What's new on Instagram 2021

As part of it’s Creator Week event, Instagram has provided some insights into how it shares content. If you’re a creator* or business, it’s possible that you may be able to leverage this new information to your advantage. These extra insights should facilitate more understanding of how the app works. Plus, you should be able to improve your social media strategy for the app.

*A creator account is for influencers rather than businesses. Instagram wants to keep the two types of account separate. The creator profiles include features and tools that specifically cater to influencers who are not attached to more traditional business models.


How the different algorithms work

First of all, there isn’t one all-encompassing algorithm. Instagram uses several different algorithms to decide which content to show which user. All of the algorithms on the platform perform differently depending on where you’re based, who you are and what your interests are. That said, the principle is the same. The algorithms learn from your interactions and behaviour and makes predictions on what you would like to see to create the best experience for every user.

There are some fundamental cues that are used to rank content by the different algorithms:

- Your activity as a user (not a creator) – what you’ve liked shared and engaged with recently.

- Your history with other accounts – again who you’ve liked and engaged with recently.

- Information about the content itself – title, hashtags, how popular the post is.

In addition, there are two other types of algorithm used to order how the content appears to users in their feed. The first applies to grid and Stories:

- Focuses on timely, relevant and appealing content.

- Prioritises accounts you are engaging with, such as friends, family, influencers and celebrities.

- Highlights the posts you’re most likely to want to see at the top of your feed.

- All content from accounts you follow is there in your feed, depending on how far you’re prepared to scroll back.

The next algorithm is specifically for the Explore page and Reels:

- Focuses on fun, creative and exciting content.

- Presents accounts and posts you may be interested in, outside of those you already follow.

- Guided by your interests over time.


Shadow-banning

During it’s Creator Week panel, Instagram also mentioned shadow-banning. Shadow-banning, or stealth banning, is a term used to describe how content is blocked or partially blocked when it breaks certain guidelines. The system falls down when it tries to differentiate between body-positive, sex positive and actual inappropriate posts. This leaves entire Instagram communities feeling confused, victimised or censored, when their posts are taken down, despite the user posting in accordance with best practice advice.

Interestingly, Instagram agreed that not enough was being done to explain why certain content was taken down, or what was actually permissible on the platform. Back in 2020, Instagram created an Equity team to address challenges faced by people from marginalised backgrounds on Instagram. The idea was to find solutions so that all communities feel safe and supported on the platform. See links on Community Guidelines and Recommendations for best practice.

Instagram encourages users to appeal if they feel their content was banned incorrectly. If people continue to appeal, the algorithm will become more comprehensive, meaning that shadow-banning will become a thing of the past.


New features

A variety of new updates have been rolled out over the last few months in a push to remain relevant as competitors continue to rise in popularity. This move will attract a broader audience and revenue-generating influencers with increasingly creative functionality.

Reel Insights – Instagram now provides data on Total Plays, Accounts Reached, Likes, Comments, Saves and Shares.

Instagram Live – Instagram now provides data on Accounts reached, Peak Concurrent Viewers, Comments and Shares.

Deeper Insights into Reach – Instagram has also expanded Reach Breakdowns in to details about the specific accounts reached and the content that is working best for your account.

Branded Content Tools – Influencers can now tag two brands in a single piece of branded content and each brand will be able to see the other brand tagged.

Video – Adam Mosseri (head of Instagram) recently posted that the platform is “no longer just a square photo-sharing app”. Users can already share videos in various forms, like Stories, Reels and longer-form videos on IGTV. Instagram have yet to say whether videos will be prioritised in your feed, but if you engage with video more often, the algorithm will certainly show more video in your feed.

Creator Shops – Personal Instagram accounts can now link to a native Instagram shop to sell their own merchandise.

Hiding Post Likes – Instagram have also launched features designed to control the feed experience. You can now hide likes on your own posts, or likes on other people’s posts. You will see this when it says “Followed by… and others”.

Direct Messaging (DMs) – You can now also turn off DMs from people you don’t know. This is an extension of their anti-bullying work which launched in 2020 with great success.


What this means for your business

During Creator Week, Adam Mosseri also pointed out that “we can’t guarantee stable reach”, which makes sense, given there are now more users on Instagram than ever before.

However now that you understand how the algorithms and cues work, there are ways to grow your following on the platform, such as:

- Using different surfaces (grid, Reels, Stories, Live, IGTV) and content verticals (static images, carousels & video) to diversify your impact.

- Showing personality so your content stands out and appeals to new audiences.

- Create content that suits the different surfaces.

- Use the more detailed insights available across the platform to help develop a more effective content plan.

- Most importantly, building and interacting with your audience.

We would always recommend having a content strategy in place before launching your business on Instagram, with your target audience being front of mind.


In conclusion

The current Instagram algorithms are still far from perfect. The work that Instagram is doing on equity inclusion and opportunities for influencers is definitely a huge step in the right direction. Plus, the new features do provide some really useful tools for your business to enhance your social media presence and help steer your strategy.


Are you a small business owner or entrepreneur who is looking to use Instagram to take your business to the next level? Contact our team today, we'd be happy to help.