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The Instagram Algorithm and Becoming a Topical Authority
Andreas Asprou
Andreas Asprou
Posted Mon Aug 05 2019
In Instagram Marketing

Right now, (and for the foreseeable future), data is king. And, if you want to grow your Instagram account (and out-smart the Instagram algorithm) in a clever way, it’s actually pretty key that you implement a growth strategy that has its foundations in data research and places you as a topical authority in your niche. Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you have to become a data expert and start learning how to code – we’ve done that bit for you.

In this blog post, we’re going to simplify it all and explain how, at Flick, we use Facebook and Instagram’s research papers to find Instagram hashtags that you can rank on, use to out-smart the Instagram algorithm – and therefore grow your account! Let’s get stuck in.

The Instagram algorithm: How does the recommendation and feed algorithm work?

Before we start, you need to understand the foundations of how Instagram’s algorithm works. Just like building a house, you want to build your account with a full understanding of how it all comes together – otherwise, you can’t fix any problems you might encounter later on! To put it simply let’s look at it step by step: 

  1. Instagram aims to provide recommendations to its users – from hashtags to content to who they might want to follow – something you might already notice.
  2. They determine what recommendations they should be suggesting based on the interests of the users on their platform (that’s you!).
  3. They do this using a formula that considers “topical authorities.” So, if you were a follower of @grwrady, @jamescharles and @urbandecay, and these channels all post makeup or beauty related content, Instagram can determine that you would be interested in the topic of makeup or beauty! Simple, right?
  4. When Instagram does this, they also take into consideration the hashtag groups that you use. They group the hashtags that you might put in your comments or captions, and assign them to specific topics. So, if you used the hashtag #redeyeshadowlook in a post, they may assign this to the topic of ‘makeup’ – which helps them determine that you are a topical authority of ‘makeup’.
  5. If they decide you are in fact, a topical authority of makeup, then people that are interested in the topic ‘makeup’ will be able to discover your content through hashtag feeds, explore pages and recommended accounts. 

This information helped us at Flick develop an algorithm to create the right hashtag recommendations for your account that complements Instagram’s algorithm, allowing you to grow your account. 

What are topical authorities?

After reading about how it all works, you’re probably asking yourself how you become a topical authority and get your posts pushed to relevant and undiscovered audiences using the Instagram algorithm. Luckily, we can help you with that.

A topical authority is essentially the idea that your Instagram account, is an established expert over an entire topic as opposed to just one hashtag. 

The best way to think about a topical authority is to look at niches within a topic. If we take the idea of ‘keto’ as a topic, there are a lot of possible ideas and concepts floating around that core category. You might consider something like ‘#ketodiet’ as a niche related to the larger topic of ‘#keto’. 

However, it’s important to remember that Instagram doesn’t make links the same way that we do. Something like “#ketorecipies” – may seem, to us, similar to “#weightlossdiet”, but to Instagram, it isn’t at all. Instagram’s algorithm wouldn’t want to recommend keto diet recipes to someone who is interested in muscle building and losing weight. 

So, thinking about this example, if your hashtags are topically related enough, they can generate what we would call a high topical coherence score. And, what’s more, is posts that have a high topical coherence score, are 10 times more likely to rank on hashtags – amazing, right?

Don’t worry if this sounds a little confusing, we compute all of this and generate a topical coherence score for your hashtag sets in your Flick account, to ensure that you will be most likely to get the best results. (This is coming to our new feature ‘hashtag collections’ which is still in BETA, you can join the waiting list for collections here

Now that we’ve gone through the basics of both the Instagram algorithm and topical authorities, how can you discover what topics are best for you and, more importantly, how can you increase your topical coherence score? Remember this: from our research at Flick, we have found that the accounts and posts which rank highly and hit the explore page are those that are related to the same niche(s). This means that posts with inter-related hashtags perform really well and have high topical coherence scores.

Let’s have a look at how you might do this in practice.

