How to Harness the Instagram Reels Algorithm to Go Viral

Alexis Juanita

Instagram Reels is a fantastic opportunity for creators. It’s one of the hottest features on the platform and a way to supercharge your Instagram growth.

Reels is a direct competitor to TikTok and targets the same type of content – short-form video. Recent statistics show that while emerging TikTok influencers earned around 18% more engagement than influencers on other platforms, Reels outpace other Instagram content by 22% in terms of engagement rates.

Some creators grew their audience by 60K in six months by switching to a Reels-only strategy.

Why does this work so well?

It’s because Reels get 22% more engagement than regular posts.

But to succeed with Reels, you need to win over the Instagram Reels algorithm. It’s this algorithm that decides which content goes viral on the platform.

Here’s everything you need to know about Instagram Reels algorithm.

What Is the Instagram Reels Algorithm?

Instagram launched Reels in August 2020, allowing users to post short-form video content.

The main goal of Reels was to go neck and neck against TikTok, and its dominance, especially among Gen Z.

Once you publish your Reel, it will be pushed straight to your existing followers’ feeds. But beyond that, it’s the Instagram Reels Algorithm that decides where it goes.

There are two main places where Instagram users can discover Reels by new creators. They’re both curated by the Instagram Reels Algorithm.

The first is the Reels tab, Instagram’s take on TikTok’s “For You” page.

Reels tab

The second is the Explore tab, which serves users a generous helping of Reels alongside Stories and regular posts.

Instagram Reels Algorithm

The Instagram Reels Algorithm determines whether your content gets featured in these spaces. If yes, then whole new audiences get to explore your stuff.

When you upload a new Reel, this algorithm analyzes it, considering many factors.

It categorizes your content and evaluates whether it will appeal to viewers who don’t follow you yet. Because ultimately, Instagram’s goal is to drive overall engagement. The algorithm’s job is to vet your Reel to make sure it can help achieve this.

Why Should Reels Be a Part of Your Instagram Marketing Strategy?

Two years after its launch, Reels remains one of the most popular features on Instagram.

The platform still actively pushes Reels to compete with TikTok and other rivals, such as YouTube Shorts. That means it’s a huge opportunity for creators to grow their reach.

In fact, a recent analysis found that reach rates for Reels were far higher than for other types of Instagram content. Interestingly, this effect is even stronger for smaller, still-growing accounts.

For example, Reels posted by accounts with less than 5,000 followers have average reach rates of 39.5%. That’s over 10x as much as the 3.5% for carousels and 2.4% for regular image posts. If your account has between 5,000 and 10,000 followers, those numbers are 30.0%, 3.8%, and 2.5%, respectively.

Overall, Reels account for over 20% of the time users spend on Instagram, according to data released by Meta in April 2022.

The average Instagram user watches a handful of reels daily – and the Instagram Reels Algorithm decides which ones.

How Does the Instagram Reels Algorithm Work?

There are several layers to the Instagram Reels Algorithm. Its main job is determining how relevant your content is to various target audiences.

To do that, it needs to know what your clip is all about and who could be interested in it. So, it:

  • Analyzes the tags you used.
  • Analyzes your clips’ frames and audio track.
  • Takes into account when your Reel is posted.
  • Takes into account past interactions between an audience and a creator.

First, this helps the algorithm categorize your content to see what niche it belongs to.

There’s another reason for this analysis.

The algorithm is also checking if your content really is original and adapted for Reels. If it’s re-posted from TikTok or YouTube Shorts, has the wrong dimensions or low-res images, or even violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines, you’re out.

The reason why the Reels algorithm takes into account when a Reel is posted is that Instagram favors recent content. A Reel already a few weeks or months old probably won’t go viral.

This is why creators must pinpoint the best time to publish their Reels – to ensure their audience is online and ready to like it.

Engagement is the next big factor in the Instagram Reels algorithm.

