For those avid Instagram users, it's impossible to ignore the constant 'Who You Might Know' feature suggesting new accounts to follow.
At first glance, this seems like an innocent way for Instagram to connect people with shared interests or life events.
However, upon closer inspection, there are a few troubling realities behind how Instagram determines who you might know.
As an active Instagram user myself, I was curious to dig into the algorithms and data used to fuel these recommendations.
What I found was an uncomfortable truth that users should be aware of regarding privacy, data sharing, and the real motivations behind big tech companies like Instagram.
In this article, I'll break down how Instagram gathers information about you and who you know to make these suggestions and why you should pay closer attention to just how much of your data is being leveraged for their benefit.
What Does "Who You Might Know" on Instagram Really Mean?
As an avid Instagram user, I'm sure you've noticed the "Who You Might Know" section that appears on the app.
This feature recommends new accounts you may want to follow based on your current follows and interactions.
But how exactly does Instagram determine these suggestions?
Instagram's algorithm analyzes your followers, likes, comments, and posts to detect patterns in the types of accounts you engage with.
It identifies characteristics like:
Common interests or hobbies like travel, food, or fitness
Location or education info in bios
Frequently used hashtags
Accounts that your followers also follow
The algorithm then scans Instagram's database of hundreds of millions of accounts to find matches with similar attributes.
Those matches become your "Who You Might Know" suggestions.
Some tips to improve your recommendations:
Follow more accounts in your areas of interest.
The more data points the algorithm has, the better it can tailor suggestions to you.
Engage with the accounts you already follow by liking and commenting on their posts.
Interacting with accounts signals to Instagram that you're interested in those types of profiles.
Add relevant info to your bio like your location, hobbies, or occupation.
This context helps Instagram determine your affinities and suggest accounts you may genuinely want to follow.
Be selective in who you follow.
Only follow accounts that post content you're actually interested in.
Following too many random or unrelated profiles will confuse Instagram's algorithm and result in less relevant recommendations.
By understanding how the "Who You Might Know" feature works, you can take steps to optimize your Instagram experience and discover new accounts that you'll genuinely want to follow.
The power is in your hands - or should I say, in your likes, comments, and follows.
How Instagram Generates Suggestions for Who You Might Know
As an avid Instagram user, I've often wondered how the social media platform generates its "Who You Might Know" suggestions.
After some research, I've discovered the algorithms behind these recommended connections.
Instagram's software analyzes your followers and follows lists to find mutual connections.
If several of the people you follow also follow another user you don't currently follow, that user will likely appear as a suggestion.
The more connections you share, the higher up they'll appear on the list.
The algorithm also considers location.
If you follow many accounts in a specific city or region, Instagram may recommend other users from that area.
The platform recognizes that you may know them or share common interests.
Your interests and behaviors
Beyond your direct connections, Instagram monitors how you interact with the app.
The hashtags you search, geotags you use, and posts you like or comment on indicate your interests and hobbies.
If another user exhibits similar behaviors, they may pop up as a recommendation.
The algorithm tracks how often you're active, what times you use the app, the frequency of your posts and stories, and how quickly you engage with others.
It then matches you with users who share comparable social media habits.
While the suggestions aren't always perfect, Instagram's algorithms aim to make personalized recommendations that lead to new connections and an improved experience for each user.
The system will continue learning from the community's interactions and updating its suggestions to become more accurate over time.
Factors That Influence Who Instagram Recommends You Follow
Instagram’s algorithm considers several factors when determining who to recommend that you follow in the ‘Who You Might Know’ section.
Instagram looks at the accounts you already follow and who follows them.
If many of the same people follow an account, Instagram assumes you may also be interested in that account.
For example, if you follow many fitness influencers and nutritionists, Instagram may recommend other similar accounts in that niche.
Location and Hashtags
The locations you tag and hashtags you use in your posts provide Instagram with information about your interests and hobbies.
If you frequently use hiking or tag locations like national parks, Instagram may suggest following other hiking and outdoor accounts.
Similarly, if you follow many accounts in a specific city, Instagram may recommend other accounts from that location.
Likes and Comments
The accounts you interact with by liking and commenting on their posts signal to Instagram that you find those accounts engaging.
