You probably remember the days when the Instagram feed was chronological and showed you posts as they were posted. Life Instagram photography fans was easier. All you had to do was choose an image and know when most people were online to see it.
Things have changed. There’s now a secret sauce Instagram uses to prioritise content. It’s called an algorithm. It makes decisions based on what it thinks you want to see. Instagram claims that it prioritises content because we follow too many different accounts.
The problem is, that limits our reach. Reach is the amount of accounts that’ll see your post. Instagram, and all other algorithm-based social media platforms like Facebook, increase your post’s reach based on how effective it is. Think about it from Instagram’s point of view – they want to encourage people to use the platform. The biggest indicator of usage is engagement. That means Instagram want to see posts with likes and comments. We haven’t even talked about affinity scores yet, so don’t be discouraged. We can still get your photography seen.
So what are affinity scores?
The Instagram algorithm is very real. Basically it uses the same algorithm as Facebook. There’s a few things that impact the reach of your post. They limit the reach of posts to encourage people to adopt best practice so they show relevant content to people in order to keep them using the app.
The apps want to have a high number of people using the app so they can sell ads. They don’t limit reach in order to make people pay to reach, like many people think.
They don’t want the dollars from photographers like me and you. Our $200 spends. Instagram and Facebook don’t even assign an account manager unless you spend $10,000 a month with them. So they want to charge the Coca-Colas of the world to reach customers, and people like us keep the organic users attracted to the platform. So they reward us with higher reach by adopting their best practice methods.
The biggest impact to the reach of your post on Instagram is not how clever your Instagram caption is. It’s about a factor called affinity score – There used to be a relevancy score applied to each user individually, but now there is an affinity score which is a one-to-one score between the poster and the potential engager. It’s based on how likely the content is to be relevant to the person it is going to be exposed to.
There are two things that increase affinity scores between you and each subscriber – the frequency of previous engagement by that person, and the frequency of engagement with the person tagged in the image or mentioned in the image comment. You can instantly increase your affinity score by the person in the photo liking or commenting on the post.
So for example, let’s say you post a photo of a band that has a large number of fans. Your reach will increase almost instantly for your post if a lot of your subscribers are mutual followers. But if the band or tagged person likes the post too, your chances of it going higher up others’ feeds increases dramatically.
It doesn’t need to be a celebrity in your photo to increase your reach by playing into Instagram’s affinity scoring system. A good friend of yours will hopefully like a lot of your posts. That means their affinity score for your content is much higher than someone who likes or engages with less of your content.
If you’re not a professionally-focused photographer and just post photos of good times with friends, you can still increase the reach of your posts if you have a high follower account. There’s an art to Instagram captions for selfies and other personal content, but that’s for another day.
By now you can assume the reason why companies post memes or funny Instagram posts rather than 100% business, all the time. They want that engagement to increase their affinity scores with their subscribers.
How to increase your reach on Instagram photography posts
Now you understand the underpinning secret sauce that Instagram uses, let’s look at how you can change the way you post on Instagram to your advantage. There are three easy things you can do to increase your reach.
1. Post your highest quality content on a regular basis
Naturally, you want to show off your photography skills, and you want a consistent content stream on your Instagram account.
Posting cool Instagram photos every day is not necessary. You should be consistent with what you post, not posting for the sake of posting. If it looks to your subscribers that you don’t care about your work, why should they care?
I did an analysis of when my followers are online. I found that most were online between Sunday and Thursday, and were less often online on a Friday and Saturday. Because I post in the music photography niche, most of my followers are going to be going to shows. That explains why they might not be online Friday and Saturdays. They’re probably out at a show not glued to their phone or hungover after the previous night and getting ready to do it all again.
Now that I know when people are mostly online, I know I need to post as often as possible within that window. You can schedule content in apps like Later or Buffer, or do what I do and remember using good old fashioned brain power.
2. Fill out all of your metadata
The more you complete the photo with metadata, the better your post is going to perform. Adding a location, adding the alt text metadata, tagging the person in the photo, writing a lengthy comment and so on all increases your reach of the post in the initial decay-rate period. I think of it like Instagram’s way of thanking Instagram users who adopt all of the platform’s features.
3. Block out an hour of monitoring time
Instagram has what is sometimes referred to as a rate of decay. A decay-rate effects the reach of your post because it slowly serves it to less people time. Instagram uses the decay rate to determine The best way to minimise the effects of your post’s decay-rate is to engage with the post as much as possible in the first hour of posting. This tells Instagram that you’re still around and are more likely to reply to anyone who comments on your post. The decay rate analysis is most impactful during the first hour of posting. This is why I reply to everyone in the first hour, and only post when people are most likely online because I need that first hour to be great. I post only when I have the following hour free.
Bonus Instagram photography-related hashtags
Here are a few common hashtags you might want to include to help get your Instagram photography reach project started:
#Aperature #LongExposure #ManualFocus #Macro #RuleOfThirds #Vignette #50mm #LightPhotography #VSCO #VSCOcam #Snapseed #LeadingLines #Panorama #DepthOfField #GoldenRatio #Monogram #Monochrome #ThroughTheLens #Bokeh #Lightroom