Why Is My Instagram Reach Down? [Experiment]

INDUSTRY|Nov 4, 2021

We all know how fickle the Instagram algorithm is and how Facebook likes to mess with our hearts (and brains) with every update.

We see and hear it all the time, too. From brands to influencers -- macro to nano -- their post reach and engagement all of the sudden takes a plunge and panic quickly ensues. The easy excuse: it MUST be because Instagram updated its algorithm again!

A Very Brief History On The Instagram Algorithm

It all started back in 2016 when Instagram changed its feed from chronological order to introducing the algorithm, changing the way we were served up our favorite content forever.

Instead of seeing your friend’s photos in a neat and orderly fashion from most recent to least, Instagram implemented its ranking system to prioritize content it believes you will want to see (i.e. most likely to interact with).

In 2017, Instagram continued to evolve the algorithm by implementing machine learning to rank content based on six different factors:

  1. Interest
  2. Recency
  3. Relationship
  4. Frequency
  5. Following
  6. Usage

Switching from chronological to the algorithm affected everyone’s reach automatically -- some for the better, and others for worse. Everyone who follows you is not necessarily going to be served your content unless Instagram decides to serve it to them, but it also allows for greater discovery for new accounts through the Instagram Discover page.

What is Reach on Instagram?

To start with the basics, reach is the number of unique individuals that your content has been seen by. This differs from impressions, which is defined as the total number of times your content is shown.

For example, if your post is shown to 5 people once, it would have a reach of 5 with 5 impressions. If it is shown to each of those five people twice, it would now have 10 impressions, but still, only have a reach of 5.

To see your post or story reach on Instagram, you’ll need to set up an Instagram Creator or Business Account.

From there, you can click on your post, click view insights, and scroll down to determine your post’s reach and where exactly those people you reached discovered your post -- whether it was their discovery page, from searching hashtags, their home page, or your profile.

Running hundreds of influencer campaigns along with our own Instagram Business account (shameless plug -- give us a follow @VizSense!), we are CONSTANTLY looking at post reach across a variety of content for creators of all sizes.

Our Hypothesis: Instagram’s organic reach has declined for many accounts over the past few years.

Looking at these trends day after day, year over year, we started thinking to ourselves, “We CAN’T be the only ones that have noticed a decline in Instagram reach… are we?”

(Spoiler, we weren’t the only ones):

48% of influencers saw a decrease or no change to their Instagram reach in 2021

And if we aren’t alone, is it the Instagram algorithm to blame, or just a decrease in engagement across the board?

We had so many questions. So we Googled and searched...

And what we found?

There is NO data out there about Instagram reach trends over the past few years. All we could find was dark rumors of the sinister shadowban and whether or not it was fact or fable.

So we decided to figure it out for ourselves. And because of the amazing 2,500+ influencers we’ve worked with over the past two years, that’s exactly what we were able to do.

Methodology

We analyzed over 11,000 different Instagram posts and stories from over over 2,000 different influencers across 135 of our campaigns from February 2019 to September 2021.

Utilizing our internal campaign data from the past two years, our analysts extracted the number of influencers participating per campaign, total organic reach, and the total number of posts for each campaign.

We then sorted each campaign by start date, grouping each campaign by the month they started and averaging their follower counts and organic reach. From these two averages, we then found the average percent reach to follower ratio across the last 30 months.

48% of influencers saw a decrease or no change to their Instagram reach in 2021

The Initial Finding: Looking month to month over the past two years, we see a slight trend downward.

Instagram organic reach trends month over month

However, each individual campaign has a multitude of different variables to consider, like:

To account for these environmental factors, we went one step further and looked at the average percent reach to follower count for each quarter:

Instagram organic reach trends quarter over quarter

And finally, averages for the entire year:

Instagram organic reach trends year over year

The Results: Instagram Individual Post Reach Is Down Overall

Or at least Instagram’s reach is consistently lower since the end of 2019. And it’s pretty significant -- up to 10% lower on average between 2019 and 2020.

But reach across our influencer’s has stayed pretty consistent across 2020 and 2021, with only one major outlier during Q2 (April, May, June) of 2020 at the start of the pandemic -- aligning with a global increase in social media usage to stay connected with our friends and family.

Our Conclusion

So who’s to blame? If your Instagram reach is down since 2019, you’re not alone. For the drastic 10% drop between 2019 and 2020, most likely a change in the algorithm is to blame.

But if your post reach is down from 2020 to 2021, it may be time to look at your overall strategy.

Is your content no longer connecting with your audience? Who even is your target audience? And how can you begin creating content that provides value to them? Your reach may just be down because your followers are no longer interested in engaging with your content, so Instagram simply doesn’t serve it anymore.

Future Outlook

In Terms of Reach and Discovery:

As Instagram continues to come out with new features and prioritize new forms of content (ahem, hello Reels), the algorithm continues to update to feature what they deem the latest and greatest. This incentivizes creators who use these new features.

You will need to start capitalizing on these tools to increase your discovery. Social media is always adapting, so we must be, too, to win at their game.

In Terms of Engagement:

Engagement rate is calculated by adding up all likes and comments and dividing that number by an account’s total followers.

How to calculate your Instagram Engagement Rate

If organic reach continues to drop, engagement rates will continue to drop as well -- as a smaller percentage of your overall following is less likely to get served your content and therefore are not able to engage with it.

To account for this shift, it’s best practice to not only measure the overall engagement rate but also measure engagement by each post's reach as well.

Instead, this would mean adding up a post’s total likes and comments and dividing it by the post’s reach.

How to Calculate Instagram Engagement Rate by Post Reach

It should also become best practice to start checking the average percentage of post reach compared to the influencer's total follower count. If an influencer has 50,000 followers and they are only reaching 1% of their audience, their influence is probably dwindling, and you’re only truly reaching 500 people.

In Conclusion

Social media will always be changing, and any social media marketer -- whether you are an influencer, social media manager for a large brand, or run your own small business -- needs to be one step ahead, regardless of the algorithm.

Having a well-rounded digital marketing strategy can help mitigate any bumps and glitches in your organic social media strategy, and our team of experts loves this type of work! Get in touch to learn more about how our micro-influencer solutions can help you build a lasting digital strategy and outsmart the Instagram Algorithm.

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