instagram algorithm problems mean girls

Among the skincare community on Instagram there is one complaint I have been seeing from accounts of all sizes, and it’s a valid one:

“My engagement is terrible!”

Within the last few days, larger accounts — producers of quality content, I may add — are singing the same sad song I’ve been crooning for the last several months. I knew upon escaping my shadowban that my account would need some time to recover. I thought it would only be a matter of time before the Instagram algorithm would allow my photos to grace the feeds of my regular followers.

But a full recovery it hasn’t been.

Instagram’s algorithm and me

Late last summer, I regularly had “like” counts in the triple digits. I was doing something right. Admittedly, I did host a rather amazing giveaway, which generated buzz and, best of all, led me to form connections with many wonderful creators.

Around fall, my engagement began…to fall. I’d just barely hit 100 “likes” on several posts but was regularly topping off in the 80s and 90s. I did take some time off from IG around October, which I think may have hurt my numbers a bit. Perhaps the algorithm took my dormant state as a negative and figured, “Why give preference to an account that doesn’t update daily?”

By the new year, engagement had begun to pick up (and I had just hosted another fantastic giveaway). The it happened, and I feel like it’s been an uphill battle to return to my Insta Glory Days since. Now I’m lucky if I reach “like” totals in the 80s.


Like many in the skincare community who have vented their frustrations over Instagram’s finicky algorithm, I also bear this sense of guilt over having these feelings. I should be so fortunate to have anyone viewing my stuff. To hell with the numbers! I should stop being so selfish!

And yes, I tell myself, and others, that it’s important to think about why we share this content in the first place. In most cases, we’re not purely motivated by numbers, whether it’d be followers, likes, or comments. Instead, we have a passion that we want to share with like-minded people. However, yes, for some of us, influencing is also a business. In that case, the numbers hold  more weight.

For better or worse, Instagram is toying with the idea of hiding “like” totals altogether. That number will still be visible to the original poster, but the rest of the world will have no idea how popular or not a photo is. Perhaps that’ll level the playing field some, and eliminate the need to compare others’ success. But the one who shared the photo will still have the ability to gauge the performance of a post based on what else they’ve posted in their feed.

What can we do to slay this algorithm?

Every year, marketing blogs post guides on how to beat the Instagram algorithm. Here’s Hootsuite’s advice for the 2019 iteration, published in April. The Lovely Escapist presented their version of the algorithm guide around the same time. There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two, but also some contradictions. In any case, looking through these guides is an opportunity to run a few experiments to see what works (or doesn’t) for your account.

Personally, I’ve tried the following things to up my engagement, based on what I’ve observed from or discussed with other influencers:

  • Like and comment on posts. This seems obvious. If you want people to engage with you, then you have to pay it forward. I naturally do this with “likes,” but have found myself commenting more lately. “Likes” are a passive way of saying, “Hey, cool content.” Commenting, for the most part, goes a step beyond that. Yes, a lot of the time we’re scrolling through IG in the midst of doing something else so we’re unable to write a meaningful comment or two. But browse IG during some downtime and give it a try.
  • Acknowledge the engagement. One of my personal pet peeves is a constant lack of acknowledgement. Mega-sized accounts, I can understand. Smaller ones, I’m less forgiving. Sure, I have had a few comments and such slip through my fingers but I make sure to give my attention to the people who took time out of their day to communicate with me. It’s human nature, really. People want to be seen and get salty when they’re continuously ignored. Interacting with those who reached out to you is by far the best way to create engagement, and moreover, establish new bonds.
  • Do a follow train. I’ve had mixed success with this approach. Recently, I asked people to react to one of my Stories with an emoji and in return, I would share a photo from their feed that I liked the most. I had one person take me up on the offer…out of the nearly 100 people who allegedly viewed the Story. Oops? Conversely, when people share my posts in their Stories, I usually see more traction in follows/engagement when it’s something organic — as in, someone genuinely liking my post and wanting to share it — as opposed to a follow train.
  • It’s fine to experiment… but don’t lose sight of your message or your self. I don’t really adhere to an aesthetic theme in my feed. Yes, I go through certain design “phases,” let’s say, but I don’t make drastic, sudden changes. I’ll experiment more in the captions by asking questions or mixing up hashtags (and being careful not to use the wrong ones). I’ve had success with incorporating questions, resulting in people sharing their thoughts on a topic and starting a dialogue. However, sometimes a product or composition is just so intriguing that people can’t help but comment on it. I try to hit the right notes as much as possible, but I never want to do so at the expense of my credibility or character.

We all know this but I’m going to say it anyway

Instagram becomes a lot less fun when we focus on the wrong things.

Look, I get it. We create content with the intent of having others interact with it in some way. When we don’t get that, or don’t see enough of it happening, it’s very easy to become discouraged. We start to think we’re the problem.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with holding ourselves accountable to some degree. Maybe we need to improve our content to make it more palatable. But also know that a lot of these algorithm changes, or when they so happen to take place, are beyond our control.

I don’t know if there’s any solace in knowing that so many other people are going through this, including well-established accounts with mighty fine content. The Instagram algorithm, frankly, is a bitch. When only 10 percent of your total followers see your stuff on the regular, that’s frustrating. That means out of my 1,150 followers, my posts are only showing up in the feeds of 115 of them. The larger the follower count, the more harrowing that statistic becomes.


For as much as I crave all of the followers and maximum engagement, I still believe that quality trumps quantity, every time. Sure, I’m not experiencing the “like” totals I was last summer, but the quality of my engagement has been as golden as ever. I get messages from people who show their appreciation for what I do and honestly, they really lift my spirits. It makes me realize that if even one person is affected by the content that I post, then it’s all worth it.

Now over to you…

Have you ever been personally victimized by Instagram’s algorithm? Raise your hand…and then put your hand down and share your thoughts in the comments.

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I am not a professional. All opinions are my own. 

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