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12 Rules to Know About the 2024 Instagram Algorithm

Instagram algorithm 2024 - three mockups show different types of Instagram posts

Social Media

17 May 2024 • 10 min read •

Ellie Innis

Nothing in the world of social media marketing is more fiercely debated than the algorithm. We look for clues about how it works in our engagement numbers. We try new tools and content formats to make it like us. We love it when our numbers are up, we shake our fists at it when our numbers are down.

The Instagram algorithm is tough to pin down for three reasons:

  1. It’s highly personalized
  2. It’s always changing
  3. It’s different for every part of the platform

There’s a fourth reason that’s worth remembering before we twist ourselves into knots trying to understand what Instagram wants: the algorithm is proprietary. While Instagram does a good job of explaining how it generally works, it’s simply not in the company’s interests to reveal the inner workings of the algorithm.

It’s always a good idea to experiment with new content, formats, and posting times to find out what your followers want. But be wary of any sweeping proclamations that someone has "cracked" the algorithm. A general understanding of how it works is better than another user's cheat code that might be totally mismatched to your brand.

What does that general understanding look like? Well, we scoured the top algorithm articles, read a few Meta engineering blogs, and watched a lot of Adam Mosseri (head of Instagram) clips. After all that, we think there are only 12 things the average creator, brand, or business needs to know about the Instagram algorithm in 2024:

  1. Reels get the most reach
  2. Carousels are the optimal type of photo post
  3. Reshares are an important engagement signal
  4. Shorter reels perform better
  5. Small creators have a shot
  6. Different rules govern different parts of Instagram
  7. Timing and frequency can be critical
  8. SEO is a big opportunity
  9. Some content can't be recommended
  10. Low-quality, reposted, and watermarked content gets knocked
  11. Young people are setting the trends
  12. The algorithm responds to every change in user behavior

Let’s explore what each of these rules means, and how you can integrate them into your Instagram strategy.

12 rules to help your content rank in the 2024 Instagram algorithm

1. Reels get the most reach

Forgive the cliché, but video really is King. It’s not that video is inherently better than photos, but it’s simply more popular. Videos move, they make sound, they easily stir up emotions. For that straightforward reason, Reels are favored in the Instagram algorithm. 

They’re also your best chance of expanding your reach. The reels experience is more focused on recommendations than follower content. It's one of the only places in-app where audiences regularly interact with accounts they don’t follow. Unlike the feed or stories, reels are a golden opportunity to bring curious people to your profile and convert them to followers. This is especially true after the Spring 2024 update, which increases the number of non-followers who see a reel in its early stages. More on that later.

2. Carousels are the optimal type of photo post

But photos aren’t dead! In 2022, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri admitted that Instagram had probably strayed too far from its photography roots by overindexing on video. The algorithm update that followed is meant to show users more photos in their feed — if that’s what they regularly interact with. In fact, the app is testing several new features on carousel posts, including the ability to post up to 15 images and comment on specific images within the carousel.

That means that photos are still a viable way to engage with your audience and even grow it. When you do post photos, carousel format is your best bet because your post might appear in a user’s feed more than once. If they scroll past your post the first time, the next time they might get served the second photo in your carousel. That’s up to 10x the engagement opportunity versus a single photo.
Photo dumps can be a particularly engaging carousel format, because they max out interaction potential and hinge on authentic content.

Learn how to make Instagram photo dumps work for your business.

3. Reshares are an important engagement signal

Most of the engagement happening on Instagram is hidden — because it’s happening in direct messages (DMs). 

“There are way more photos and videos shared in DMs than there are shared in Stories.” – Adam Mosseri on the 20VC podcast

DMs are a tricky business. This is the land of “dark social” — the private in-app interactions that the apps can’t really track or report on. But a huge piece of Instagram — or Facebook, or Snapchat, or WhatsApp — is what’s happening in their messaging features. Adam Mosseri has indicated in several interviews that Instagram is watching this phenomenon closely. 

We’ll see how Instagram evolves its dark social listening capabilities in the future, but this means one big thing: reshares are a huge signal to the Instagram reels algorithm that content is worthwhile. They not only bring people to the app to check their DMs, but they also keep people engaged in conversation on the app.

Because we can’t track what’s happening in DMs, it's not easy to put this rule into practice. But here’s another thing Mosseri has said that might help: “We call [reshareable videos] conversation starters.” Instagram is likely indexing content that gets reshared and extrapolating signals based on the visuals, captions, comments, etc. In short, the platform is looking for content that gets people talking.

