely they’ll see your content in their feed again, so your post should encourage them to engage.
2.Encourage your audience to turn on post notifications, so they can be alerted when you post even if it doesn’t show up in their feed.
3.Be sparing in your regular feed posts and make sure they are relevant and topical to your followers.
Instagram tries keep things fresh by not showing too much content from any one person in the feed. Avoid posting more than one grid post per day. This can help you avoid spamming your audience, as well.
Reels are designed to put new content and new accounts in front of users, so they can be a great opportunity to grow your following. Reels can be ranked for each user based on what kind of content they interact with most, the popularity of the video or audio, and if that user has previously interacted with the account. You might increase your visibility by using a trendy audio track or including a call to action in the caption (for example, “Comment the last book you read!”). The faster people interact with your video, the higher it will be ranked in the algorithm. Instagram also tends to recommend entertaining content in Reels, so fun and snappy videos may perform better.
For more on how ranking works across different parts of Instagram, check out this blog post.
What to Avoid
While there are some great ways to use ranking to your advantage, it can also work to adverse effect. Instagram denies that shadowbanning is part of their algorithm, but they do warn that certain types of content can be fully removed or ranked lower.
Instagram is very serious about maintaining a safe community setting for its users, so posts will be fully removed if they violate Community Guidelines. If you are already a frequent user of the app, you are likely aware of what you can and cannot post, but it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. Avoid any violent content, sexually suggestive images, or offensive language. Even depictions of graphic violence for historical or newsworthy purposes can be removed. The best way to avoid this is by including a warning in your caption. Instagram will notify you directly if something you posted is taken down. If you believe that a post was falsely removed, you can request that Instagram review it again. Copyright and trademark violations can also be reported and removed. Check Instagram’s Community Guidelines for more.
Even a post that isn’t in direct violation of Community Guidelines will not necessarily show up in the algorithm the same as any other content. Instagram offers transparency about certain content that may not be removed from the platform, but may be ranked lower in other users’ feeds, or be considered ineligible to be recommended by Instagram to potential new followers.
Some important things to avoid:
- Imagery that is graphic or violent, or depicts use of regulated products such as tobacco.
- Clickbait, or exaggerated claims
- Repurposed or unoriginal content (Hint: Remove that TikTok logo from the Reel you’re cross-posting!)
- False or misleading information
There is much more to know about what Instagram can and cannot recommend, which you can read more about here. Keep in mind that most of this is maintained by AI systems. When in doubt, it’s best not to post, especially since violations of this sort can hurt your account overall.
If something you post is found to be in violation of Community Guidelines or Terms of Service, this may lead to certain penalties, such as being unable to use certain features of the app, all the way up to having your account fully removed. To get insight into lesser cases where something was found ineligible to be recommended, Instagram includes a feature that allows users with professional accounts to check their Account Status.
This feature analyzes not only posts, but your profile photo and bio as well. It will alert you to any content on your account that violates Instagram’s recommendation guidelines. You can make adjustments, and once everything complies, you’ll stand a much higher chance of having your posts promoted in Reels, Explore, and other places Instagram recommends new content.
The best way to find success on any platform is to know it well. If you would like to grow your Instagram following as an author or make the most of the reach you already have on the platform, make sure you have a professional account and play around with its various features. Create the kind of content you would like to see, and, since many parts of the algorithm promote content by interaction, don’t be afraid to connect with your readers. Your boundaries come first—but being responsive can go a long way (reader loyalty beats tricky algorithms, anyway).
Jacky Bethea is the Associate of Author Development for Penguin Random House.