How to Boost Brand Awareness with Instagram’s Search & Explore Feature

Instagram has exploded in popularity since its release in 2010, with an estimated 1 billion active monthly users as of July 2021, according to Statista. In response, brands are increasingly looking to Instagram to build brand awareness through both paid and organic content. Luckily, Instagram has recently added the new “Search and Explore” feature which aims to help users discover fresh posts, accounts, and topics based on their previous engagement.

How the Instagram Explore Algorithm Works
Frequent scrollers will be familiar with the Explore feature and its associated Explore page, as one of the main tabs that houses suggested posts that are unique for each user. This ever-refreshing content is generated using a two-step sorting process: the generation, or sourcing stage, and ranking stage. Generation refers to Instagram pulling “seed accounts” that a user has previously interacted with via liking, commenting, sharing or saving. Those “seed accounts” help to predict other accounts that may interest that particular user. Next, the algorithm creates a pool of tens of thousands of posts (including Stories and IGTV videos), which then gets reduced down to 500 posts ready to be ranked. During the ranking stage, Instagram filters those 500 posts down to the top 25 most likely to earn engagement. These curated 25 posts are displayed on a unique “Explore” page. Users need only to refresh the page to find a new and dynamic grid of content.

Instagram has also implemented a more robust search function that allows users to discover and interact with content that they previously may have struggled to find. When searching for a topic or keyword, users now have access to a curated grid of related content, in addition to accounts, hashtags, audio and locations.

Searchers can even browse through relevant topic categories along the top of the page. Another unique feature that Instagram has added into its search function is the ability to search for audio, similar to TikTok’s “sounds” feature. Users can search for a specific song and find any videos that use that specific audio, proving to be quite a time saver when hunting for a particular sound or song.

How to Optimize Instagram Posts for Search & Explore
With these new features in mind, here are a few tips to help brands use Instagram more efficiently.

Prioritize “Saveable” Content
Instagram’s algorithm uses interactions such as likes, comments, shares, and post saves in its algorithm to determine whether a post will be of interest. The platform is currently favoring post saving as its preferred metric due to its correlation with meaningful connection and engagement. Be sure to create save-worthy content as part of your social media strategy, such as motivational quotes, inspiration, or guides to popular cultural events or places that users will want to refer back to at a later time.

Use a Location Geo-Tag on Each Post
This is an easy way to reach users looking to explore a specific city or place t. Remember to test out different location tags when promoting new businesses, multi-location retailers, special events, place brands, and of course, real estate and development.

Add Several Strategic Hashtags
Hashtags are just as useful as location tagging if not more so, as Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags to be added to a post compared to a single location. However, just because you CAN include 30 hashtags, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. The general consensus is that 11 is the magic number of hashtags, with any more showing a decline in engagement. We suggest including no more than three hashtags in a post caption, and save the rest for the first comment spot. 

Add Alt Text to Images
In order to make your content as inclusive and accessible as possible, don’t neglect to include alternate, or alt-text in your post captions. These descriptions of social media images allow screen readers to describe photos to blind or visually impaired users. Although Instagram’s recognition technology can provide alt-text automatically, it can be highly inaccurate. Adding the text manually ensures that users are getting the most out of your content, with the added benefit of boosting your post’s relevance in the Instagram algorithm due to searchability of the supplemental content.

The Search and Explore feature provides a valuable tool for users to find content of interest while also offering brands a new opportunity to reach consumers. However, brands and marketers need to consider the Instagram dynamic algorithm when creating content in order to make it through the generation and ranking stages and increase their exposure. Instagram continues to expand and thrive as a massive social media platform, making it crucial for brands to dedicate resources for the channel in their marketing strategy.

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Jack Handley Marketing Intern Jack is a senior marketing student at the University of Mary Washington.

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