How to Decode Mysterious Social Media Algorithms: Part 1
Social media algorithms can seem like a puzzle to marketers. We have broken down this mystery to help your content perform better and appear more frequently on your customer’s feed.
What are social media algorithms and why do they exist?
Social media algorithms are automated calculations based on data that determine which content users see on their feed and in which order.
The platforms determine which content to show based on the behavior patterns of the user, such as which content they have engaged with in the past, what the platform thinks might interest the user, pages liked, keywords searched, and so on. In short, the platforms want to provide the best customized user experience, so they will show the user the kind of content they would like to see and engage with.
There are tons of photos, videos and posts uploaded on every social media platform every day. (Facebook: 300m photos uploaded/day, Instagram: 95m photos and videos shared/day, YouTube: 4,1m videos watched/ minute)
Without the algorithms, it would be impossible for the platforms to filter through all this vast content. And ultimately, the user experience would decline. Before the prevalence of these algorithms, most social media platforms displayed content to their users in reverse chronological order (latest content first). Over time, social media platforms have made paradigm shifts in the user experience by developing sophisticated algorithms which filter the content for the user, providing each user with a personalized experience based on their patterns of social media usage and preferences. For example, content published by the user’s “close” friends (i.e. contacts with whom the user interacts most frequently), will be displayed at the top of the user’s feed. Another example would be content published by accounts/pages managed by brands with whom the user engages with most on the platform.
From the perspective of these social media platforms, their objectives are not only to provide the best experience to the average user but also to provide a platform for brands to publish customized, targeted advertisements to the user community. This is great for the end user. However, for marketers, this impacts the reach of their content.
How do they work?
Social media algorithms exist to deliver relevant content to users. Sometimes the social media companies are transparent with their community about how to make their content rank high on their platforms, however, most social media companies prefer to be ambiguous and vague about the specifics of their algorithms.
Algorithms are based on machine learning, computational and statistical theories, and advanced data mining/analysis/processing techniques which allows the social media platform to sift through the tons of content uploaded every second by the user community. Pre-defined parameters and rules rank/categorize the content based on quality, engagement, geolocation, etc. The algorithms are highly confidential, intellectual proprietary property of the social media companies and as such, there is no definite way to find out how these algorithms work at a given point in time. Also, the algorithms are constantly evolving as social media companies keep tweaking the algorithms from behind the scenes without any notice to the user community. The best that marketers and brands can do in the face of this constant flux is to systematically experiment with their content strategies in tandem with whatever the platform reveals about its algorithm.
General tips to work with the algorithms on all social networks
- Increase engagement– Engagement is not just a buzz word. The more engagement garnered by a post, the more likely that it will be rewarded by the algorithm in terms of its reach within the user community. Asking questions, driving dialogue with other users via comments, likes, shares, and saves, are sure shot recipes to spread the reach of specific content. It can also help to tag relevant accounts (e.g., with a wider reach), when appropriate, to one’s post. Overall, these actions encourage users or other brands to engage with one’s content thus boosting its reach and engagement.
- Optimize launch windows for your content– Post content when your audience is most likely to be active. For B2B brands, this would be during specific time windows in the mornings (when many users commute to school/office and start their day), mid-morning (break time and lunch), evening (wrapping up/commuting) and the night (before going to bed). To target users from different geographies, posts must be aligned to the time zone of the users, and other practical realities (e.g., the weekend in the Middle East is Friday-Saturday). Marketers must put themselves in the shoes of their audiences as to when they would be most interested in the content.
- Frequency– Social media algorithms will reward accounts/pages that post on a frequent basis rather than every now and then. Marketers must plan ahead using content calendar and content scheduling tool to define and create the posts upfront with exact dates and times.
- Maximize video content– All social media networks reward native video content (video published on the platform and not an external link). Algorithms and users alike love video content, and platforms have been clear that they rank video content higher. Be sure to add subtitles to the videos, as adding subtitles increases the video views by 40%.
- Captions matter– Captions will increase the likelihood of your content connecting with your audience. Ensure that the caption does not seem too “sales-y.” Some great ways to develop captions is through storytelling and emotions, a touch of humor, including a CTA, etc., so experiment between long form and short form. Furthermore, captions on videos are highly recommended to capture the attention of the average social media user scrolling through the platform with their volume on mute.
- Experiment with your content– There is no rulebook, so brands must tweak and evolve their content strategies to figure out what works best for them. Try out:
- Different types of content– Post a variety of images, videos, gifs, etc., and see which give you best results.
- Different times of posting– Post at different times and the metrics will show when your posts receive the highest engagement.
- Long captions vs. short captions– Long captions can be used for storytelling and are known to engage users for longer periods. However, long captions may not be suitable to all types of content.
- Encourage advocates to engage with and push your content– Advocates can be your employees, brand ambassadors or influencers who will engage with your content, share with their network and give the right push for the algorithm to recognize your content and amplify its reach.
So, what next?
Every social network has its own way to curate their users’ feeds. It’s important to remember that algorithms are constantly evolving, so marketers will also need to constantly evolve their strategies. Knowing how the algorithms work is necessary to grow your social presence in the long term. While these strategies can help amplify the reach of your content, they’re not “one size fits all.” It’s essential to experiment until you find what fits and works for your brand.
And, for tips on each platform separately, keep an eye out for part 2 coming soon!
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