Insight on Instagram: A Look at How the Algorithm Works

I'm sure we all wonder how we can get our work out there and to be seen by people all over the world. For myself and many others, Instagram has become a huge spot for sharing our work. With millions of people browsing through their feeds multiple times per day, why not post content that people can like and engage with? This service is free to us, and we can be as good as we want at it as long as we understand how to use it and put the time into growing it properly. Here are some tips from YouTuber BMACadelic on how to do just that.

After watching this video, it is easy to see that there is a lot involved if you want to grow your Instagram account. I know a lot of people who think growing their Instagram will benefit them majorly in terms of sharing their work, working with brands, getting business online, collaborating with others, and so on. I also know plenty of other people who are completely against it. They see other ways to get what they are looking for with their work outside of Instagram. Regardless, there is no right answer, and anybody can choose how they want their work to get out there.

In this case, as I am a photographer, Instagram is my absolute favorite form of social media, though it can become a full-time job and a real pain. Over time, I have learned to understand the algorithm more as I've been trying to post better content, use hashtags, engage with others frequently, respond to comments, and get more features. Some days I find myself dumping over two hours into my Instagram only to slowly watch it grow or kind of just stay where it is. It's easy to get discouraged when we spend so much time working on something that we think can benefit us when it's not working, and I have certainly had thoughts of giving up or taking a break; but I do think it is very important to be consistent as much as possible. If I do not keep up with it for a while, maybe it will be impossible to grow. If I put the work in now and really work on growing it, it may actually get me somewhere. Like anything else, it takes time and effort to get to where you want to be.

Instagram has opened a world of opportunity for all of us. It is funny to think my biggest job to date was actually through Instagram, where my team was flown across the country to do some commercial work for a few days. Having an experience like that really opened my eyes and showed me that this could lead to bigger jobs. Although some people may not be the biggest fans of Instagram, and although I may get down on myself here and there because of it, I have talked to so many new people, been featured on some amazing accounts, and have pretty much created another resume/portfolio for myself with it. At the end of the day, Instagram is just another app on your phone, but having some knowledge on how to grow it may not hurt too badly.

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9 Comments

Michael Holst's picture

A great informational video about how Instagram works but dear god my eyes bleed when looking at his photography.

One of the problems I see with the new algorithm is that it also puts more pressure on creators to pander to who they want to see their photos rather than finding out what type of photography they like to shoot. An artist should keep pandering to a minimum or else its just sales. With the new way of IG anyone looking to get exposure is going to end up shooting the same cliches. When the audience is controlling what you put out is that still art?

I'll state that this is just my opinion and I'd like to hear what people think.

The real key to being successful on any social media platform (though he says the opposite) seems to be about quantity and not as much about quality. You force yourself in front of enough people and eventually you'll get followers. Learn what they like to look at and exploit it until its run into the ground.

Dan Marchant's picture

It seems the key to success is to consistently post overdone "cinematic" teal/orange photos. Then make an annoying jumpy video using the exact same overdone teal/orange which repeatedly promotes your Instagram account. Sure I guess I could do a video with "follow @dan_marchant" to build followers but to what purpose? Personally I would feel rather cheap if I just repeatedly told people to "follow @dan_marchant" and I doubt it would work unless it was repeated at least three times.... "follow @dan_marchant".

Still I guess that is what you have to do if your measure of success is to grow likes and follows and become an influencer (instead of a photographer). That and only show cotton candy myinstawonderfullife shots that people look at and instantaforget.... Personally I prefer to use Instagram as a portfolio of shots that one or two people may stop and look at and actually think about.

Ty Poland's picture

Another great point Dan. I think everybody uses Instagram in a different way. I see it being a huge spot for models and portrait photographers to share work and consistently get work, but I also see it from the perspective that people may want to grow it to work with brands or show their portfolio work. Either way it has become a platform that makes it super easy for us to share our work and get it out there for more people to see.

I think no matter what, we all create that perfect life or "myinstawonderfullife" just based off what we always post online. If we are sharing the best of our work all the time, it makes it harder for some people to realize how much time actually goes into what we do. However, all that being said, I think the most important thing is that we are sharing work that has meaning to us. I could care less about what others think, it isn't about likes or comments, that is there to help with engagement. It is far more important for us to appreciate the work we are posting and forget about all the other drama behind social media.

Ty Poland's picture

You make a good point Mike. A lot of people are kinda stuck in a phase shooting for their Instagram and I'll be honest, I'm probably one of those people. I always share my aerial work but I've gotten to the point where I'm tired of feeling like thats all I can produce for Instagram. I think if you post good work, work that represents you, people will appreciate that and you can grow a real following from there. I do think the work needs to be consistent throughout the board though

Alex Armitage's picture

This is a prime example of why I hate instagram as a photographer. No offense to the guy who made this video but his photos, by photography standards are not very good.

That's my entire issue as a photographer using instagram. My content doesn't necessarily matter. But if my photos all follow a style, and I post consistently - I have a higher chance at gaining followers. I gave up on this because I tried it and I felt like my work suffered and my happiness in shooting suffered.

Ty Poland's picture

Like I said above to Dan, I feel like we live in a world where social media can either make us or break us. Yes, it is very hard to stay motivated and post good, consistent content, I have struggled through this myself plenty. I actually even had some of the same thoughts you are having now and realize there are times I almost feel forced to create work.

The best thing I did for myself was to let go a little bit. I don't want to share aerial after aerial just because thats what my Instagram followers like. I like other things. I like my iPhone photos, I like my portraits, I like architecture and design.. I post one of those pictures and nobody cares. It is really discouraging, but again, it really doesn't matter as long as we can showcase the work that we like to do... We should not always be creating something for an audience because it does take the fun out of it and hurt how feel about our work.

I couldn't agree with you more here Alex. In this generation sadly, I feel like social media is only going to grow. As creatives we need to learn to grow with it and shouldn't let it get in the way of the work we create. Keep posting things that have value to you and don't worry about what other people think, it's all a game these days.

dimasa sparrow's picture

I tried this and it worked, I randomly made non-sense comments by myself, in no time it rose to 1k and above like for a simple hopeless selfie. In fact other websites also follow the same algorithm or whatever.

Ty Poland's picture

For me, it is interesting to see what people like and don't like when I post. I am a big believer in following people you like and I hate the follow/unfollow games that people play just to get more followers. Instead of trying to strictly grow on social media, I try to grow in a healthy way. I follow people I like, comment on work I like and appreciate the good work I see. I notice that if you take the time to fake comments or grow strictly to grow, it works but really makes Instagram feel like more of a job than it should be. Of course the algorithm plays a big role and it is sad to see what a huge role social media plays in our world today. However I do not see that slowing down or stopping anytime soon

Michael Holst's picture

I always get a funny feeling when a social media platform changes how content gets to people. It appears to be a long run game. Social networks first start out as a free for all. Anyone can come on and use, share, like, dislike content all in real time and everything is relatively organic when it comes to exposure. Once a network has grown to a massive popularity It kinda becomes more corporate marketing based. The new algorithm has changed the order of posts to be "what we think you wanna see" but it could easily be nice way of saying "We have you all on here and businesses will pay a lot to have their content seen first"

being able to be an influencer is a prestigious status on any network and it affords opportunities for brands to extend their offerings to your account which sort of masks the direct advertising feel of the ads and gives them a more endorsement vibe even though they have the #ad or #sponsored attachment. These accounts with a lot of followers seem to get pushed on IG's algorithm in a similar way as the big brands posts.

I've recently started combatting this by keeping an eye on who I follow and if it seems as though their content is full of sponsored posts I'll unfollow because their feed loses its feel of authenticity.