Understanding social media algorithms
If you work in social media you’ve probably had to explain a million times how social media algorithms work – and how an algorithm change can affect your organic reach.
Essentially, the algorithms on channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even LinkedIn were created because there is an overwhelming amount of content out there. While many people were happy with chronological timelines (and Twitter now allows you to switch back to this), algorithms were designed to show posts that it believes people are more likely to enjoy or engage with, based on previous engagement.
While each platform has a different algorithm, the majority work in a similar way: when you post, your content is served to a small group of users to measure the initial success and engagement. If it performs well, the post will be served to more followers – and will be spread further every time a follower or connection shares, likes or comments on the post.
Here, we take a look at six main things you need to know about social media algorithms, to make sure that you understand how your content can perform the best it can.
It’s been a year since Zuckerberg announced a change in Facebook’s algorithm to put more of a focus on friends and family than brand content.
At the time, it led to a lot of fear for brands that it would be the end of Facebook for businesses - but for those who worked to change their approach, the dip has been small. The idea behind Facebook’s change, which is also used by other social channels, is to drive ‘meaningful social interactions’. According to Zuck, a meaningful interaction includes a friend sharing or commenting on a post, and people having a conversation in the comments.
The same is true of Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn – more engagement on a post will lead to it being seen by more people. Similarly, your content is likely to be seen by people who already engage with it. This is particularly true of the algorithm on Twitter (especially with the 'in case you missed it' functionality).
When it comes to sharing, a post which is shared with a comment will be given a higher ranking under the algorithm than one just directly retweeted or shared with no caption or comment.
If people do begin to comment on a post, brands need to make sure that they respond or engage when possible. This additional level of engagement also helps to boost the post in relation to the algorithm.
It shows that the page is not just having a one-way conversation and pushing content - and it's good community management practice anyway!
Social algorithms reward you for having regular content – it suggests that you add value. Posting once a day, or once every few days, means that you can feature higher in users’ timelines.
However, it’s important not to take it too far the other way and post too often – the algorithm will read this as spam. Instead, try to post quality content.
No click or engagement bait
You won’t believe what algorithms think of click bait…
For the past few years, Facebook has been battling against click bait and engagement bait in posts, and pages that deliberately try to trick the algorithm are being penalised.
This includes ‘like and share’ competitions (which are technically against the rules of Facebook), ‘tag a friend’ and ‘like for x, love for y’ vote baiting.
Twitter has also had a crackdown, but with a focus on bots. In 2018, it implemented API changes than now prevent bots from automatically liking, retweeting or batch tweeting from accounts.
Since platforms base the algorithm for the post on the initial reaction to a post, it’s key to plan the timing to when your audience are online and active.
This can be different for each brand and even on a channel by channel basis, so it’s worth looking into your analytics to see when your followers are online as well as taking a note of when you get the most engagement. For example, you may notice that 7pm on a Thursday performs best on Facebook, while 2pm on a Saturday is best for Instagram.
It should come as no surprise that social channels want you to stay ON the channel and not drive users away elsewhere.
Facebook in particular wants people to stay on the page and prefers native content. That means uploading videos directly to the channel rather than posting a YouTube link wherever possible. It’s worth noting that Facebook has also specifically said that it will prioritise live video, as this generates more engagement than other content.