How to create a post with multiple topics and high topical coherence

It might be the case that you could think of more than one topic to describe your post on Instagram. However, just because the top-performing posts in terms of topical coherence use groups of hashtags that are related, doesn’t mean you can’t feature multiple topics. You just need to make sure you find a link between each topic, to make them related. What do we mean by this? Learn from the following example.

You might be posting about Hawaii beach wedding photography. This could have three topics: “beach photography,” “Hawaii,” and “Wedding Photography.” Let’s call these sub-sets. You want each of your sub-sets to have high topical coherence so that you can combine them to create “Hawaii beach wedding photography.” as shown in the screenshot from Flick below. 

instagram hashtags in flick

People who rank on hashtag groups are thus topical authorities of related “broad” topics (e.g. “Fasting”, “Keto” and “Low Carb Recipes”). This is because the topics they are authorities of are related, which means Instagram’s algorithm deems their account to be of high quality. 

To help you visualize this better, how about a real-life example?

Becoming a topical authority of the broad topic “Coffee” – A case study of @essence.coffee

Using our hashtag tracking feature, we found that one of our users, @essence.coffee, consistently ranked on a number of the hashtags they featured since using Flick. Here is how they used topical coherence to get their post-https://www.instagram.com/p/BzsOo2KCMtG/ to rank:

They used highly topical coherent hashtags in their caption

You can see in the image below that the hashtags used in their caption are highly inter-related. Whilst these all represent the broader topic of ‘coffee’, each hashtag is related to at least one or two others, developing a strong overall link, and therefore an increased chance of becoming a topical authority. 

 

Coupling up inter-related hashtags with the other hashtag metrics inside of Flick allowed Essence Coffee to rank highly across multiple hashtags and play into what the Instagram algorithm wants to see. 

instagram hashtags in flick

How do I become a topical authority?

There are two main factors to think about when trying to establish yourself as a topical authority. 

  1. Your posts should be focused on related topics. For example, you shouldn’t post images of your latest yoga moves and images of fishing on the same account. However, you could post about yoga and meditation on the same account, as they both sit within the topic of ‘well-being’.
  2. The hashtags in your post should include groups of hashtags that are inter-related, within the same niche topic. 

So, the best way to think about establishing your account as a topical authority, is that if you want to become an expert on “#ketogains”, you should try to cover related niches in different posts, for example, “#fastedworkout”, ”#ketoworkout”, “#insulinresistence”, and anything else that is relevant to the larger topic.

Remember! If you post about unrelated topics, this will damage your chances of becoming a topical authority. Try to avoid this.

What’s even better, is that by opitmizing your hashtags, you can potentially capitalize on undiscovered audiences. Those users who might not directly show an interest in “#ketogains” but are interested in related topics like “#insulinresistence”, are able to find your page through strategic hashtag use which is another great benefit. 

So, how can Flick help you become a topical authority, and have Instagram push your posts and account to your undiscovered audience?

  1. Flick’s hashtag recommendation algorithm is built upon the foundations of Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms and published research papers. We only provide recommendations that are “topically coherent” (Instagram considers them as hashtags which relate to the same niche).
  2. You can use our graph view to explore clusters of related hashtags before diving into the analytics. 
  3. You can find and use rankable hashtags by using the hashtag table view and advanced search.
  4. You can continuously assess the relatedness of your hashtag sets using our collections which will let you know if your sets are too diverse. We all know that Instagram’s algorithm is constantly changing, which sometimes isn’t great. But, what is great, is that Flick will change with it, and find the new hashtags that appear under new niches:
    1. We will alert you if something changes, and provide recommendations of new hashtags to add to your set.
    2. We will also warn you when you use hashtags that become redundant or Instagram deem them as not topically coherent anymore, so you don’t waste your time and character space.
    3. When hashtags become un-rankable/suddenly really competitive you will be able to swap them out, for ones that are more likely to help you rank.

We hope this has helped you with understanding how the Instagram algorithm works, and why becoming a topical authority will lead to better results on Instagram.

If you’re looking to improve your hashtag strategy, why not check out our Complete Guide to Instagram Hashtags. or Learn more about the Instagram hashtag metrics inside of Flick