The recommendation runs on positive feedback: Reels that already got a fair share of likes and comments have a higher chance of being boosted by the algorithm. So if you already have an engaged audience, your chances of winning at Reels are higher.

Plus, the algorithm is much more likely to recommend your Reels to users who have interacted with your content in the past.

That said, the combination of factors that the algorithm uses to decide which Reels to push is complex enough so that even new creators have a decent chance of success.

As long as you follow a few basic ground rules.

Let’s have a look.

How to Benefit from the Instagram Reels Algorithm

Want to win over the Instagram Reels Algorithm? All you need to do is…

1. Ensure Your Content Is Fun and Engaging

Make your viewers laugh. Teach them some useful hacks. Inspire them! The first prerequisite for success on Reels is to be original, to be yourself, all while keeping your audience’s needs in mind.


For instance, Louis Vuitton leverages the magical power of childhood imagination in their latest Christmas-themed reel, which generated over 2.8 million views and over 62K likes.

2. Play by Instagram’s Rules

Ensure you stick to the rules for whatever content you create.

As the platform states in its Recommendation Guidelines: “We work to avoid making recommendations that could be low-quality, objectionable, or sensitive, and we also avoid making recommendations that may be inappropriate for younger viewers.”

Apart from hurting your Reel’s chances of going viral, posting content violating these guidelines can negatively impact public perception of your brand.

3. Keep Your Content Civil

Ensure your reels are civil, free of misinformation, violence, and other potentially offensive material.

false infomation

The above screenshot shows how Instagram warns users of false information by putting a giant warning across the post.

giant warning across

As these screenshots by The Verge shows, content that violates community guidelines will not only be ignored by the Reels algorithm but also may be deleted. Furthermore, you also risk your account getting deleted.

4. Give Your Reels Visual Panache

You can do this by harnessing Instagram’s full range of features.

Browse trending audio bits. Add filters. Experiment with camera features. You can start slow and progressively test your way through the entire range of Reels features.

Tom Webste

This Reel by Tom Webster harnesses a quick succession of shots from different angles – ground-based and aerial, establishing shots and action shots, all with appropriate filters, timed to follow the beat of a trending audio clip.

5. Deep-Dive Into Tags

Once you’re happy with your clip, highlight your Reel’s relevance and help the algorithm categorize it.

You can add up to 30 tags, but three to five carefully selected ones usually do the trick.

kangaroo harnesses

This Reel of a buff kangaroo harnesses numerous tags that will signal to animal lovers, Reels addicts, and connoisseurs of funny videos that this is the content for them.

6. Follow Up On Your Reels

See what works and what doesn’t.

Go to Instagram Insights and spend some time on your clips’ analytics. This will help you pinpoint what type of content resonates with your audience, which tags give you the greatest reach, and when the best time to publish your Reels is.

Harness Advanced Tools to Win Over the Reels Algorithm

You should also consider more advanced social media tools to take your Instagram content to the next level and hit the Reels Algorithm’s sweet spot.

Instagram Insights is a good basis for a better understanding of your content performance. But to truly succeed, you need to level up.

More sophisticated tools allow you to automate your social media marketing, similar to email automation, and personalize your content for your audience.

For instance, you can get more in-depth analyses of your Reels’ reach and your audience’s preferences. Analyze tag performance, gain audience insights, and identify your biggest fans.

With SocialPilot, for instance, you can easily find out when the maximum number of your viewers is online and schedule your Reels to publish at that exact time.


Instagram Reels is the single fastest-growing feature on the platform. It’s a fantastic way for creators to expand their reach and grow their audience.

Understanding and catering to the Instagram Reels algorithm is a crucial part of that. It’s essential to know what drives the algorithm to recommend original, high-res content tailored to Reels, to pinpoint the right tags, and to find the best time to post.

Armed with this knowledge and the right tools, you can be unstoppable on Reels. Harness the power of the Reels Algorithm, go viral, and expand your reach. It’s time to get growing!

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