How to beat the instagram algorithm and get more likes, comments and engagement

Has your Instagram engagement been dropping… and dropping… and dropping? If you’ve been getting fewer likes and comments on each post lately, you’re not alone.

Instagram announced an algorithm update in 2016 that would display posts out of chronological order (previously, posts showed in chronological order in your feed with the newest on top). But many Insta-experts suspect there’s more at play than just the order of posts as of late.

I’ve experienced it myself. I’m seeing more posts from accounts with tons of followers (think 100K+), more sponsored content, and fewer of the posts from smaller accounts and people I actually know. Meanwhile, my own posts that used to easily get likes from 20-30% of my followers are now struggling to hit 5-10% engagement. What gives?

My humble opinion is that Instagram is going the way of Facebook, where paying advertisers get prime placement and you must constantly evolve to keep up with the finicky algorithm.

It sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And anyway, it’s out of our control. If you’re a smart marketer, you’ll try your best to work with the algorithm and maximize your organic reach as much as possible, supplementing it with ad dollars when you can.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been paying close attention to Instagram, trying and tweaking different tactics to see how they affect my results. Here are 8 takeaways I’ve found to help you beat the Instagram algorithm and bump your engagement back up.

1. Use Stories

If you’re not using Instagram Stories, you’re really missing out on viewership.

The Instagram feed no longer displays in chronological order, and neither do stories, but they’re much closer to it than the news feed since all of the content in stories is less than 24 hours old. The content is only visible for a day, so there’s always a sense of urgency for users to view it before it’s gone.

Another great thing about stories is that they autoplay. So, when a viewer is done watching their brother or their BFF’s story, the next one in the queue (which might be yours) plays automatically. It’s a great way to get more eyes on what you’re doing this very second.

2. Tag Your Location And Use Hashtags In Your Stories

You can use geotagging and hashtags in a story just like you would in a static photo post. They expand your reach and help get your brand in front of new users—and you can see exactly how they’re working when you view your story’s analytics.

Every time I tag my location, I always pick up a few additional viewers from that location’s shared story. If my story was engaging enough, those new viewers might stop by and check out the rest of what I’m posting, too.

Beat the instagram algorithm

3. Use People In Your Images

I analyzed my last 30 days’ worth of Instagram posts in great detail—which was a pain in the butt, by the way. Thank goodness for Excel.

Anyway, I looked at a bunch of different factors—time of day, day of the week, color, subjects in the photo—and this was BY FAR the biggest factor that impacted a post’s engagement: having a person or people in the image.

My posts that had at least one person in them got 14% more impressions and 29% more likes than those without people (like scenic shots and shots of objects). Even pictures of my adorable dog Bo didn’t perform as well as photos of people!

Images with a person in them got 14% more impressions and 29% more likes than those without. Click To Tweet This!

It makes sense; people are interested in other people, so use humans in your Instagram photos whenever possible. If you usually only show products or scenery, it’s definitely worth switching it up with some people shots to see what happens.

Freebie! Get two weeks’ worth of Instagram post ideas plus WRITTEN FOR YOU caption copy. Get them by clicking here.

4. Tag Other Accounts

This was another factor that had a noticeable impact on post engagement—tagging other accounts. And I’m not just talking about the people in the photo, I’m talking about other brands and places.

For example, I posted a picture from my birthday dinner and tagged the restaurant along with several accounts associated with the Catskill Mountains.

How to beat the instagram algorithm

This works because every time you tag someone, it sends them a notification they’ve been tagged. What do they do? Go and look at the photo, of course! Many times they’ll hit like on it, and they might even re-share it with their followers.

In my analysis, I found that posts that tagged other accounts got 8% more impressions and 15% more likes than those that did not tag any accounts.

Here are a few ideas of accounts to tag:

  • Location-based accounts like the tourism board of a city
  • Business accounts like the restaurant or shop you’re at
  • Product accounts like the sweater you’re wearing
  • Brand accounts like the @starbucks coffee you’re holding
  • Themed accounts, like @pitbulladdict for pitbull photos or @teachingmensfashion for menswear

5. Use branded hashtags

Take a look at the accounts you’re tagging as mentioned in tip #4 and see if they have any branded hashtags. These will usually be listed right in their profile.

Instagram hacks

Use these hashtags in addition to tagging the brand, or switch off between tagging and using the hashtag, to up your post’s chances of being seen. One repost from an influential brand can net hundreds or even thousands of new followers.

6. Piggyback on events

Another great way to get new eyes on your account is to take advantage of events that are going on nearby.

When I was in Boston for the INBOUND 2017 conference in September, I saw a nice spike in engagement by taking advantage of all the social media opportunities surrounding the event. I used the branded hashtags, tagged the official account in my posts and interacted with other people who were doing the same thing.

And you don’t have to actually be taking part in an event to use it to your advantage. Just being mindful of what’s on the calendar in your location can be useful.

For example, let’s say there’s a big street festival going on a few blocks over from your storefront. You might find out the Instagram account and hashtag, then use them in an Instagram Story speaking directly to people who are attending. I.e. you on camera saying “Hey everyone who’s out at Moonfest for Halloween! Come in and mention this story and get 10% off your purchase!”

Everyone who’s looking at the event hashtag will see your post, and you might even pick up a customer or two.

7. Max out your hashtags

You can currently add up to 30 hashtags to any post. I don’t care what the haters say: use all of them.

Hashtags work the same way they always have; they help people find your posts and discover your amazing content. Plain and simple. It’d be silly not to max out the opportunity.

If you’re worried about your posts looking cluttered, do what many power users do and place your hashtags in the first comment instead of directly in the text of your post.

8. Don’t Over-Engage

Full disclosure: this one is pure speculation based on my own experience.

There was a period right when I noticed my engagement dropping where I tried to over-compensate. I started liking and commenting on a ton more photos than usual to see if it would help bring my engagement back to normal.

My engagement got even worse. It was like Instagram knew I was trying to game the system and punished me in the form of restricted reach.

Again, I have no idea if this is really part of the algorithm or pure coincidence. But if you think about it, it wouldn’t be that far off base for the Instagram algorithm to have a mechanism in place for restricting the reach of spammy users, right?

All I’m saying is pay attention to your numbers. If you’ve been commenting a lot more than usual and liking every single photo in your feed, I’d be curious to know if you experience the same kind of hit I did.

It’s worth noting that when I scaled back and just started using the platform casually again, commenting and liking as normal, my likes and engagement seemed to bounce back.

There’s definitely a theme to all of these tips: they all surround broadening your reach and getting in front of more people than just those who are following you. Whether it’s tagging other accounts to get noticed or using your location to your advantage, it’s all about reaching beyond your existing circle.

Have you found other tips that help boost likes and engagement? I’d LOVE to know! Share them by leaving a comment below.

BONUS! I put together 14 days of Instagram post ideas plus WRITTEN FOR YOU copy to use in your captions. Get them by clicking here.


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Tami Brehse

Tami Brehse

Tami is a television news anchor turned digital marketing consultant who helps small businesses achieve their PR and marketing goals.
Tami Brehse
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