There’s a new social media player in town by the name of “Instagram algorithm” and it’s being a total pest because there is next to no information available about it. All we really know is that this update is affecting the day-to-day operations of the platform by lowering impressions and making organic growth trickier than it used to be.

In an effort to try and gain some insights into this algorithm, I spent last week conducting a little experiment. Today I’d like to share what I learned with you, in hopes that it helps you navigate the next steps for your business.


* Disclaimer – the results of this experiment are my experience with Instagram and may not hold weight for everyone. I did not experiment with promoted posts. I don’t have concrete answers, but hopefully this helps a little. *

I run three Instagram accounts of my own and I manage Instagram accounts for various clients. For this experiment I focused on various posting patterns, hashtag recipes and content diversity on my three handles.

I monitored posting times, engagement and impressions, and compared those qualifies against the type of content being posted.


1. The Instagram algorithm more than likely isn’t impacting everyone in the same way
Some accounts may still not be affected by it. For example, my Insta stories still doesn’t carry the ‘link out’ feature like so many other users have. The platform is enormous – rolling out a simultaneous update is probably challenging, so it’s trickling out in phases which means everyone is having a different experience at a different time.

2. Hashtags don’t carry as much weight as they once did
On Wednesday last week I posted this with zero hashtags and zero tags and the post earned more traction and impressions than this post that was loaded with hashtags. Why? It could be the subject matter – fluffy dog vs canvas bag. It could be the captions. However, I would guess it’s because Instagram is trying to clean up the platform and part of that process is banning hashtags they don’t approve of.

If you use a banned hashtag your whole account becomes ‘shadow banned’ — in other words restricted in terms of who can see it pop up in their feeds. It’s all a bit of a headache, so an interesting takeaway for me was that not using hashtags meant I could connect better with my current audience (which is more important to me personally than growing my audience).

3. Posting less is better
Posting 5-7 times a week isn’t ideal anymore for growth. I don’t know why to be perfectly honest, but I found across the accounts I was posting on that posting every other day yielded more impressions, engagement and followers overall. Posting multiple times a day had reasonable engagement on post #1 and practically nothing on post #2. In fact, when I looked for post #2 from one account in the home feed of another, it never showed up. Not once. Weird, right?

4. Insta Stories is fantastic
Insta Stories gets a lot of attention and viewers still. Even when I just post a static image, people show up to see, comment, share thoughts etc in higher numbers than they do on the regular grid. It doesn’t seem like Insta Stories is restricted in its reach. And although I have no hard data on this, I feel as though I always gain new followers when I post dynamic content on Insta Stories. I found this interesting because Insta Stories also doesn’t use hashtags. Could hashtags be the root problem here?

5. Certain content performs better
Dogs, food and faces/fashion seemed to perform better than more generic content like interiors, outfit detail shots or text-image quotes. Now this may simply be a result of audience focus per handle – but this was my experience.
6. Commenting boosts a post
The more comments a post receives, the more it is seen (aka the more impressions it generates). I think Instagram sees lots of comments as lots of engagement and makes that post more accessible to outside viewers. But note, this is comment centric, not like centric. Double taps don’t seem to be enough anymore to get a post boosted in the algorithm.

7. Times of day to post
I used to be able to determine the best time of day to post for various accounts and brands, as each individual audience has different behaviour patterns to be mindful of. Lately however, and definitely during this experiment, posts before 2PM performed significantly better. One possible theory — there are not has many people active online in the mornings so there is less content to compete with and get buried by on the platform? Or people are on their phones over lunch hour so more likely to see content? The reasoning is murky, but these were my findings.

8. Creating a niche makes a bigger splash
I found that posting on accounts that were very niched (for example, @gooseberryprints which is all about cute animals) generated more interest than accounts that talked about a bunch of varied things. Now, I’m not saying don’t talk about and explore varied topics, this is more so just an interesting observation.



Treat others on Instagram how you would like to be treated
This means double tap and comment more on the accounts you really love. And by comment I mean say more than, “Cute shoes!” Leave a meaningful message and thought on their posts – after all, wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you? Yes, it is time consuming, but it helps to bump posts up in the algorithm (it seems). Plus it really builds community and authentic engagement which again is more valuable than legions of followers (it always was!)

Use fewer hashtags
You lower the likelihood of accidentally using a banned hashtag, as that list is always changing and not really well reported. For example, did you know that #dogsofinstagram is now banned? Bananas! Invest in fewer hashtags, not the full 30 quota.

Focus your content
Publish pieces that really mean something to you and are near and dear to your brand’s mission statement. Cut out the noise in your own brand so that you can offer your audience more thoughtful content, which will encourage more thoughtful responses. I’m not saying this is a fix, but it could help reduce your posting which may up your visibility on the platform. (I told you it was a headache, right?)
Check your followers for bogus accounts
You know the ones I’m talking about right? “@get_more_followers1000” and the likes. These accounts creep into following you, not always with notifications. So take some time each week to scroll through your followers and block anything spammy. This could help stop Instagram from flagging your account as suspicious.

Focus on your blog
A blog is something that you own. You buy the hosting, you purchase the domain, you own the content your create through and through. In my opinion, a blog is one of the most valuable assets to a small business, because a blog is one of the most effective marketing tools. It boosts your brand’s SEO, positions you as an authority in your field and becomes a hub of inspiration for your audience with a series of articles that flawlessly capture your voice, values and vision. A blog can also be monetized. It’s win-win-win-win-win with a well planned and strategically executed blog. Not sure how to get started? Gooseberry can help.

Explore other social networks
Of course social media still has its place and purpose and I’m not saying abandon Instagram entirely. However, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Diversify your social media plan – explore Twitter and Pinterest (the top traffic driver still to this day!) Back in the day we used to post our content to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and then Instagram came along and we all got a bit of tunnel vision. Getting a little ‘retro’ with our content sharing strategies may be a good fit now.

Build a newsletter
This is your email marketing list. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Totally! It becomes a clear uninterrupted channel to people who really care about what you have to say.

Stop freaking out
A bit of tough love now — every single social media platform ever undergoes unwanted changes like this. These are FREE apps/platforms that we are using, so we don’t really have a right to complain when the service changes. Nor should we be shocked when it does. Facebook owns Instagram and we all know what happened to Facebook; it was only a matter of time before Instagram transformed too. At the end of the day, Instagram is a business – of course it’s trying to turn a profit. What stings is that we all became used to the free service so adjusting is hard.

Breathe, breathe, breathe – there are lots of ways for a business to operate successfully without relying on social media for sales. After all, many a business was successful before the dawn of the Internet. Start exploring offline marketing strategies and community building (I’ll be talking more about this soon!)

Quality over quantity
This is something I’ve believe in personally for a long long time now, but I think it’s becoming more and more evident on Instagram too. Posting less frequently but more meaningfully seems to be more effective. As mentioned earlier, using fewer hashtags seems to help too. Maybe we don’t have to say something every day so much as we need to start saying more thoughtful things?

Get creative with your marketing
If you need a jumping off point, check out How to Find Clients. Just because you’ve always done something one way (social media) doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to achieve similar goals. You’re a creative entrepreneur – get creative! Think outside the box, or in this case quite literally the square when it comes to your marketing and community building initiatives.