How Does Instagram Work? The Beginners Guide

How Does Instagram Work? The Beginners Guide

These days, it would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of Instagram.

Believe it or not, there are now one billion active monthly users on the social media giant. As popular as this social media platform is, there are some people out there who are still perplexed when it comes to how Instagram works. If you’re a brand, an influencer or even just an individual who hasn’t managed to nail the Instagram game yet, don’t worry. We’re not going to come down on you too harshly.

What we are here to do, though, is to tell you that it’s worth learning as much as you can about Instagram. Not only is it one of the most popular social media websites in the world, but content on Instagram gets an impressive 23% more interaction than content on Facebook. This means that if you know how to use Instagram, you’ll be able to attract more real followers who want to interact with your posts every day.

The History of Instagram

Before we can answer the question ‘how does Instagram work?’ we need to take a look at the history of this social media company.
Instagram originally began as a photo sharing app that you can access through your smartphone. It aimed to be the bridge between a social community and people who considered themselves amateur photographers. With stickers and filters, anyone is capable of producing an award-winning image in a matter of minutes. When you think about how hard it was to share amazing photos before Instagram existed, you can see why it’s been such a popular app.

Impressively, after only six months of being available for iPhone, Instagram had already attracted five million users. By the time Instagram became available for Android, it was gaining on million new users in a day.

Being Noticed on Instagram

When people ask the question ‘how does Instagram work?’ we know that they do not want a breakdown of the operating and code mechanisms that are behind one of the world’s favorite apps. If you are here looking for something like that – we’re sorry.

Instead, people generally want to figure out how Instagram works so that they can rank better and get more engagement on their posts.
Like many social media platforms out there, Instagram uses what is called an algorithm, which is a set of rules and regulations dictating who is seeing your content, and when they see it. Additionally, like a lot of social media networks, Instagram is constantly changing its algorithm, which makes it difficult for Instagram marketers to follow or master any of its patterns.

In fact, Instagram changed the algorithm up so dramatically in 2016 that a petition was started on so that people could restore their feed back to what it once was. In early 2018, Instagram moved their focus onto time as an important feature of the algorithm. However, this isn’t the only thing brands have to think about when using Instagram for their marketing.

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The change in 2018 moved Instagram away from the typical chronological feed, giving priority to certain types of content. The biggest challenge to come out of this is that people had no idea what they had to do to get onto Instagram’s good side and be seen in other people’s feeds.

With so many people asking this now million dollar question of how Instagram works, Instagram decided to finally hold a press conference where they discussed the main factors they consider when creating a feed.

These are:

  • Timeliness
  • Interest
  • Relationship

Instagram also said that following, usage and frequency could also be factors that would influence how the algorithm sorted people’s feeds.


So, what is the interest factor, then? Interest is the metric that Instagram uses to figure out how likely it is that you’ll want to look at certain content. When Instagram held their press conference, they explained that they would prioritize content in someone’s feed that they believed they would be interested in.

So, how does Instagram figure out what you like, and what you don’t like?

Well, a good place to start is scoping out content that you’ve already looked at. So, if you’re always liking and commenting on pictures of kittens, then Instagram is going to show you content that has the hashtag #kittens on it before any other content.

The formula for success then, is that you need to know what your target audience like. Once you know this, you can tweak your content so that it shows up in their feed.


The next most significant factor in the Instagram algorithm is the timeliness of your content. For example, if someone has logged into Instagram at 10 am, and you posted your content at 9:45 am, then they’re more likely to see your post that someone else’s who posted their content late the night before.

Instagram wants people to see the freshest content that’s most relevant to them. This means that content doesn’t necessarily have to have a lot of engagement on it to turn up in someone’s feed – it just needs to get the timing right.

For influencers and brands trying to make it big on Instagram, this means you need to figure out exactly when the majority of your target audience is online so that you can post your content when they’re going to see it. The best thing about this is that it’s easy to achieve if you use a business Instagram account. This is because a business Instagram account gives you access to Instagram insights, which tell you necessary information about your followers including when the majority of them are online.


We’ve arrived at the final factor: relationship. For a long time, Instagram has prioritized people’s posts from friends and family. This means that regardless of how many people you are following on Instagram, you’ll always see posts from your friends and family first.
Above everything else, Instagram wants you to see content from the people that you care about the most. It makes sense.

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However, what does this mean for Instagrammers that don’t have a personal relationship with all of their current followers? It means that you need to start working on your relationship skills. This includes:

  • Making sure you’re showing up in the most relevant searches by using the best hashtags for your niche
  • Responding to questions and direct messages you receive
  • Interacting with people on their content through comments and likes

Other Factors the Instagram Algorithm Considers

As we mentioned earlier, there are a few other factors that the Instagram algorithm think about when determining what content you see in your feed. Let’s take a look at the other ingredients that make up Instagram’s algorithm system:

  • Usage: whether you spend hours on the Instagram app or prefer short bursts of activity, the way you interact with this social media app is going to determine what type of content Instagram shows you.
  • Following: if you follow a lot of people on Instagram, then the algorithm has its work cut out for it in terms of information about you to organize. This means that users who follow more accounts may see less content from individual accounts.
  • Frequency: this is how often you access your Instagram app. If you open Instagram just once a day, then Instagram will make sure that you see just the best posts of the day. However, if you’re constantly scrolling through your Instagram feed, then Instagram is going to try and put content in front of you that you haven’t seen already.

Why The Algorithm Isn’t All That Bad

Even though the Instagram algorithm has confused a lot of people in the past and left big brands and influencers wondering exactly how Instagram works, it’s not actually as bad as it appears to be.

As you can see year after year the number of people on Instagram just continues to increase. This means that there is more and more content to sort through each and every day. Followers who are tired of trying to find content that they’re going to be interested in don’t even go to the explore page anymore because they know that it will just be a waste of their time.

The Instagram algorithm means that as long as you’re interacting with your target audience a good amount, then you’re going to get your content in front of them. And, as we all know, this is the most important thing when it comes to promoting yourself on social media.
Without the Instagram algorithm, the only thing that you could do is post many times in one day – and a lot of big brands struggle with doing this.

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Final Thoughts

The ultimate answer to our million dollar question is that it does what it’s supposed to do by putting the most relevant content in front of the people who are going to appreciate it the most.

If you want to really stand out on Instagram and use this social media platform to your advantage, you need to make sure that your own marketing strategy is just as effective.

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