Don’t Blame the Algorithm – Look Elsewhere

It’s been posted in blogger Facebook groups, it’s been texted furiously to our friends, and it’s been talked about on IG stories – THE ALGORITHM! How DARE Instagram change the algorithm from chronological! (agree) How annoying is it to now have our posts shown to people who chose to follow us?! (agree) How come the algorithm RUINED my engagement?! STOP.

I USED to agree with that statement. I cursed the algorithm to friends, family, and even a Starbucks barista or two. I blamed INSTAGRAM and its money hungry execs for lowering my organic reach and making my engagement suffer as a result, hoping that I fall into promoting my posts to get that exposure back.

It’s sure not my content, I assured myself. My photos are the best they’ve ever been! It HAS TO BE the algorithm! What else could it be?!

The answer, dear friends, is my following.

instagram photo from 2012
One of the first photos I ever posted to Instagram in January 2012. I was a senior in high school.

I made my Instagram account in December 2011, back when Instagram was something no one knew about. I remember exactly where I was when I downloaded it and what my first post was (ice skating at Queeny Park, I posted a pic of my skates). I was among one of the first of my friends, let alone people in the world, to download the app. My account has been active for 7+ years. In that time, think of how many people created accounts, lost passwords, then created new ones. Think of how many people stopped logging on completely. 

I also participated in the “loop giveaway” fad that was ever-popular in 2017. Kylie lip kits, iPhones and more were given away by groups of Instagrammers of all niches, sizes and quality. I remember being in a giveaway that had 50% male participants from Mexico (RED FLAG!) but was assured by a popular blogger that it was legit (IT WASN’T!). I caught on in fall of that year and swore to never do that kind of mass international giveaway again. I do giveaways now, but they’re either me just picking one of you, or in a group with like-minded people & quality accounts giving away very specific items that are targeted toward our demographics. LOTS of thought and strategy goes into these! I guarantee you NONE went into the old “loops” as they called them.

Finally, I used to use 30 “spammy” hashtags on EVERY post. Back before Instagram got vigilant about “fraudulent” engagement, people had programmed computers to instantly “like” and comment on any post under pre-determined hashtags. #blogger #ootd #cute were just a few of the ones I used nearly daily. I got so many followers and likes from them…  but I realize now that this was all fake and done by automization services. Note: When the first “dip” in engagement happened in mid 2017 (every single account was affected) it was because Instagram shut down nearly every one of these services. Everyone lost at least 1% engagement because we were getting 1% MORE fake engagement without even knowing it.

All these factors finally came together in my mind and made me realize that my engagement is not shot down because of the new algorithm. Rather, the new algorithm highlighted the fact that I need to clean out my follower list! There are spammy, giveaway, and forgotten accounts there that are negatively impacting my IG performance.

Let me give you a BRIEF breakdown of how the new Instagram algorithm works (or, at least, what us outsiders can gather). There are about 10 major factors that go into determining whose posts will be shown to what percentage of their following. HOWEVER – the one constant in the new algorithm is that your photo is shown to a fraction of your followers. If the fraction is super into the picture, liking and commenting up a storm, the algorithm allows MORE people to view your picture, resulting in higher engagement. If the fraction scrolls by and doesn’t like OR (and here’s the kicker) isn’t active on their account, Instagram’s algorithm thinks, “hmm, no one’s a fan,” and stops showing it.

Because there are these “ghost” accounts in my follower list, my engagement is lower. Therefore, in order to increase my engagement, I must clear them out of my follower list completely.

I’ve had the idea before. I’ve tried searching in-app, going “AA” “AB” all the way to “ZZ” and blocking weird looking accounts. I’ve come to learn that the app can only load the last 1,000 users to follow you when you search your “Follower” tab. This method does not work for deep diving into the history of my followers.

It took me a while, but I finally figured out a way to do it. I can view ALL my followers, details to help me determine if I should keep them or cut them, and a system to keep myself accountable. The best part? IT’S WORKING. My hypothesis about the algorithm and my audience has been proven! My reach is up, my story views are doubled, my engagement is easily hitting 2% (the cutoff of “normal” engagement) within hours of posting versus sometimes taking DAYS… I am really excited about this! I’ll be posting a before/after blog post sometime with exact numbers about my reach, story views, likes, etc. – things that bloggers consider secrets.

I plan on continuing with my strategy, and then streamlining it to share with all of you. This does mean that my follower count will be dropping. As I type this, I am barely at 30K still. It was a huge milestone for me to hit. I remember being at home with my mom and my aunt realizing it happened and instantly screaming and telling me. It may sound silly, but I’m getting teary eyed thinking about it. It was a career step. It showed that I had made progress after taking the blog full-time. It put me on the radar of bigger brands who only work with 30K+ bloggers. Now, I’m about 10 blocked accounts away from being back under 30K. I know that the quality of a follower versus the quantity is what matters, especially as more and more brands are asking for screenshots of your audience stats and post performance. I know that in the long run, this is the right move. I know that it’s setting my business up for further success. I know that I consider this process important ethically. All these things that “I know” don’t make the feeling of taking a giant step backwards any less hard. With prayer and reflection, it’s getting easier to pull myself out of those low moments and get excited about the spike in reach, engagement, and quality connections with all of you.

I am reminding myself that I am more than a follower count, and I urge all of you to do the same.

If you’re a blogger who’s been blaming the algorithm – take a look at your account’s history and see if you have any similarities with my story. Maybe there are other things you’ve done that have created similar “ghost” followers. Don’t take a shortcut through buying likes or Telegram groups. Cleaning your following up will be a slice of humble pie (one that I know God gave me directly) and a step in the right direction for your business.

As for me – I’ll be looking forward to the next 30K milestone, when I hit it for good thanks to real, awesome people like you supporting me.

XO Cait

I'm Caitlin, a Chicago twenty-something turned blogger who shares outfits, inspo, good deals and so much more. welcome to my corner of the internet!

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  1. Melina wrote:

    Amen sister! You’ve totally Inspired me to clean out my followers! I’ve been nervous as well because I just finally hit 5k (hey it’s no 30k but it’s a start) and the thought of dipping below again killed me but after reading how it literally affects everything I’m totally cleaning this weekend. Great post boo ?? Can’t wair to hear about your method!

    Posted 1.23.19 Reply
    • Caitlin wrote:

      thank you, friend!! authentic followings make us so much more valuable to brands and ensure we maintain connections with our readers <3

      Posted 1.24.19 Reply
  2. Courtney wrote:

    I just went through and did this and I lost over 500 followers! My following is still pretty small on Instagram, so I had some hesitation, but I’m so happy I did it.

    Do you mind sharing a bit more on your system for how you view the details on who follows you? I was doing all of this in-app and got a little overwhelmed.

    Posted 3.22.19 Reply
    • Caitlin wrote:

      I will be doing a detailed blog post soon 🙂

      Posted 3.29.19 Reply