Understanding Instagram: hashtags, algorithms, posting times and more!

Digital Marketing, Social Media

2022’s social media platform of the hour is arguably Instagram. Over 1 billion people use Instagram, spending 28 minutes a day on average within the app. Instagram remains in the top three of most popular social platforms in the United States several years running, and still growing.

Brands and businesses who are selling to an under 45 year-old crowd should absolutely consider including Instagram in their social media marketing strategy. But using the platform takes some knowledge, as well as trial and error. Here are some basics it is important for you to understand.

 

STATIC IMAGE POSTS

Posting static images continues to have the best engagement rates of any post you can make on Instagram. Yes, that means they win over posting a video, story, or reel. In fact, regular posts in your feed bring double the reach compared to Instagram Stories.

 

CAROUSEL POSTS

The best performing type of content on Instagram is a carousel, a series of images within the same post that users swipe through. Carousels are a great way to tell a story with smaller, more manageable chunks of information for a user to digest.

Carousels also lead to high engagement because if a user does not finish swiping through to all the carousel images, next time they scroll their feed, the carousel will reappear for them, starting on the next image in the sequence they did not yet see. This re-engages them with your content, and adds value to the post as far as Instagram’s algorithms are concerned.

 

STORIES

In 2021, brands doubled the median number of stories they posted on Instagram. Stories have lower reach rates compared to posts in the feed, reaching half the number of people, but they are an alternative way to tell your story in your social strategy.

Try not to overwhelm your followers with too much at once. Stories with 1–7 posts a day have a higher completion rate. Aim to post up to 5 Stories per day, ensuring a retention rate of about 70% (meaning people watch through from the first to last Story).

When engaging with your Story, Instagram users are more likely to tap forward sooner for image stories. Users will exit your Stories all together faster from video stories. This means while users may click through your story faster when there are images, they are more likely to exit your story with a video. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a mix of video and static images in your story for better overall retention.

 

REELS

Why use Reels? Because these multi-clip 15-second videos are a good way to be discovered by people you do not know AND who are not searching for you. Reels are discoverable via the Instagram Explore page, giving you a chance to reach new viewers and grow your audience.

 

IGTV

Videos added as posts in your feed have a 59 second limit. Anything over that needs to be added to Instagram TV (IGTV), connected to your Instagram account. IGTV allows you to share videos up to 60 minutes long in your feed. This feature was Instagram’s response to compete with YouTube by allowing longer form video content to be uploaded.

 

LINKS AND CALLS TO ACTION

Instagram is not designed to allow clickable hyperlinks in posts, unlike its sister platform, Facebook. Additionally, Instagram only allows one link in the bio, often used for your website.

If you want to have more than one clickable link in your Instagram bio or feed, there are work-arounds. Linktree or a similar service allows you to add multiple links to one landing page. This Linktree users to see all linked options all at once and choose the one they want to click.

You have probably noticed when an Instagram post has a Call to Action in it, it often includes mention of “link in bio.” Instagram users are accustomed to seeing this and know it means to go to the bio and click a link. However, a recent study found that posts that don’t include the phrase “link in bio” in their caption slightly outperform Instagram posts with that phrase. Currently, only about 32% of the brands place the “link in bio” phrase in their posts’ captions, the study noted.

USING HASHTAGS

There has been a long-running debate about whether hashtags can be used in the post caption or in the comments, and if one is more effective. In 2022, Instagram finally admitted that hashtags are to be used in the post caption. The algorithms are designed to discover hashtags only in the caption, not in the comments, they said.

Another long-standing debate is: What number of hashtags is the magic number to use? While many studies have attempted to answer this question, the jury is still out on this one. For now, it is safe to say: use as many hashtags as are relevant to the post’s content. A post can include up to 30 hashtags.

 

CREATING CAPTIONS

Captions of up to 10 words have proven to generate the highest engagement levels for Instagram. Using a carousel of images that further support your messaging is a way to counterbalance the amount of information you include in a post, while trying to stay around this number of words in the caption.

Some brands can still have good engagement with longer posts if their unique audience are more active readers. But, keep in mind, the largest group of Instagram users are under the age of 40, so they are part of a generation that reads less than that of an older one.

 

POSTING FREQUENCY

Every time you post to Instagram, only about 10% of your overall audience will see the post. This means just 10% of your total number of followers will receive the post in their feeds. With this in mind, posting consistently is KEY.

Instagram algorithms love new content and favor it over older content when deciding what to distribute. At a minimum, aim to post every other day on Instagram. Doing this keeps your feed fresh enough that by the time one post is becoming inactive (about 24 hours after posting), you are posting something new and popping back into news feeds.

 

POSTING TIMES

Every brand has a unique set of followers, and those followers have their own unique engagement patterns. It is recommended that you post at different times as you learn when YOUR followers are consuming your content. This data can be found in the Insights section of your account. Adjust accordingly as you learn from the data.

Rule of thumb: You want to avoid posting during peak times because your content will be lost in the flood of all the other content being posted. In most cases, the busiest time on Instagram is 9 am to 1 pm.

In general, the best time to post on Instagram is 6 am. This allows your post to have already stimulated the algorithms for distribution before peak times hit, giving you better chances for engagement.

On the flip side, the worst times to post are Wednesday between 10 am – 4 pm and Thursday 9 pm – 11 pm. Posts published during this time get the lowest engagement rates on average.

The best days to post on Instagram are Saturday and Sunday – with the highest average engagement occurring for posts published on Sunday at 6 am.

 

This was A LOT of information. But there’s a lot to know about how to leverage Instagram to build a stronger community, gain more brand awareness, and make more sales!

To get 10 FREE tips about using hashtags, grab the PDF here.

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