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Instagram’s Algorithm Pathway to One Billion Users

  • January 28, 2018
  • By MaggieLovesOrbit
Instagram’s Algorithm Pathway to One Billion Users

Instagram Algorithm Updates January 2018

I can’t turn around without someone saying… my posts are tanking… or others saying … best week ever!

Instagrammers are panicking and “experts” are responding.

I’m starting to see a lot of blog articles, you tube videos, posts getting circulated about the algorithm changes.

Why I Never Believe These Articles – There’s no Data to Support it and It Doesn’t Come from a Reputable Source

None of these articles are from Instagram itself. These are just loosely based hypothesis being passed around. They come from well meaning people trying to find logic for why visibility is decreasing. And the villain in the story – you guessed it is ..the Algorithm.

It’s easier to blame the “big bad monster” I.e. the Algorithm than to look for other reasons. And if you understand storytelling and marketing psychology … establishing a villain … also establishes the person delivering the message as the hero to save the day.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  • Instagram is only 7 (going on 8) years old
  • The only data Instagram provide us are impressions, reach, profile views, website clicks, email clicks, and some analytics about our followers.
  • In any given analysis, the study should provide some hard data. As in, we analyzed a cross section of 10,000 posts and here are our findings. If the study can back up their findings through data – I’m apt to listen.
  • Or … another way to back up a study is to conduct A/B testing. Something along the lines of – we did a study over the past 3 months, where we uploaded the same content over a variety of accounts, to test performance based on the number and placement of hashtags. Now…. if they have actually “proven” out their hypothesis then I’m apt to listen.
  • Let’s take a look at a different platform that uses algorithms. Google is 19 years old. A whole new industry has sprung up around understanding how to better rank on Google. This practice is called Search Engine Optimization. And SEO pros know that any findings have to be backed by data so that they can make “data driven recommendations”.
  • I’m not seeing those kind of data driven recommendations for Instagram. Simply put the platform is too new and technical analysts have yet to emerge.

Official Algorithm Updates are always announced

Google, Facebook (who owns Instagram) and Instagram will always announce major updates to the algorithm.

So whenever I see an article claiming they know what the algorithm updates are – I always go to source. And last I checked, the last major update was when Instagram announced in March of 2016 that the feed was shifting from non chronological to what we have today.

The Engineers Would Never Give Away the Keys to Their Kingdom

There’s something we ALL need to accept – and that is – NONE of us outside of Instagram will ever be told how the algorithm works. It’s absolute lunacy to think that anyone outside of their engineering department would explain this to the detail that I’m seeing others claim to know.

So anyone that tells you “Put the hashtags in the comments” or “Put the hashtags in the captions” or “Use 5 hashtags” vs “Use 30 hashtags” as the standard – should be able to say these are data driven recommendations based on analyzing 10,000 accounts over a period of 3 months (or something like that).

Now – it’s not to say you can’t try some of these recommendations; all I’m saying is don’t take them as truth. Apply your own testing and measure the results. And make your own data driven decisions.

So stop blaming the Algorithm

So let’s all make an agreement to never worry about the algorithm again because it’s out of our hands.  Let’s move our conversation to what we DO know and what comes from Instagram’s business blog

“See The Moments You Care About First”

Does this phrase ring a bell? It should. It was when Instagram officially announced that they were shifting from the non chronological feed.  They made that announcement March 15, 2016

The blog continues to announce key feature enhancements as well as key milestones.  I summarize the key business announcements related to their pathway to One billion users below:

It’s All About Their Benjamins

The business investment community know that Instagram’s goal is to hit one billion users.  This is so they can have more users to serve ads to so we can use it for free.

Going back to the Instagram’s Business Blog their announcements are truly geared towards businesses.  Because it’s the businesses that pay for ads.

The earnings call is only a few days away and Investors remain bullish on Facebook (which owns Instagram) and anticipate that Facebook will report they have exceeded their goals.

I anticipate that Facebook already knows how close we are to hitting one billion users on Instagram (if we haven’t already).  And if they don’t make the announcement this month – it will be the next major announcement I anticipate they will make prior to the Q1 2018 Earnings Call.

Currently Facebook doesn’t have to break out Instagram’s ad revenue. Investor speculations is that the key driver to Facebook’s growth is Instagram. If you look at previous earnings reports – the top line metrics are revenue, monthly, daily active users and further monthly daily mobile users.

The span of time that Instagram adds 100 million users is shortening.  The platform is growing.

Facebook is already saturated with ads and Facebook has made official announcements in their investor’s meetings that ad space is full.

So the big push is to grow Instagram.  And you can see this by simply watching your suggested users to follow (which is tied to Facebook) and you’ll see each month more and more of your Facebook friends opening up Instagram accounts.

In my own universe, 4 months ago 285 of my FB friends had Instagram accounts and as of today there are 100 more that have opened accounts (although they are not necessarily publishing – they are the “readers” coming to Instagram).

Let’s not forget this platform is free

We have the privilege in having access to a free platform.  Instagram (owned by Facebook) then serves ads around the content we publish.

On Instagram there are two types of users.  Publishers and Readers.

