Social Media Algorithms and Instagram Organic Reach

Even though there are countless other nuances and metrics that you can measure on social media, there are two that stand out. First, we’re interested in the kind of reach we’re able to get through our social channels. After all, there’s not much of a point in posting great content on your social page if no one is actually going to see it. Second, we’re interested in the level of engagement we’re able to get on our posts. Even if you’re able to get a lot of people to see the content, it’s critically important to encourage those likes and comments.

A Tale As Old As Time

The established default for the majority of social networks is similar to that of the established default for the majority of blogs: posts are displayed in reverse chronological order. The most recent content sits at the top, followed by increasingly older content. However, as you’ve likely noticed in these last few years, that paradigm has shifted considerably.

More blogs are using magazine-style layouts that highlight “featured” content rather than the most recent content. And on Facebook, we know about Zuckerberg’s “algorithm” all too well. You don’t see your friend’s most recent posts in reverse chronological order; you see the posts that Facebook wants to show you based on your previous activity and interaction.


As an extension of this, Facebook started to limit the organic reach of Facebook pages. In effect, you have to pay to boost your posts and promote your page in order to get more of your followers to actually see your content. It’s become a pay-to-play model.

Beyond the Book of Faces

The same thing may soon be happening to Twitter, a social network that has always defined itself as being in the moment. There’s still discussion about how the Twitter algorithm will actually operate, but it’s starting to sound Facebook-like in its execution. You’ll be shown tweets that the algorithm “thinks” you want to see, whatever that means.

If that is indeed the case, and seeing how Twitter already has an advertising model in place for promoted and sponsored tweets, the little blue bird could also go the route of pay-to-play. Just because you have 5,000 followers doesn’t mean that 5,000 people are actually going to see your tweet.

The same thing happens with YouTube subscriptions. Even if someone subscribes to your YouTube channel, they may not necessarily be notified of your newest uploads on the YouTube main page. It might show up in the subscriptions feed, but not everyone goes there to look for new content. Instead, you have to make your content seem worthy enough to end up on the recommended front page.

Paying to Play on Instagram

One of the biggest social media channels that has yet to take this algorithm-based route is Instagram. This is somewhat surprising, especially considered that Facebook already owns Instagram. You would think that similar business practices would start to filter through to these other web properties. There are already sponsored and promoted Instagram posts from advertisers, after all.

It’s up to debate whether the reach and conversion rates on Instagram are even worth the kind of effort you need to put in, but it’s very clear that Instagram is still very popular and it’s worthwhile to establish a brand presence there even if it does not result in any direct sales or revenue.


Even if algorithm-based timelines have not rolled out to Instagram (yet), the advertising model on Instagram has already had a noticeable impact on the effectiveness of posting on the network. Follower growth remained steady through January 2016, but the engagement rate has taken a sizable hit. People will still follow you, but they might not like or comment on your posts.

And going all the way back to what I said at the beginning of this post, just having followers isn’t enough on its own; you need those followers to engage with your content. If we’re already seeing the effect of advertising on the effectiveness of Instagram, what will happen when and if the algorithm-style timeline makes its way there too.

It Takes Money to Make Money

The simple and hard truth that all Internet marketers need to understand is that organic reach is no longer sufficient in today’s Internet. Simply having great content and legitimately connecting with your fans is not enough. You need to open your wallet if you want to reach the numbers you desire. You have a voice and you’ll need to pay to have your heard through these channels.

This is yet another illustration why building your mailing list, one that you own and control yourself, is so important moving forward.

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