4. Shorter Reels perform better

Instagram is not a long-form video platform, and it doesn’t want to be. While you can post videos up to fifteen minutes long (if you use a social media scheduler), the Instagram reels algorithm is more likely to push videos under 90 seconds. In fact, the Instagram team went on record at a conference to say that posting Reels longer than 90 seconds can actually hurt your distribution. 

ig_90Image via @aishabeau on Threads

Two factors influence this rule:

  1. Shorter videos are naturally more likely to be replayed. Replays are a significant signal to the algorithm that the content is engaging and worth pushing to more users.
  2. Shorter videos mean more content is consumed in a single reel-watching session. That’s good for everyone (especially Instagram). 

The takeaway here is: the shorter the better. Super short videos are considered low quality, but anything between 7 - 30 seconds is the sweet spot for replays. 

5. Small creators have a shot

The most recent Instagram reels algorithm update is made for smaller accounts. Going forward, Instagram wants to put small creators on a more equal footing with large accounts that have historically gotten the lion’s share of views. In their Spring 2024 algorithm update, the IG team made several algorithm changes to impact this bottom line:

  • Changes to ranking that will give smaller creators more air time
  • The algorithm will work to replace reposts with the original content when it appears in recommendations
  • Otherwise, reposted content will receive a label that  links to the original creator.

Content aggregators will be removed from recommendations.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The bulk of the update is aimed at giving credit to original creators rather than reposters and large aggregator accounts. This is good news for small creators. But it’s the first bullet that conceals the greatest change: the algorithm is changing who it shows recommended content to. Before, recommended content was shown first to a small subset of your followers; if the engagement signals were positive, it was gradually shown to non-followers.

Now, according to Instagram, “every piece of eligible content is shown to a small audience that we think will enjoy it, regardless of whether they follow the account that posted it or not. As this audience engages with the content, the top performing set of reels are shown to a slightly wider audience, then the best of these are shown to an even wider group, and so on.” 

439653595_791127662650226_2529945479316594516_nImage via Instagram

Ideally, this means a small account’s reach potential has automatically increased. What Instagram hasn’t defined is how this subset of non-followers is chosen. Are they a lookalike audience similar to your followers? Or are they a generalized audience, unfiltered by interest? The latter is likely true, which means the more you can feed into broadly popular reel formats — while maintaining your unique POV — the better chance you’ll have.

6. Different rules govern different parts of Instagram

There’s not one overarching algorithm on Instagram. Stories, Explore, Feed, Reels and other parts of the app all have their own unique set of rules that determines what content gets shown. Instagram goes into detail about how these major parts of the app rank content. At a glance, here’s the guidelines to keep in the back of your mind:

  • Feed :  Interests – Since the feed serves up both recommended content and content from connected accounts, it uses a mix of signals to rank content. These include post recency and popularity, plus the user’s activity and interests
  • Reels : Entertainment – Reels are built for recommending content, and the biggest signals are reshares, watch time, replays, and whether the reel encourages a user to make their own similar reel
  • Stories : Closeness – Since stories only serve up content from connected accounts (accounts people follow), a user’s history of interaction with the account is the main signal for how stories are ordered
  • Explore : Discovery – The biggest signal that pushes a post to the Explore page is popularity; IG looks for the account’s and the posts popularity to rank content

Keep these major signals in mind when you’re creating content for each part of the app experience. 

7. Timing and frequency are critical

Different algorithms control different parts of the Instagram experience, so the “right” timing changes based on what you want to post. Stories, for example, are your main vehicle for staying connected to followers. When you post a new story, it will hit connected accounts immediately, and your closest followers will likely see it first. Therefore it makes sense to post stories when your audience is online. You can find your audience’s active time in your Insights panel.

Your audience’s feed is also ranked based on recency, so you can model photo post timing based on your followers’ activity as well.

Reels are different, especially with the Spring 2024 small creator update. When your reel is posted, it gets fed to a subset of both followers and non-followers. Not only should your reels content be more broadly entertaining, but it also needs to adapt to a more broad engagement schedule. When you're figuring out the best time to post Reels, think about when large swaths of people typically scrolling reels. Lunch time and night time could be your best bet.

8. SEO is a big opportunity

You’ve probably heard that young people choose TikTok over Google as their preferred search engine. Search behavior is going through massive shifts, and it’s likely that Instagram is paying close attention to the competition. We should expect and prepare for Instagram search to get more sophisticated over time. 

Screenshot 2024-05-17 at 11.33.07 AMWatch Adam Mosseri discuss how search works on Instagram


Hashtags used to be the main way to categorize content, but now there are additional factors influencing search rankings. Instagram search isn’t just used to find specific accounts and content. People also use it to discover products and services, and local businesses. Small businesses have a huge opportunity to break through on search.