And combined we are close or already at one billion users.

So stop worrying about the Algorithm.  Instead understand what is really going on.

Because what they HAVE done is (almost weekly) are NEW features.  These new features are designed so that WE users will continue to spend time in the platform.

And if you analyze announcements after business tools and growth, are the new features.

And what we HAVE today is THREE apps in one.

1. PHOTOS: We have our gallery where we post photos.

2. STORIES: Behind the scenes photos and videos that last 24 hours (good bye Snapchat)

3. BROADCASTING: Live Videos. Hello Reality TV. Fits in the palm of your palm.

I used to post 1 photo a day.

More People + More Features + More Content

But with all these changes I’m gonna take a WAG (Wild A Guess) that we’re posting on average 5 pieces of content/day. And that’s because some are still doing 1 but some of us are doing 20 pieces.

Another way to think about this – is when did you open your Instagram.  I have several accounts but for this purpose I’ll reference my dog’s account @maggielovesorbit which I opened July 2015.  In essence there are more than twice as many users on Instagram creating exponentially more content while users can interact different ways.

And guess what never changes:


We still only have 24 hours of the day.  And the latest reports say that the average user spends approximately 33 minutes in Instagram.

But we have ALL these new bells and whistles.

Did you see the GIFS? OMG I’d give that one 100/100 hit it out of the ball park. I don’t know who didn’t start using it. I think it actually almost broke the IG internet – so many “system down” reports.

So in the same 33 minutes, the average user has MORE content to follow on any one of the 3 new channels (photo gallery, InstaStory or LIVE broadcasts)

No wonder engagement “appears” to be down.  When in fact – we’re just spreading ourselves out more.

There’s a lot of data not being reported

I’m sure the analysts inside Instagram’s headquarters are watching the whole picture.  I’m sure they will say – of the 33 minutes that the average user is in the platform they are consuming X percent of photos in galleries, Y percent spend time in InstaStories and Z percent spend time watching Live Broadcasts.

So you really have to look at consumption on your account as a holistically and understand while you might “appear” to be down in your gallery – consumption might be greater in your InstaStories.  And this will differ for each of us depending on our content strategy.

You can test this out.  I recently went on vacation out of the country.  As such I didn’t post any InstaStories.

My weekly impressions were around 15K per day.  It was a slow week.

But on a busy week where I have a lot going on and am posting InstaStories, my daily impressions are on average 35K per day.

Another way to break this down is if I only publish photos and have a slow week my monthly impressions are 450K per month but if I’m actively in the platform and posting InstaStories my monthly impressions are as high as 1.05 M per month.

Don’t be a Debbie Downer

I’m almost at the point where I want to leave most of my Facebook networking groups. I hear so often people saying “Instagram is no longer any fun” because they base it off the number of likes going down in their posts.  That’s a very narrow view to what’s really going on.

And here’s what I’m here to all the Debbie Downers

Don’t give up.  It’s still early.  We have it so easy. We still have reach.

I’m going to pause for a second give some back story. I grew up in the time when to obtain information you went to the library and used the dewey card system. Publishing was left to those that were discovered by publishing houses.

This changed with the internet. Boundaries disappeared. With enough know how you could create a website. I remember the days when you had chat rooms and could literally read the internet in a sitting. But with the ease of publishing came content and reach on Google decreased.

YouTube was the next platform – and the early adopters that produced great content did well. Today professional YouTubers aren’t afraid of how crowded their platform is – they know the aim of their game is to produce kick a** content.

And then came Facebook. Oh the good old days of 100% reach. Today that reach is between 1 and 3 percent.

Online parties flock to successful platforms.

And that’s what is happening to Instagram. The party is JUST starting to happen. In terms of growth we are today where Facebook was in 2011 (as in number of users).

More people in the platform + more content being published and yet – still the same amount of time to consume it.

Let’s look at it another way.  IF we are at one billion users in the platform, that’s twice as many as June 21, 2016.  And most of us are creating at least 5 times as much content if not more.

And yet the average user (that’s not you or me) is still only spending about 33 minutes in the platform.

This is why your friends don’t see your posts – there is simply more posts out there.

So if you feel like giving up – then do so. If this isn’t any fun for you to be on Instagram. You can stop posting.

That only means there’s one less piece of content being put out there for users.

And for those of us still publishing – means our content has a greater chance of being seen.

But that also means – to post with intention.

Why did you start in the first place?

I love looking at my first dog’s Instagram. You see we lost her early in her life and so these photos are all I have of her plus the memories in my head. And my own personal Instagram is another favorite place of mine. Funny how I have quite a few photos especially in the beginning where they received NO likes.

I’m ok with that.

Because the spirit of what I do is to enjoy the life I have with my dogs. Take photos. Share them. But more importantly I want to document my life with them.  So that in 12 to 15 years (hoping it’s more on the 15 years) I can look back and say – Oh wow. I remember that pack walk. Or I remember that time we went to the beach. And their silly goofy bitey face sessions.

So I write this article to say to those that are wondering if its worth it.

To remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place.

When you feel frustrated, to bring yourself to that place in your heart so you share the moments that matter the most to you.

