Social media algorithms are actually not as scary a topic as one would think. They are actually very helpful and help people sort through content so that only relevant content rather than completely random posts. However, in order to utilize social media algorithms to your advantage, it is vital to have a good understanding of what they actually are.
Defining social media algorithms
‘Social media algorithms are a way of sorting posts in a users’ feed based on relevancy instead of publish time.’
Once upon a time, many social media feeds displayed users’ content in a reverse chronological order. This meant that the newest posts from an account followed by a user appeared first on the feed (this is still an available option on Twitter and Facebook) however, many social media platforms have scrapped this option altogether.
With social media algorithms, content is delivered to you based on your online behaviour. For example, those you interact with the most are usually your close friends and family, hence, they are usually at the front and centre of your feed.
The same can be said for YouTube; your recommended videos are all based on your usual YouTube behaviour. The algorithm looks at videos and topics you have watched in the past as well as what people similar to you are watching in order to present you with a list of recommended videos. Other elements such as hashtags, keywords and categories also have an impact on your algorithm and the type of content that is likely to appear on your feed.
The controversy surrounding social media algorithms
The fact that social media algorithms have an impact on one’s reach, is the reason why they are so controversial. There are a few circumstances in which algorithms end up ‘hiding’ content even though it has been sufficiently optimized. However, there are also many instances in which random YouTube videos garner millions of views due to it consistently appearing on the recommendation lists of random viewers.
Furthermore, the fact that social media algorithms are constantly changing and evolving, means that educating yourself on the ins and outs of an algorithm may ultimately not be that beneficial. This results in constantly having to experiment with content and discover different ways to market content.
Different social network algorithms
Different social media platforms have different algorithms; it’s important to be aware of the differences in order to stay ahead of the changes. For example, Instagram used to have a reverse-chronological feed, however, since that change it has been quite difficult to stay on top of the algorithm. From 2016, Instagram’s algorithm changed to ‘prioritize the moments you care about’, similar to the algorithm of their parent company ‘Facebook’. Instagram describes their algorithm through the use of ranking signals which are as follows:
- Interest: finding content that appears to be of interest to you based on your engagement with similar topics
- Timeliness: recent posts are prioritized over older ones
- Relationship: the more you interact with specific content, the more their content is prioritized.
- Frequency: The amount of time you spend using Instagram has an impact on what your top post on your feed will be
- Following: The number of people you follow will affect what you see, you may see less content from a specific account if you follow many accounts.
- Usage: The more time you spend scrolling through Instagram, the more likely you are to see everything that the algorithm has to offer.
Algorithms vary from social media platform to social media platform however, the basic need for algorithms stays the same.
Due to the exceedingly high amount of content that is constantly sent into cyberspace (every minute), without social media algorithms, seeing all of this content would be impossible. This is especially the case with users who follow hundreds or thousands of accounts on one network. Algorithms play a key part in delivering the content you actually want to see whilst hiding content that is deemed irrelevant or of a low quality.
In theory this all sounds great, however, it is believed that social media algorithms also exist to coax brands to pay a premium to advertise their content. When a brand can’t reach their audience using organic methods, they opt for paid ads which results in more money for these social networks.
Social media algorithms are not going anywhere any time soon, therefore, it is important for brands to learn what the algorithms ‘want’ and use these patterns to their advantage.
How do social media algorithms work?
The basic function of social media algorithms is to deliver relevant content to users of social media. However, for a more in-depth understanding, algorithms involve machine learning and data science. The criteria they use to rank posts is something that is hard for the average marketing professional or social media user to wrap their head around, however, there are some social media networks that offer some transparency as to how to create and post high-performing content.
For example, in 2019, after many users called for Instagram to add a reverse-chronological option, Instagram responded with some Tweets that explained the algorithm in more detail stating that ‘your feed is personalized to you and evolves over time based on how you use Instagram’
Tips and Tricks to help ‘decode’ the algorithm
- Ask questions and encourage comments from your audience
- Tag other accounts in your posts
- Tack on the right hashtags
- Optimize your post timing to encourage engagement
- Figure out your publishing frequency
- Publish more video content across all networks
- Mind how you present your links and craft your captions
- When in doubt, experiment with different types of content
- Measure your social media performance via analytics.
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