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How to Change Your Instagram Story Viewer Rankings

Changing Story Viewer Rankings

Instagram is pushing Stories more and more, so much so that they’ve made their way to Facebook as a pushed element of their upcoming redesign. Obviously, they’re a powerful tool for audience engagement and marketing.

When you publish a Story, you will begin to see users listed on it as they view it. Instagram will build up a list of your “top viewers” for your Story. Now, there are a lot of theories about how that list is ordered, but until recently, there was no real definitive information. People assumed it fell down to who stalks you the most; your top viewers are the people who view your content the most. Is that correct? Let’s find out.

How to Check Your Story Viewers

If you want to see who has viewed your Story, you can see the list, temporarily. Stories are themselves inherently limited to 24 hours, even with the replay feature. You can also view the list of people who viewed your Story, for 24 hours, before that list becomes unavailable. It’s also worth noting that only you, the publisher of the story, are able to see the list of viewers. It’s not public information.

Viewer Lists Hidden After 24 Hours

To actually see the list, you need to open your story in the app – I don’t think this works on desktop – and swipe up on the screen. This will give you the number of people who have viewed the story, as well as the usernames of the people who have seen the content of the story. Instagram phrases this as “the people who have seen each photo or video in your story,” which is a little ambiguous to me. Do they mean that only people who see every part of the story are counted, or any person who has seen any part of the story? My suspicion is the former, but I haven’t personally tested it to be sure.

Fighting Suspicion

As I said, many people believe that the list of people who top your viewers list for your Stories is the list of people who stalk your profile the most. Under that assumption, someone who follows you and checks all of your content – but never engages by posting comments or liking it – would still show up at the top of the list. Meanwhile, more engaged users who just happen to miss some of your content wouldn’t be up at the top.

People have used this to fuel a lot of different narratives. Is Instagram revealing the people who stalk you? Is this a way of letting users know who their top users are, so they can reward them? If you see a name up there who you don’t want to see, can you use this as evidence that you should block them before they stalk you or dox you?

The fact is, this is almost the opposite of the truth. Instagram is not revealing the people who stalk you the most. In fact, it’s the people you stalk the most! The names that top the list are going to be the most familiar names to you, because it’s the people whose accounts you click through, whose content you like, and who you leave comments on the most. If you don’t believe me, believe the person who said it: Julian Gutman, head of Instagram Home and person behind Stories.

Instagram Revealing Stalkers

The reason you may see some names up there you don’t engage with personally might be through the activity of authorized apps, or it might be because of other elements of the algorithm. You can also, for example, see the names of your stalkers up there because you keep checking your stalkers accounts in case they do anything suspicious. Instagram’s algorithm doesn’t pay attention to why you’re checking another account, only that you’re checking it in the first place.

Additional Details

Now, this is all a bit muddier than it may sound. The list of top viewers is not solely determined by your own actions. For one thing, the people on the list do have to have watched the content in your Story before they can show up there. That’s why some of the people who you engage with the most won’t show up on the list; they didn’t see the content. They might see it later, or they might miss it entirely.

One clever trick you might use is sending the Story link to someone you specifically want to show it to, an influencer whose content you frequently engage in. You set the stage for them to appear on the top of the viewer list, and then you wait. If the influencer isn’t on the viewer list by the time the Story expires, there’s a decent chance they didn’t watch it.

How to Get Story Link

Of course, influencers are busy people and Stories are time sensitive. They might not have seen your message before it expires. They also might lie to you and say they loved it, when you have “proof” that they didn’t even see it.

I put proof in scare quotes here because I would not call this technique reliable. It involves being able to accurately manipulate the Instagram algorithm, and so I wouldn’t go calling someone out on it. On the other hand, if they do appear in your viewer list, you know that they comments they make are more likely to be genuine and that they’ve actually seen your content. That can be the sort of foot in the door you need to broaden your relationship with that influencer down the road.

In other words, if someone you’re crushing on shows up in the top of your viewers over and over, don’t take this as proof that they’re crushing on you in return. They might be, but it’s more likely that your actions on their profile are more influential than theirs on your profile.