As a result, Instagram may recommend similar accounts.
For example, if you often like and comment on posts from travel bloggers, Instagram may suggest following other travel influencers and destination accounts.
Instagram also considers the number of followers you have in common with other accounts.
If you follow many of the same people as another account, especially a large portion of their followers, Instagram assumes you may be interested in following them as well.
For public figures or influencers, a high number of shared followers is a good indicator you may engage with their content.
Should You Follow the Suggested Accounts? Pros and Cons
The ‘Who You Might Know’ feature suggests new accounts you may want to follow based on your current follows and interactions.
While connecting with new like-minded users can be beneficial, it’s important to consider the pros and cons before following suggested accounts.
Find new interests.
The algorithm may suggest accounts discussing topics you’re interested in but haven’t explored yet on Instagram.
Following them can expose you to new ideas and communities.
Expand your network.
Connecting with suggested accounts, especially those in your industry or area of expertise, can help grow your professional network.
Some may follow you back, leading to new opportunities and collaborations.
Discover popular accounts.
Suggested accounts with a high number of followers are often popular influencers, brands, or public figures in a particular niche.
Following them can keep you on the pulse of current trends and conversations.
The ‘Who You Might Know’ feature tracks your activity and follows to determine suggestions.
If you value your privacy, you may not want Instagram monitoring your behavior and connections to such a degree.
Not all suggestions will be useful or interesting to you.
The algorithm isn’t perfect and may suggest accounts you have no interest in following.
Following too many suggested accounts could fill your feed with posts that aren’t relevant or meaningful to you.
It may become hard to keep up with close friends and family.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Seeing a constant stream of curated posts from popular suggested accounts could stoke feelings of inadequacy in your own life and social connections.
Social comparison can negatively impact wellbeing.
Tips for Managing Your Instagram Recommendations
As an avid Instagram user, the “Who You Might Know” feature can be helpful for discovering new accounts to follow.
However, the recommendations are based on an algorithm that analyzes your followers, likes and comments.
If you want to improve the suggestions and weed out accounts that don’t interest you, here are some tips:
Be selective with your follows.
Only follow accounts that post content you genuinely want to see.
Following hundreds of random accounts in hopes of gaining followers back often leads to poor recommendations from Instagram.
Take the time to evaluate profiles before following to ensure your feed won’t become cluttered.
Like and comment thoughtfully.
The accounts you interact with the most will factor heavily into your recommendations.
Only like and comment on posts from accounts you want to see more of in your feed and suggestions.
Double tapping mindlessly while scrolling can skew the algorithm.
Use the “Hide” option.
If you see an account in your “Who You Might Know” that you have no interest in following, tap the three dots next to their profile and select “Hide.” This sends a signal to Instagram that you do not wish to see that account suggested again.
You can always change your mind and unhide accounts.
Revise your interests.
The interests you list in your profile settings play a role in the accounts suggested to you.
Review your interests to ensure they are current and accurately reflect the types of accounts you wish to follow.
Interests like food or travel are too broad, so specify cuisines or destinations that appeal to you.
Clean up your followers.
Go through the list of accounts you currently follow and unfollow any that you no longer wish to see in your feed.
Having followers that don’t match your interests can negatively impact your recommendations.
An unfollow spree may seem harsh but will lead to an improved experience on Instagram in the long run.
With a few adjustments, you can gain more control over and improve the relevancy of the accounts Instagram recommends you follow in the “Who You Might Know” feature.
Curating your Instagram experience will make your time on the app more enjoyable and inspiring.
Let's face it, the 'who you might know' feature on Instagram is designed to keep us endlessly scrolling and clicking in hopes we'll follow more accounts, like more photos, and ultimately spend more time using the app.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with discovering new connections or staying up to date with acquaintances' lives, it's important to be aware of how this feature is engineered to be highly engaging and even addictive.
My advice is to use 'who you might know' sparingly and selectively, being intentional about who you choose to follow.
Take control of your social media experience rather than letting the algorithms control you.
Follow people who truly enrich your life, not just expand your network.
With some self-discipline, we can benefit from new connections on Instagram without becoming slaves to the scroll.