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Wednesday 8 September 2021

Taking On the Instagram Algorithms - and Link-Up

Is This Mutton blogger Gail Hanlon wearing Blue Jewel and Ganzi Purple with Glowbeads

I've spent the last week having some fun with Instagram:  seeing if I could play "the algorithms." I'm not really very active on IG normally. I post around two feed posts a week, and Stories most days, although usually about my forest walks.  But I do visit IG frequently to see what all the lovely ladies I follow are up to. I had 3,197 followers in February and am now at 3,578. It's a very slow slog!
For my week of crazy posting, I started by doing a mega photo shoot so that I had plenty of pictures and outfits to play with.  I set about following some of the rules/urban myths that have been shared about improving your presence on IG:

  • A feed post at least once a day;
  • IG Stories every day;
  • Choosing hashtags based on what's in, and performing well; 
  • Commenting on more people's posts to try to get reciprocal replies;
  • Adopting the new craze where you use a hashtag created by a fellow IG'er and @ the creator;
  • Aiming to write a post that encourages replies.  An outfit post on its own doesn't tend to do this;  I find when I give a view on something, I get far more interactions. 
I'd read in the book Underbelly, about a successful mummy blogger  (see my review here) that the most popular time for posting is between 7 and 8pm, so I tried it twice consecutively but must have confounded the algorithm, because both performed badly.  I think between 7-8pm is probably optimum if you have young kids.  It's when you've got them to bed and can sit on the sofa scrolling. 

I noticed that a lot of the women I follow post in the morning, which is my preferred time. Engagement improved a lot when I did that.

I took part in #ManiMonday for the first time, when people share pictures of their manicures.  As my hands are very old looking  (hard working hands, I'd say!), and I'm no good at nail art, I don't think I'll be doing this one again.

I also took part in #shoesdayTuesday with a picture of my new green brogues.  The algorithm is not keen on us changing our content focus and using different hashtags because it gets confused about who we are and what we're offering.  

What is "The Algorithm?!"

There's a lot of mystery around what the algorithm is, and IG wrote this post in June to try to clarify.

The head of IG, Adam Mosseri, denied that it is one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. 

Basically, the algorithms relate to what has been posted (what, who by) and the decision to share with you is based on your preferences: how much video do you watch?  Which hashtags do you follow?

Then there are algorithms around how likely you are to interact with a post in different ways.  For example: in Feed, the five interactions that IG looks at most closely are how likely you are to spend a few seconds on a post, comment on it, like it, save it, and tap on the profile photo. 

Mosseri confirmed in the post that IG is determined to cut down on the amount of shares.  You may have noticed it's harder to reshare someone else's post. They have done this on purpose so that more posts are original.

"Shadowing" is something that popular Instagrammers complain about.  They say it's when their content suddenly isn't being shown. IG has never been open about what causes the practice, but it's believed to be: using unauthorised software, spamming (irrelevant) hashtags or posting controversial content.

Mosseri says: "We can’t promise you that you’ll consistently reach the same amount of people when you post. The truth is most of your followers won’t see what you share, because most look at less than half of their Feed."

The results of my 7 day experiment 

The accounts I reached grew by 146% to 2,959, and my contact interactions increased by 243%.  Nothing unexpected, because if you post more content and  have the right tribe of followers, your likes and comments will automatically go up.  But, it's important to note that you shouldn't share too many posts in one day because that also goes against you.  

What was disappointing is that the number of followers increased by just 0.8%.  As always, I gained a lot of followers that I immediately blocked.  These are bots, scammers and strange men. If you accept them as followers, it will affect you in the long term.  They won't engage with your content, and if brands are seriously studying you for a collaboration, hundreds of these followers is a red flag.

You can see immediately if they're dodgy accounts because they will usually have very few followers. They often use pictures of US soldiers, claim to be orthopedic surgeons (or Keanu Reeves), and are invariably God fearing. They immediately send you a message "Hello dear."  (Message to scammers.  Never address a woman as "dear! !). 

An outfit inspired by the Kurt Geiger Rainbow bag worn by Is This Mutton style blogger Gail Hanlon. Purple trousers, sandals and top with a vivid Blue Jewel jacket

It used to be easy to get followers

When Instagram launched in 2010 people who joined at the start built huge followings overnight because their content was being widely shown in an effort to build a community. At that time, even ads were carefully curated by the founders to make sure they looked beautiful and were served to the right people.

Just two year later IG was bought by Facebook and very soon the two original founders had left, disillusioned at seeing the promises made by Facebook disintegrating in front of their eyes.

Now the ads are many, some with a frontage that looks like a UK or European company but is in fact some Chinese conglomerate. You may not even get what you ordered.

And now IG doesn't particularly care about you growing your followers unless you're following its new rules (more video content, particularly Reels), or paying for ads.

How do I get more followers?

I've watched with interest some of the accounts I started following when I became active on IG.  Some were very small initially, now they have more than the highly desirable 10k followers, which is when you can invite people to "swipe up" to see your blog post or website, rather than having to edit your link for each post and say #linkinbio." 

In all cases, they had original or different content.  One woman wears retro clothes.  Another has model proportions and takes stunning outfit photos. 

You need a distinctive voice, stand-out content (ideally a mix between video and images), and a lot of determination - and patience. It definitely helps if you post at the same time every day. 

If you're tagging brands or retailers, see if they have a special hashtag.  Many retailers are now becoming savvy about resharing pics of followers wearing their clothes or makeup. 

