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June 02, 2018 4 min read

Instagram has seen massive success and has risen to become the fastest growing social platform in the world. In the last 12 months it has broken through the 500 million, 600 million, 700 million and 800 million users milestones. [update 20th June 2018 - Instagram have just announced that they have past the 1 billion active monthly users, and 500 million active daily users milestone]. This in part is due to them ditching the reverse chronological feed in July 2016 and replacing it with its algorithm that uses your behaviour to determine the order in which you see posts.

This change came with much apprehension and a lot of backlash from so called 'experts and tech media reporters'. Prior to the change usage reports show that users were not seeing 70% of all posts and missing around 50% of their friends posts purely due to the time spent on the app and how far they scrolled down the feed.

Why has the new algorithm produced such amazing growth in the user base?

New usage reports now show that users spend more time in their feeds because more posts that are relevant to them are shown appropriately in the most prominent positions. Users are now seeing 90% of their friends posts and generally spending more time in the app. Given this, user approval ratings are at an all time high and the addition and further development of filters and Instagram stories have seen it become a behemoth to its competitors like snapchat.

Until now Instagram has never explained exactly how the algorithm selects the posts and the order in which it shows them to you. In the last few days it assembled a group of reporters to lift the lid on its ranking algorithm and answer a slew of questions that came thick and fast.

How Instagram's ranking criteria actually works

Instagram invested heavily in machine learning and AI to analyse your past behaviour and create a new unique feed that is specifically tailored to you. To put this in context, even if you and a friend follow exactly the same accounts your feeds will be different because it is built based on what it knows about your likes, interactions and comments. It even uses machine vision to analyse the content and context of the pictures of the post that you are viewing.

Three core factors determine how your feed is presented to you:

  1. Interest - Instagram uses its AI to determine how much you will care about a post and ranks higher in your feed what matters to you. This is determined by careful analysis of your past behaviour.
  2. Recency - How recently the post was shared, prioritising newer posts over posts that are weeks old, however if you still haven't seen a particular post even though it is older and really fits the criteria of what you care about it will lift it in your feed until you see it.
  3. Relationship - How interactive you are with the accounts that share to you, with higher emphasis on people and accounts that you have liked and commented on and interacted a lot with in the past.

Beyond these things, there are three further factors that influence your individual feed rankings:

  1. Usage - How long you spend on average in a session and how far you scroll. The machine learning starts to understand you and your habits and presents the best posts to match your usage.
  2. Following - If you follow a lot of accounts, instagram will pick from a larger pool of posts and you will likely see less of any specific person or account to give you a wider slice of posts to match your viewing preferences.
  3. Frequency - How often you open Instagram will determine which are the best posts since your last visit.

Instagram crushes the rumour mill

Instagram also responded to many questions in a frank manner and has crushed many rumours and conspiracy theories that have been dreamed up by the media over the last 2 years.

  • Instagram WILL NOT bring back the old reverse chronological feed (and why would they given the growth and success of the new algorithm).
  • Instagram NEVER hides posts from your feed, you will see absolutely everything posted by everyone if you continue to scroll down to your last session.
  • Rankings DO NOT favour video or photo formats, your own behaviours will determine if you prefer to see video or photo posts first.
  • Ranking ARE NOT favoured by users who use stories, live or other special features. Stories and live sessions are ranked in their own formats again based on your watching habits.
  • It DOES NOT down rank users for posting frequently, however it may split up posts if they are posted in rapid fire succession.
  • There is NO FAVOURING between personal or business accounts in the feed, the features and benefits of business accounts are outside the feed and are more useful for the business rather than playing a role in where you are seen in someones feed.
  • Shadowbanning IS NOT a thing and Instagram does not reprimand or hide posts that use the allotted 30 hashtags regularly. Hashtags are used as they always have been to collate an interest feed that you can search or now follow.

This information is very useful to its users worldwide and instagram itself, because the more that people understand the actual way in which the platform works, the higher the user approval goes. Because of this you can expect Instagram to break through the 1 BILLION user milestone sometime soon and continue to grow and expand it's offering.

Instagram shopping is picking up pace and being rolled out further around the world, Instagram pay with one button payments against a users stored credit card is coming soon, and also expect more from augmented reality shopping just around the corner.

If you haven't already included instagram as a real strategy in your e-commerce future I'd be revising your plans and get building an audience immediately.

I'm always interested in your thoughts and your own experiences, does Instagram giving this information out, give you more confidence in where the future of your e-commerce business can go? 

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