Time to get real. What’s going on with the Instagram algorithm in 2018?

Let me start by making some things clear:

  • Instagram has not revealed how their algorithm works
  • Instagram only shares their policy, guidelines and new features (from which we can understand what is allowed / not allowed, okay / not okay)
  • Everybody who is giving advice on the algorithm is making assumptions based on their experience
  • We can also make assumptions based on what we know about “social media algorithms”

So you bet I’ve been experimenting with this algorithm to see what works and what doesn’t work.

I’ve noticed changes. I’m going to share them with you.

The good news is: the Instagram algorithm seems to prefer quality over quantity. So stop freaking out about the number of followers and likes.

The other good news is: you just need to know what to pay attention to.

Instagram will always be changing. You can choose to fight it or work with it.

I’ve decided to work with it.

What have I learned through this experiment?

I’ve learned that the Instagram algorithm can be described using 3 keywords:

  • Relevance
  • Timing
  • Human

The Instagram algorithm in one sentence:

Act like a normal human being and have fun again.

If that’s all you’re going to remember from this article, it’s enough.

I’m going to tell you why relevance, timing and being human will help you grow your account in 2018.

Let’s start:

The Instagram algorithm analyzes you and “looks” at 2 things

Keyword: Relevance

Instagram is made to meet people through photos. Instagram shows you photos you might like. It shows you photos on:

  • Your home feed
  • Your “Recommended for you” feature
  • Your Explore page

I noticed that these 3 pages are not static. They change depending on what you do on Instagram. They seem to adapt to:

  • What accounts you interact with
  • What hashtags you use

I’ve noticed that depending on what accounts I interact with and hashtags I use, Instagram shows me different kind of photos and videos.


For a couple of days I was into puppy photos. I liked and commented on many of them. A few days later my Explore page promoted dog accounts.

Another time, I kept posting on my feed using hashtags like #styleblogger, #lifestyleblogger, #postitfortheaesthetics. Instagram pushed lifestyle accounts in my home feed. It was showing me photos of people that I’ve been following but that haven’t seen in such a long time (does it happen to you too?). The “Recommended for you” posts were also about lifestyle bloggers.

This shows that Instagram shows posts that are relevant to what you like.

If this is happening for my account, it must be happening for other people too.

Instagram shows your posts if they are relevant to other people

Keyword: Relevance

Relevance seems to play a very big part of the Instagram algorithm. And it could explain why likes, comments and engagement dropped.

Let me explain:

Let’s say you have an account about cute dogs. Andrew finds your account. He really enjoys it and decides to follow you. But Andrew never likes, comments or engages with posts about dogs. As a result, Instagram might not show your posts at the top of his home feed… because it thinks that Andrew is not interested in dogs. The algorithm thinks that your “dog” photos are not relevant to Andrew.

It is unfortunate because we all want all our followers to see our posts. However, it’s not all bad news. If you attract the right followers, post often on your feed and Insta Stories, Instagram will show your posts to them.

It means that you can control the Instagram algorithm (to a certain extent).

Let me show you.

Use the tools Instagram gives you to control the algorithm

Keyword: Relevance + Human

Think of Instagram as an app with a bunch of different tools. Use the tools you are given:

  • Your feed
  • Hashtags
  • Location tags
  • Insta Stories
  • Live videos
  • Likes and comments
  • Like comments
  • Follow people
  • Follow hashtags

Naturally, Instagram wants you to use those tools. The more you use different tools, the more Instagram will like you and value you as an active user.

Careful: Do not use automated tools that like, comments or follow/unfollow for you. Instagram doesn’t allow automated tools. It can get your account in trouble. The algorithm is getting smarter. It can identify suspicious activity or “spam”. So be human.

Use the right hashtags (and avoid banned ones)

Keyword: Relevance

A hashtag is a way for Instagram to know what your post is about. It is also a way for Instagram to connect you to other people.


  • Find the right hashtag for your account
  • Don’t use banned hashtags
  • Use hashtags that will connect you to the right people. Example: if you have a shop and you are selling pens, not many people will go out of their way to type “pen” on Instagram. Think about who are the people who want your stationary (#entrepreneurs, #girlboss #creativecommunity)
  • Switch up your hashtags from time to time to reach new people

Big question: “Is it true that you should not use 30 hashtags anymore?”

I haven’t found empirical evidence that supports the fact that Instagram doesn’t want us to use many hashtags anymore. This is what I know:

  • If I don’t use hashtags = not many likes
  • The more hashtag I use = the more likes I get
  • I think of each hashtag as an opportunity to be found by people, so I use all 30 hashtags Instagram allows us to use per post
  • Instagram is making features that support hashtags (hashtags in Insta Stories + “Follow” hashtags). So it means that hashtags are still important and relevant.

Engagement is more important than the number of followers you have

Keyword: Human

Engagement seems to be the Instagram secret weapon of 2018.
Engagement = interaction on your post (which are likes and comments).
Instagram seems to be supporting posts that have good engagement.

Recently, I was looking at the hashtag page for #smallbusiness. This hashtag is very popular and therefore very competitive because it has more than 10 million posts. Yet, a small account (with less than 1,000 followers) made it to the “Top 9” posts! Why? The post had good engagement.

The faster you get engagement, the more Instagram will promote your post

Keyword: Timing

Your Instagram home page might not be chronological anymore, but timing is still very important. The faster you get engagement, the more Instagram will show your post in people’s home feeds and Explore pages.

How to get engagement fast:

Surprise! Be human

Keyword: Human

It makes sense. Think like a human. If you want to find friends who want to paint, you’re not going to search for people who want to cook. You’re going to search for people who want to paint too.

Instagram thinks the same. It seems like the algorithm is acting like a human being:

  • It wants to help you interact with people who might be interested in you (by showing you relevant posts)
  • It likes when you interact with people you’re following (so don’t forget about them)
  • It likes when you interact with new people (so make sure you follow hashtags and interact with new accounts who are relevant to you)
  • It doesn’t like if you’re being fake (so don’t use automated tools).

Be consistent… don’t disappear

Keyword: Human

Instagram will like you even more if you’re using the app regularly.

It doesn’t mean you have to post every single day of your life. It means that Instagram will like it if you have a routine or schedule. You can post every second day if you want.

The key is to be consistent and not vanish.

Have fun and be yourself

Welcome to the end of this article! That was a big one. I hope you’re not feeling confused or overwhelmed. Like I said earlier, always think about these 3 words: relevance, timing and human.

Relax. Have fun sharing photos and videos you love. At the end of the day people connect with people. So be human.

Leave me a comment if you enjoyed this article or if you have any questions.