As always thank you for reading. I am @tinyfoot on Instagram. I provide social media services for small business and focus on story branding. You can find me via my LinkedIn and IG My two pups are my muses @maggielovesorbit and I share free Instagram tips on @barkcommunity

If you enjoyed this article – you may want to also read:

Instagram’s Insane Insane Growth Statistics

If you like this Infographic please feel free to share on Social Media, Pinterest or Reddit.

Instagram's Insane User Growth Statistics You Need to Know 2018
By MaggieLovesOrbit, January 28, 2018
  • 17
  • Sadie
    January 31, 2018

    First of all, LOVE the photos. I’m very low on the totem pole with less than 120 followers but I’m not a Debbie Downer. As per your last point, I think it’s important to remember why we started. I have fun with my photos. Great post.

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      January 31, 2018

      We have to come from that place of inspiration! Sometimes I forget and need the reminders.

  • Happy-Go-Doodle
    January 31, 2018

    Well said! It’s all in how you look at things! I appreciate Instagram for the connections that I”ve made with other pet-loving people! It will be such a pleasure to get to meet you and learn more from you at the BlogPaws conference. Congratulations on being named as a speaker!

  • Sweet Purrfections
    January 31, 2018

    I know a lot of people who really love Instagram. I like it but I don’t like doing everything on the telephone. Of course, I could be telling my age because I prefer working on a desktop computer with a large monitor. I have less than 1000 followers, but I didn’t start Instagram until 3 years ago and my main focus is the blog.

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      January 31, 2018

      Maybe in a year IG will update so we can use the desktop which I prefer too actually

  • Beth
    January 31, 2018

    You have such a great Instagram account! I checked out your account for your first dog, I can see why you love it so much. It must be very comforting to have those photos at your fingertips. You have a great perspective on the changes being made. Instagram is my favorite platform for an entertainment value.

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      January 31, 2018

      They say you can tell what someone fears losing by what they photograph. I think not having lids these dogs are my life and being with them puts me in a happy state of mind ?

  • Rachel
    February 1, 2018

    It seems like there’s always so much to keep up on with Instagram (and FB) changes. But really, perhaps not! And I like how you point out to remember why you started in the first place. I joined Instagram after a very similar app just for cat lovers shut down. It was really to keep up with those cat friends I’d made. I’ve branched out since then, but I really do just love looking at all the cat photos!

  • Heather Wallace, Bridle & Bone
    February 1, 2018

    I must be honest that I could care less about whatever newsfeed and algorithm changes are occurring. These companies are going to do what is best for their bottom line and we either learn to make it work for us, or not. Getting upset in advance before things change seems like a waste of time and energy. I started using Instagram to document in photos my life and profession. Yes, I love getting new followers. But I don’t view my worth based on the numbers. Very interesting and in depth post.

  • Dolly the Doxie
    February 1, 2018

    This was a lot for me to take in but I really appreciate your knowledge and understanding. My Facebook page is pretty much stagnet. I’m trying to focus on Instagram but it’s growing so slow and I just don’t get the being featured or stories. My impressions are pretty low and if I post everyday or back to back it just lowers the number for the oldest post. I just paid a lot of money to get help growing my IG account but still can’t seem to grasp it. If you take on clients I’d love to talk. Sandra and Dolly

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      February 1, 2018

      Hi Sandra and Dolly – I can certainly look at your accounts and see how I can help. I’ll be in touch directly in the next day

  • Paroma
    February 1, 2018

    Your photos are beautiful! I have a very small follower count (724) but that does not deter me from sharing the moments I love! I joined Instagram to inspire to travel and be inspired by others photos and I am not too bothered by the number game or the algorithm!

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      February 1, 2018

      I love your blog. You have a North Star and a reason for doing what you do which shows. Instagram is definitely a fun place for those that know how it fits into their content strategy!

  • Stephanie Seger
    February 1, 2018

    This was a great article and I agree with your perspective about how great we have it on Instagram. It has become my favorite platform due to the engagement and visual nature of it. I don’t pay attention to all of the so called experts telling me what’s going to happen with social media. I try to stay focused on what I’m doing and that keeps me plenty busy. Speaking of…I can’t believe you have 4 Instagram pages! Wow! And I think I’m busy!

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      February 1, 2018

      I’m glad you enjoy Instagram. It’s by far my favorite platform. I also remember MySpace disappearing so I always keep the blog the hub for all the content. PS I actually have more than 4 Instagrams lol. I am an octopus. The other ones belong to clients that I help them with =) and so far love every minute.

  • Sonja of Montecristo Travels
    February 1, 2018

    I have come to a point now where I just … not “don’t care” that isn’t entirely honest … but I don’t look anymore. Because the other thing Insta doesn’t show is the difference between those with a topic everyone can relate to versus something very very specific and niche market. Example: Cute Chihuahua’s versus International Traveling Chihuahua …. here is the thing; as hard as it is for us to understand a lot of people a)don’t care about travel b) don’t think people should travel with their pets and c) don’t realize it’s a thing in the first place (it’s not RV or camping with a dog but intercontinental flying we do!). So you can’t … just can’t expect the same numbers. And that is OK.

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