Here’s how to show up higher in Instagram search results:

  • Handle and profile name – If your handle is related to what you do, people are more likely to find you.
  • Keywords and locations in your bio – Use keywords and add your location to your Instagram bio to help people find you
  • Keywords and hashtags in captions – Your captions give context to your post, but also to your overall account. On top of using a few hashtags, use both broad and specific keywords you maximize your relevancy

While Mosseri only calls out captions as an indexing factor, it’s safe to assume that video captions (including auto-captions) are part of the ranking mix as well.

9. Some content can't be recommended

Just like TikTok's community guidelines, Instagram has community guidelines that protect its users from spam, harmful content, and sensitive topics. Going against these can result in content takedowns and shadowbanning.

Here's the kicker: even if your content abides by community guidelines, it might not pass the recommendation standards. There are certain types of posts that are allowed on the platform, but will not be pushed into recommended feeds based on their content. Here are the categories of content that won't pass recommendation standards:

  1. Content that impedes Instagram's ability to foster a safe community – Topics like self-harm and eating disorders, non-graphic violence, suggestive or explicit content, content that promotes unregulated or adult products
  2. Sensitive or low-quality content about health or finance – Content that depicts cosmetic procedures, "miracle cure" claims, salesy content that make health-related claims, deceptive business models
  3. Content that users broadly dislike – Clickbait, engagement bait, contests and giveaways
  4. Content that is associated with low-quality publishing – Content that is repurposed without adding a unique spin, news content without clear authorship
  5. False or misleading content - Misinformation around voting and elections, vaccine-related misinformation, etc.

10. Low-quality, reposted, and watermarked content gets knocked

Instagram loves creative, original content. Let's look at the opposite side of that: Instagram dislikes unoriginal, resposted, and third-party content. The Spring 2024 update solidified this, with aggregator and reposts being hit hard in rankings.

Adam Mosseri talks about direct replace in Instagram algorithmWatch Adam Mosseri discuss direct replace and aggregator content

Toeing the line is easy. When it comes to reels, follow these rules:
  • Don’t repost other people’s content unless you’re putting a unique spin on it.
  • Don’t post content with third-party watermarks.
  • Don’t post low-quality, low-resolution videos that look like they were ripped. 

Adam Mosseri has clarified that this doesn’t mean you have to make all of your content in-app. It just means that when you’re posting to multiple channels, you need to customize the raw footage for each channel. A TikTok watermark is a sure way to get zero reach on your reel.

11. Young people are setting the standards

"It’s super valuable to be willing to prioritize certain segments over others. And for us, we care about young people and we care about creators. Young people — they grow up, but also [...] they set these trends and they often serve as a bellwether.” - Adam Mosseri on the 20VC podcast

This probably comes as no surprise, but Instagram is largely focused on young people. That’s clear in user adoption of new features: When discussing Notes, the AIM-like feature in the direct messaging panel, Mosseri also said, "Anybody over 20 doesn’t use them very much. [It's] unbelievable how much they’ve moved Instagram engagement — overall app level engagement — for teens."

Young people are also shaping the signals the algorithm looks for when it ranks content. 

We’re not sure how Instagram defines “young people.” It could be strictly Gen Z, it could include Gen Alpha, it might extend all the way to Millennials. Regardless, it means that Instagram prioritizes some signals over others. This doesn’t mean you have to change your content strategy to pander to trends. Stereotyping young people as trend-hungry discounts their unique interests, curiosity, and sense of discovery. But this does mean that format is important, especially in the recommendation-heavy parts of the app. Young people gravitate to short and snappy videos that are easy to watch, entertaining, and shareable. It won’t hurt to test this kind of content in your social media calendar.

12. The algorithm responds to every change in user behavior

Up top we mentioned that the Instagram algorithm is hard to pin down for three reasons: 

  • It’s highly personalized
  • It’s always changing
  • It’s different for every part of the platform

The secret lies in those first two points: Instagram is constantly looking for signals about what we’re interested in. One day I might be on a pottery kick and watch several Reels about throwing pots, visit the profiles of a few small business pottery studios, and even save a post about an upcoming product drop. Then, after dinner, I decide to scroll Reels. I watch 20 funny dog videos and then I get stuck in homesteading content hole. The next morning, what is my feed filled with? Dogs, chicken coops, and sourdough loaves. No pottery content as far as the eye can see.

The algorithm adapts to new signals rapidly. But this isn’t a reason to give up. This is a reason to post consistently, test and experiment often, and evolve along with your audience.

Bring your followers back into the fold by posting Stories frequently and engaging the community in comments and DMs. Test, and test often — try viral formats that get seen on Reels, integrate your content with related topics, show the person behind the business. Go niche sometimes, go broad others. This will ensure that you stay top of mind with current followers, and that you continue diversifying your reach to new potential followers.


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