The Instagram Algorithm Hates Variety

There’s a lot being said about the ever-evolving Instagram algorithm, but there’s one thing I’ve noticed above all else: Instagram hates variety. This is why you see accounts with a million followers and the whole page is just white, grey and pink. And each photo is the same theme. It’s because Instagram’s algorithm wants to categorize you in a neat little box and only show you to the people that may be interested in those specific categories. So because of that, I now have two Instagram accounts: @sewgeekmama and @geekmamasblog

Learning to Work with the Instagram Algorithm

I live a life filled with color, and my Instagram reflects that. I don’t have a monochromatic color grid and I don’t stick to one palette. I used to post a little of everything, from cosplay pics to food to flowers in my garden. But as my Instagram became more of a tool for the blog, and I started paying attention to the stats, I noticed a trend. If I posted a costume photo, I’d get at least 100 likes. But post a delicious food photo and it would get 30 likes if I was lucky. Instagram doesn’t think my audience wants to see food, so it doesn’t show it to as many people.

So over Halloween I did an experiment and posted one costume photo a day. As a result, my likes and followers steadily increased for the first time in over a year. But at the same time, mom bloggers (and a few mom friends even!) started unfollowing me left and right. That was understandable, as they were more interested in “mom stuff” and I was dramatically changing my direction. So that led me to creating another Instagram page just for the blog, at @GeekMamasBlog. That way I can post all the bloggy mom-life stuff there and keep all the costume stuff on @SewGeekMama.

Engagement Matters

Engagement is a big deal with social media accounts, if you use them for work. If a brand wants to work with you, it’s not enough to have thousands of followers. They want to see if those followers are actually paying attention and engaging with your content. So that’s where likes and comments come in. And that falls back on why it’s important for Instagram to show your posts. If it doesn’t show up, nobody engages. A million followers don’t matter if none of them are responding. It’s better to have a small amount of active followers rather than thousands of lurkers. And that’s one big reason why it’s a bad idea to ever buy followers! So don’t get sucked into any of those offers for increasing your follower count quickly. It will just be a bunch of worthless followers that dilute your engagement rate.

I know because I tried it once! When I first got on Instagram, a “social media growth service” contacted me to try their service for free and write an article. They said they would get me around 1,000 new followers, and that they would be real followers with real engagement. I didn’t know any better and thought that sounded great! And at first I was like Wow! Look at all these new followers! And then I started checking them out and they were mostly very fake looking, and several hundred unfollowed soon after following. I ended up not writing the article because I couldn’t recommend that! (I did offer to write an actual honest article about my experience and of course they declined) And to top it off, I started getting angry messages from people accusing me of following just to unfollow them! Lesson learned.

So now I’m putting a lot of effort into the @SewGeekMama page, paying attention to hashtags, posting costumes or costume-related photos. I also try to post once a day. At the same time, I’m posting whatever I want over on the @GeekMamasBlog page and not stressing about the perfect photo or hashtags. Both pages are slowly growing, with authentic followers and engagement.

Instagram engagement
I’m now reaching almost half the accounts that follow me, with a rise in people following the link to the blog!

What Not to Do on Instagram

Since I’ve been paying attention to the likes and engagement, I’ve learned a few things along the way about what NOT to do. It’s impressive how quickly the likes go down sometimes.

1 – Don’t use the same hashtag on everything

This may seem counter-intuitive, but overuse of the same hashtag can cause you to be “shadow banned.” If you haven’t heard that term yet, it means that your posts no longer show up when people search that hashtag. So you are just wasting space with it.

2 – Don’t unfollow more than 10 accounts at a time

If you start unfollowing a bunch of people, Instagram might think that you are using bots to do that annoying follow/unfollow thing people do to try and grow their numbers. So while it is good to go through and remove old accounts that don’t engage, don’t unfollow tons of people at one time.

3 – Be careful using 3rd party tracking apps

Instagram doesn’t like those 3rd party tracking apps, like the ones you use to find out who’s following back. You can even get your account suspended for using some of them. But if you are like me and really want to know who’s following back, then they are really useful if used sparingly and responsibly. I try not to check it more than once a week.

4 – Don’t follow too many people

Following too many people at a time is just as bad as unfollowing too many people. Basically just remember, everything in moderation.

5 – Don’t follow everyone back

There are so many accounts that follow tons of people just for the follow-back. Remember, those accounts are not going to engage so it doesn’t matter if they unfollow you. They only wanted the follow-back anyway. I make it a rule to not follow accounts back if I don’t see anything on their grid that I’m interested in seeing in my feed. I also don’t usually try to follow back if it is a private account and I don’t know them.

In the End, Stick with Quality vs. Quantity

I may not have anywhere close to a huge following, but that’s not what I’m going for. I’m a working on creating an engaged audience that pays attention to what I post. Besides, if I want to post stuff nobody really sees or pays attention to, I can always just go on Twitter! LOL (I know Twitter works for some people, but I just can’t keep up with it, thus my engagement level there has dropped to pretty much nothing.)

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