In any case, the algorithm does have an impact. Some of the top viewers, or at least the order of the viewers, might vary based on other factors. I imagine that whether or not you follow them and they follow you has an impact; people who don’t follow you and who you don’t follow probably aren’t going to show up on the list. History of past engagement is also likely important. I can’t speculate on all of the different factors that go into the algorithm, of course; that’s a tightly guarded secret and it takes someone with a lot more resources than I have to reverse engineer it.

Instagram Feed Seen Unseen

Gutman does have some suggestions:

  • Do you visit their profile?
  • Do you like their feed posts?
  • Do you comment on their feed posts?
  • Do you view their stories?

There aren’t specifics, though. No one says how much weight each factor is given, or if some factors are given weight at all. If you send them a DM, does that build that meter up? Does it build higher if they respond? It’s also entirely possible that Instagram can access your connections on Facebook – since they’re connected systems – and can draw influence from there.

Here’s one more wrench for the idea that this is a fixed list of people: Gutman says that if you check your list multiple times, you will typically see a different selection of names. Some may be the same, but others will rotate. Instagram is trying to give you more information about who is viewing your Stories, rather than some fixed and ranked toplist.

Gutman does promote the idea that you can use the vague data Instagram provides to sort of create your own narrative. You can build relationships, or the ideas of relationships, where those relationships might not exist. You might take different actions and build closer friendships because of perceived actions that didn’t actually happen.

Of course, this may or may not be a good thing. Building a narrative that you’re a close friend with someone and thus bringing your friendship closer is a great end result. On the other hand, some vain and self-centered guy seeing the girl he crushes on at the top of his list over and over might build a very toxic narrative about a perceived relationship and what she may or may not owe to him, which has led to some very troubling actions in the past.

Am I blaming Instagram for violent and maladjusted men? Of course not. I’m just saying that perhaps this is one area in which a little bit of clarity might go a long way.

How the Algorithm Works

Instagram has been almost as tight-lipped about their algorithms as Facebook and Google have been about theirs. I say almost, though, because they did explain a significant portion of it back in the early months of 2018. You can read a pretty detailed breakdown of it here.

Instagram Algorithm Signals

The fact is, the algorithm is based heavily on the actions and interactions you make. When you’re liking content, when you’re commenting on it, you’re telling Instagram “this is the kind of content I want to see.” Since estimates from 2016 indicate the average user misses 70% of the content they could be seeing, Instagram is trying to give you the top 30% of the content that would appear in your feed, front and center. Interest is a major signal.

Just like on Facebook, the other major signals are things like the timeliness of the post, and the relationship you have with the poster. You’ll see more content from people who follow you back, and from people you frequently engage with. You’ll also be biased towards seeing newer, fresher content over older, staler content.

Timeliness is impacted by how often you browse, refresh, and open your app. If you only check every couple days, you’re going to see a heavily curated feed of the top content. If you check once an hour, you’ll see a mostly chronological feed, since they aren’t summarizing two days for you, they’re summarizing two hours.

Unlike Facebook, Instagram doesn’t hide anything. Every post will show up in your feed sooner or later, if you just keep scrolling.

How to Change Your Instagram Story Viewer Rankings

Let’s get back to the title of the post, shall we? Now that we understand something about how the top viewers list is created, how can you change it? As it turns out, there are several ways.

First of all, just refresh! Each time you visit the app and open your Story to see the viewer list, Instagram will give you a different list of people at the top. Some of them will be the same, some of them will be different, but the list will never be the same twice unless you have a very small pool of people viewing your Stories.

Secondly, go out and interact with new people! If you want to have certain accounts show up in the top viewer list more often, start engaging with those users more often on their posts and their feeds.

And third, of course: don’t worry about it. Since it’s not a public list, and it’s not a list of stalkers, it’s really not a worthwhile list at all. You can use it for a few tricks, like confirmation whether a friend has seen your Story or not, but you can’t really use it for any definitive value. I just wouldn’t bother caring about it all that much.

What do you think? Is there some hidden value to this top viewers list that I’m not seeing? Let me know how you use Stories in the comments below.


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