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Instagram has revealed new details regarding what goes into selecting posts and stories for the Explore page.
In a blog post, parent company Facebook goes into great detail about the Explore page starting at the very beginning with how it was built. In this article I’ll narrow the focus down to strictly what matters for marketers.
Getting a post to appear in Instagram’s Explore feed has the potential to expand your audience by getting your content in front of people who don’t already follow you.
As marketers the question we inevitably arrive at is – “how do we optimize for this?” I’ll attempt to answer that question based on the information published by Facebook today.
How Instagram Explore Works
Content goes through two stages before it ends up in the Explore recommendation systems: the candidate generation stage (also known as sourcing stage) and the ranking stage.
Candidate Generation Stage
When sourcing content for the Explore page Instagram leverages “seed” accounts, which are accounts people have interacted with before. By analyzing the seed accounts, Instagram identifies other accounts a person might be interested in.
In the last part of this stage, Instagram uses the seed accounts and similar-to-seed accounts to find media these accounts have posted or engaged with. The candidate generation stage is illustrated in the example below:
“There are many different ways people can engage with accounts and media on Instagram (e.g., follow, like, comment, save, and share). There are also different media types (e.g., photo, video, Stories, and Live), which means there are a variety of sources we can construct using a similar scheme.”
The end result of this stage is tens of thousands of eligible pieces of content (candidates) for the average Instagram user. Instagram then takes a sample of 500 of those candidates and sends them to the next stage.
The final stage of selecting content for Instagram Explore involves a three-stage ranking infrastructure. The three ranking stages narrow down the candidates from 500, to 150, to 50, to finally 25 of the highest-quality and most relevant candidates.
The final 25 candidates are what is shown in the first page of a person’s Explore grid. How does Instagram select the 25 most relevant pieces of content from a pool of 500 candidates? The company explains:
“We predict individual actions that people take on each piece of media, whether they’re positive actions such as like and save, or negative actions such as “See Fewer Posts Like This” (SFPLT). We use a multi-task multi-label (MTML) neural network to predict these events. The shared multilayer perceptron (MLP) allows us to capture the common signals from different actions.”
Instagram uses an arithmetic formula to combine the predictions of actions people will take on a post. The prominence of different actions is weighted to determine whether the content is relevant.
For example, if the action of saving a post is weighted higher than liking a post, then a post with more saves would be considered more relevant. Instagram did not provide any specific details about the weight of user signals.
In an effort to boost the diversity of content, Instagram will downrank posts from the same author or same seed account. So it’s unlikely that you’ll see consecutive posts from the same person in Explore.
Can Posts Be Optimized for Instagram Explore?
Addressing the question at the beginning of this article – it’s possible that posts could be optimized for Explore, but we do not have all the information required to do so.
The weight of different user actions on posts, for example, is a key set of information that we don’t have. Some new information that we do have, on the other hand, is the importance of seed accounts.
Instagram sources content for the Explore feed from seed accounts, which are accounts similar to ones that a person already follows. Being identified as a seed account could be key in getting your content surfaced in Explore.
In order to be identified as a seed account, you need to be sending consistent signals so Instagram can determine what you’re about and who you’re similar to. This could include regularly using the same hashtags, keeping your posts 100% on topic, staying well connected with other accounts in your niche, and so on.
From there, focus on getting a variety of user engagement signals on your content and you’re further improve your chances of appear in users’ Explore page.