How Does Instagram Work? The Beginner’s Guide

How does Instagram work?

These days, it seems like practically everyone has heard of Instagram.

After all, there are nearly 1 billion monthly active users sharing content on the app every day!

As popular as Instagram is, there are still some people out there who just don’t get it. If you’re an individual, brand or influencer who hasn’t discovered how to master the art of ‘gramming yet – don’t panic. We’re not going to give you a dunce cap and sit you in the corner.

However, we are here to tell you that it’s worth learning as much as you can about Instagram. Not only is it one of the most popular social sites in the world, but Instagram images also get about 23% more engagement than their Facebook counterparts. That means if you use IG right, you’ll get more followers, more willing to interact with you on a daily basis…

How Does Instagram Work – History of the ‘Gram

To answer the question “How Does Instagram Work?” we first need to dive into the history of the app.

Instagram is a photo-sharing application for your smartphone that combines social network with amateur photography. With filters and stickers, anyone can create a stunning image in no time. When you consider how difficult it was to share attractive photos before Instagram, it’s easy to see why the tool has been such a massive success.

Only 6 months after its release on the iPhone, Instagram had already earned 5 million users. By the time IG followed up with an Android phone release, the new app had earned 1 million users within the first day.

Learn how to use Instagram for PC with our quick (and painless) guide!
Image Credit: Unsplash

Being Seen on Instagram

People asking, “How does this work?” generally don’t want an overview of the code and operating mechanisms behind the world’s favorite photo app. If you came here looking for that – we apologize.

Instead, most people are trying to find out how Instagram rank posts, and help certain people earn more popularity.

Like most social media networks, Instagram has something called an “algorithm” – a set of rules it uses to dictate who should see which content, and when. Also like most social networks, IG’s algorithm is constantly changing, making it harder for marketers to master the pattern.

In 2016, Instagram changed up their algorithm so drastically, that it sparked a petition from people beginning the content feed to go back to normal. In March 2018, Instagram did start focusing more on time as an essential feature of the algorithm, but it’s not the only consideration Brands have to look at.

The change moved Instagram away from a standard “chronological” feed, to give more priority to specific kinds of content. The trouble was, people didn’t understand what they needed to do to get on Instagram’s good side.

With so many marketers and influencers asking, “How does Instagram work?” the company decided to host a press conference where they revealed the main factors they consider when organising the IG feed. These were:

  • Relationship
  • Interest
  • Timeliness

Instagram also announced that Frequency, Usage, and Following could also have a part to play in their algorithm (to a smaller extent).


“Interest” is a metric that Instagram uses to determine how likely it is that you’ll care about a specific post. When IG first announced their new algorithmic timeline, they explained that they’d be putting content that they thought their users would be interested above other types of content.

So, how does Instagram know what you like?

Well, one option is to look at the kind of posts that you already interact with. For instance, if you’re always “liking” and commenting on pictures of puppies, then Instagram knows to show you photos with the #Puppy hashtag first.

For people who want to excel on Instagram, this just means one thing – you need to know what your followers are searching for and make your content relevant to them. It’s that simple.

Screenshot of #Puppy hashtag

IG Timeliness

The next primary ingredient in the Instagram algorithm is how “timely” your posts are. For instance, if someone logs onto Instagram at 9 am, and you shared your picture at 8:45 am then it’s more likely to show up than a photo shared by someone else at 10:30 pm the night before.

Instagram wants its users to enjoy the newest, most relevant content. This means that even posts with more engagement and interactions won’t necessarily show up before posts that appeared on Instagram recently.

For brands and influencers, this means that you need to figure out when your target market is online so that you can post content at the right times. The good news? Doing this is easy peasy with the Instagram Insights page on a business account. You can automatically see when your customers are online, and even gather a few more details about their demographics while you’re at it.


Now we come to the final major metric in Instagram’s algorithm: Relationships.

In an announcement about the new ranking algorithm in 2016, Instagram said that regardless of how many accounts a user is following on IG, they’ll always see the posts from their friends and family first.

Ultimately, IG wants you to see the content from people you care about above everything else. It makes sense – wouldn’t you rather see a picture of your mom’s dog than a photo from a brand you liked once?

The question is, what does this mean for IG users who don’t have a personal connection to all of their followers? Simple – you need to start improving your relationship skills. That means:

  • Interacting with people and their posts through “likes” and comments
  • Responding to direct messages and questions
  • Making sure you show up in the right searches by using #Hashtags

The Extra Factors Considered by the Instagram Algorithm

As mentioned above, aside from Interest, Timeliness, and Relationships, there are a handful of other things that Instagram might consider when it’s deciding where to place your content. As part of their PR announcement about the new algorithmic news feed, Instagram also revealed that it looks at:

  • Frequency: How often someone opens Instagram: If you open Instagram once each day, then you’ll see only the best posts for that day according to the IG algorithm. If you’re continually browsing Instagram due to an #IGAddiction, Instagram will try and show you content that you haven’t seen before.
  • Following: If you follow thousands of different accounts on IG, then the algorithm has more information to sort through when deciding what to show you. This means that users who follow a lot of people might see less content from individual accounts.
  • Usage: Whether you prefer to browse through Instagram in short bursts when you need something to do, or you binge the app like Netflix will also dictate the kind of information that Instagram shows.

Why the Instagram Algorithm Isn’t as Bad as It Seems

Here’s the thing.

Even though the IG algorithm left countless companies asking and forced a few people to launch a petition against it – it’s not all bad.

As we’ve seen this year, the number of users on Instagram is continuously increasing, which means more content to sort through every day. Followers who are sick of trying to find content that’s relevant to them won’t even bother visiting places like the #Explore page, because they’ll know it’s a waste of their time. A study from Instagram also showed that users missed around 70% of the posts on their feeds before the algorithm change.

The Instagram algorithm means that as long as you’re actively creating engaging, timely, and relevant content for your audience, then you’re going to get eyes on your posts. As well know – that’s what counts in the world of social media.

Without the algorithm, the only thing you would be able to do is post endlessly, all-day-long – something that even the best brands and influences would struggle with.

Instagram Works – Now Make Your Strategy Work Too

Instagram is an incredible platform. Over a billion users are on the platform each and every month, with 71% of the audience under the age of 35, making this platform ripe for branding and building an engaged young audience that will rave about your products or services.

But whether or not Instagram will “work” for you is dependent on your ability to devise and implement an effective strategy on the platform. Knowing what to show, when to show it and how to present your content in a way that engages and makes a real connection with your audience is key.

But for many budding and established entrepreneurs, IG is still a hat trick they have yet to master, and perhaps don’t even have the time for. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that with Upleap you don’t have to tackle this challenge on your own. If you’re confused and overwhelmed by Instagram, and you want to grow your profile faster, there’s a quick and easy solution.

Upleap can help kick your IG campaign into high gear, helping you grow an engaged audience of your target market quickly and affordably.

With Upleap your IG profile will soon transform into a brand exposure platform ripe with hot leads and prospects looking for the products and services you have to offer.

You don’t have to go it alone. If you’re confused and overwhelmed by Instagram, and you want to grow your profile faster, there’s a quick and easy solution. Contact Upleap and learn how you can accelerate your Instagram success in no time! Check out your free trial today!

By Rebekah Carter

Hi! I'm Rebekah, a full-time writer specializing in the spaces of digital content, business, social media and tech.

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