Instagram is the it-girl of social media apps, where everyone from Kim Kardashian to your best friend's mom is sharing their best pictures and interacting with their friends and followers. It's easy to be intimidated or get "Instagram-envy" when looking at other bloggers, influencers, and brands who have hundreds of thousands of followers and perfectly curated feeds. But YOU can grow your following and establish your voice on Instagram too. The first step is to realize that Instagram is really a game, and you can win by outsmarting its algorithm.

How does Instagram's algorithm work?

If the word "algorithm" is scaring you, don't worry. You won't have to do any math to grow a successful Instagram account. But you should have a general idea of how this algorithm is affecting you.

As of 2019, what shows up in everyone's Instagram feed (and when it shows up) is primarily based on their activity on the app. Instagram explained this in the simplest terms here:

Example: If you look at your crush Brad's page more frequently than your best friend Becky's, then Brad's photos will show up in your feed before Becky's. If you engage with Brad's photos by commenting, viewing his stories, and sending him messages, he will likely be the first person you see on your feed.

But, there are several other contributing factors that go into whether your followers will see your content first, second, or dead last. The good news is that, by feeding into the Instagram algorithm, you can outsmart it and come out an Insta-winner!

How can you outsmart the algorithm and ensure that your content gets seen?

Believe it or not, the Instagram game isn't hard to win. All you have to do is play smart and often. The following steps are the key to making sure your content is being seen by as many people as possible.

1. Only post high quality, engaging content to your feed.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there is no denying that the most-liked and most-shared posts on Instagram are visually appealing and professional. You want everything you post to get engagement, so make sure you are only posting images you are proud of. That being said, less is more when it comes to feed posts. Aim for around 1-2 posts a day, at maximum.

Take things a step further by focusing on the aesthetic of your entire feed, curating every post so that it fits into the grander image of your feed. A visually cohesive feed will lead to more followers.

2. Post stories regularly.

Stories are the most popular type of content on Instagram's platform, and they allow you to easily engage with your audience.

Posting stories will put you at the front of your follower's story updates, literally. That means that, if you post them consistently, they will serve as a consistent reminder for your followers to check out your account.

3. Utilize as many of Instagram's features as you can.

Instagram offers a variety of options when it comes to publishing content, from photos, to videos, to live streams, to IGTV. Taking advantage of all of these features will put you ahead of other accounts who are only utilizing their feed and stories. Plus, Instagram is now featuring IGTV videos on its Explore page, which means your videos could be seen by an audience far beyond your followers.

4. Encourage engagement with your captions.

Word on the street is that Instagram's algorithm prioritizes posts with high engagement. Unlike Facebook, Instagram has nothing against directly asking for likes and comments. So use your captions to ask questions and to request replies, likes, and tags.

Captions like "Tag a friend who needs to see this" or "What will you be watching on Netflix this weekend?" are totally Instagram algorithm-approved and will encourage your followers to comment.

5. Believe in the power of using hashtags.

You want as many people to see your content as possible, and using hashtags makes your posts "searchable," meaning they can be found whenever someone searches that particular hashtag. Take a few extra minutes to type out hashtags that are specific and relevant to your posts – it's worth it! And if you don't want them clogging up your captions, you can post them in a comment!

6. Use Instagram Insights to cater to your audience.

Make sure your page is set up as a Professional Account. You can do this easily by editing your profile. Once you are a Professional Account, you can view your Insights to see things like how many people saw a post (Reach), how many people were brought to your profile by a post, how many people shared a post, and more.

Most importantly, you can discover where your followers are located, how old they are, what percentage of them are men vs. women, and when they are post active on Instagram. Use this information to inform the type of content you post, so that your audience relates to it, and to determine what times to post, so that more of your followers are on the app to see it.

How can you use Instagram to drive traffic to your Odyssey articles?

Unless you have over 10k followers, you won't have a swipe-up feature to share articles in your story, but that doesn't mean you can't promote your Odyssey articles on Instagram!

When editing your profile, you have the option of adding a website. Here, you can paste the url to one of your articles so that anyone and everyone who visits your profile has a link to it. If you post a related image to your feed or story, include a call-out in the caption to visit the link in your bio.

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