Certain posts will lose you a lot of followers. Anything political. And anything involving a bikini, if you're an older woman. It doesn't matter how fit and toned you look,  or how much you think you're helping the cause by showing what an older woman looks like. if you're an older woman in a bikini, you're going to lose followers every time you post. The reasons why are various and far too complex to describe here. Here's one view, from Grazia.

Buying followers is a big No No.  It's still possible, but frowned upon, particularly if you want to market yourself to brands.

I touch on advertising your posts in a moment. 

Is it true IG is only interested in video?

Facebook first confirmed it was heading down the Tik Tok road a few months ago when Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said Instagram is no longer a photo sharing app. . In a video posted to his Instagram and Twitter accounts, Mosseri said the company is looking to 'lean into' entertainment and video after seeing the success of competitors like TikTok and YouTube.

I find this quite astonishing, as a professional marketer, that Instagram/Facebook would admit to being laggards rather than innovators. 

I will always prefer the beauty of the written word in blog form to photo sharing, and I am not too bothered about video.  I watch a few videos on IG from people I like, and I might watch a video if it's sub titled. I don't always have headphones to hand and I get fed up with people shouting for attention. 

I'd like to try Reels but I just don't have time to learn how to do it well. It's hard enough to post a few times a week. Plus, I was alarmed to find out how much time I was spending on IG. On the Friday I spent 1.5 hours! It's the constant checking to see new comments and respond to them, because IG shows posts to more people if you quickly get good engagement.

The belief is that "the algorithm" is punishing you if you don't post video content. But the situation as always on IG is confusing.  Alison @devoted_to_style said that many people have found that their first Reel for ages gets a lot of views in the first hour, but not a lot of engagement. But then if you post another Reel the following day, it does nothing.


I've done some ads on Facebook and I wouldn't do it again.  It's an easy process, all done online, and within a budget you specify. 

It wasn't successful for me at all. I started getting some nasty comments on my FB page, including some from women who seemed to think "Is This Mutton" was an insult to them  (it's an ironic comment, meant to be humorous). I didn't get many click throughs.  Even today, FB tells me that my page is getting good engagements but zero clicks.  Complete waste of time.

If you plan to advertise on IG to try to grow your followers, make sure you find the right image and craft a post that effectively introduces you and your value prop to a new audience.  Sure, a lot of your current followers will also see it, and will possibly be bemused, but if you simply boost an existing post, new people won't have much of an idea about what you're about. 

I was going to promote a post to share the results with you, but at the end of the day, I'm not too bothered about growing my numbers. I've found my tribe of like minded women, and that's what matters.  This blog will always be far more important than success on IG.  If you rely solely on IG for an income, I would be concerned.  Remember who the owners are.  Probably the most untrustworthy company on the planet. I wouldn't put all my eggs in the Facebook basket.

Over 50s style blogger Gail Hanlon in all purple with a bright blue jacket

Today's outfit

I used my new rainbow bag by Kurt Geiger London as the basis for choosing the main colors of my outfit:  purple with Jewel blue.   Chloe jacket, Ganzi Purple top and belt in metallic blue, all from Kettlewell.  Bag from John Lewis. Necklace by Glowbeads

I'd love to hear your views of, and experiences with, Instagram.  Have you had a lot of success with Reels? Let us know in the comments. 

Sharing this post with:  Beauty by Miss L, On Mondays We Link Up at Glass of Glam, Top of the World Style at High Latitude Style, Chic & Stylish at Mummabstylish, #SpreadTheKindness at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Thursday Moda at Elegance and Mommyhood, Turning Heads Tuesday at Elegantly Dressed and Stylish,  Style with a Smile  at StylesplashTFF at Doused in PinkLizzie in Lace Confident Twosday at IDoDeclaireRena at Fine WhateverFabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette #TheWednesdayLinkUp at Claire Justine, Fancy Friday at Nancy's Fashion StyleStyle Six at This Blonde's Shopping Bag Happiness is Homemade at Life as a Leo Wife 

Now it's time for #WowOnWednesday, where readers find new blogs to read, and bloggers find new followers. 

Readers' Favourites (Most Clicked)

Penny from Frugal Fashion Shopper with her post "August In Review." Penny did some garden sitting, met some friends, made a few charity shop purchases, and gives some recommendations for books and TV, plus her usual commonsense thoughts on issues like Covid and Afghanistan. 

Amber from The Hungry Mountaineer with her post "Carne Asada Smashed Fry Salad with Cilantro Dressing." After a hard day's hiking in the south of  Lake Tahoe, to the top of Mt Tallac, what could be better than cooking something delicious over the campfire?

Is This Mutton Favourite

My favourite post was by Lizzie fron Lizzie in Lace with her post "The Perfect White Summer Dress for the Girly Girl." Everything about the post is perfect - the dress, the garden scenery, the lighting, and of course Lizzie. 

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  1. I love your honesty in this post. And your style is so fun and I love your bold hues with a killer sense of style. I think Instagram is a fun place. And trying to do so many things at once doesn’t feel real. If that makes sense. I never tried the reels yet or so. But I’m sure it be fun. I think posting on your social media should be natural and reflect you. If people like your content and what you do, I’m sure they will follow you organically. This style post also brightens up my day. :) http://www.bauchlefashion.com/2021/09/the-toastiest-faux-fur-coats-to-wear.html?m=1

  2. Brilliant post Gail, I found it really interesting, you’ve given us quite an insight. X thanks for hosting the linkup too xx Jacqui x


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