Algorithm this. Algorithm that…
What the heck is a social media algorithm and why is everyone talking about it?
With all the changes taking place on your favourite platforms, there is a lot of discussion about how to create content effectively so your audience will actually see it. But a lot of people forget that when you create content, yes you are creating it for the platform, but first and foremost you’re creating it for your audience.
So what does this all mean? Let’s break it down.
What is a social media algorithm?
Social media algorithms kind of feel like a gatekeeper to your content… Or a troll under a bridge that refuses to let you cross. But when you think of it, there are so many users on each platform sharing SO MUCH content, social media platform developers figure it would be too overwhelming to leave it up to people to sift through. So, they created algorithms to help. (It’s either smart or one step closer to robot domination – I’ll let you choose. 😉) Regardless of how you feel about algorithms, they are here to stay, so you need to know how it all works.
A social media algorithm ranks social media posts based on set rules and data associated with the platform – things like overall engagement, content type, shares, and quality. They analyze user behaviour so they can present what they determine is relevant and high quality content every time a user signs in. Because we’re all unique, how social media algorithms read our behaviour is also unique, so our social feeds are all different – we’re like snowflakes!
How do social media algorithms work?
You know WHAT it is, but you also need to know how the algorithm works for each social platform you are on. And they like to keep things fresh, so things are constantly changing. But if you understand the basics, you can build your strategy around that. Let’s break down the basics of how four of the top algorithms work:
Based on machine learning and data science, Facebook’s algorithm looks at:
- Content source: From brands to friends, family, and everything in between, it’s all based on who users follow and engage with a source. The more they engage, the more content they will be shown from that source.
- Content type: Again, based on what users like the most – but think video, pictures, and links.
- Engagement: Any time a user interacts with your content (likes, comments, shares) it signals higher quality content.
Instagram has been going through… a lot of changes these days. This can present as a huge challenge to marketers. The platform’s algorithm affects the order of posts in a user’s feed, featured content on the explore page, whether or not your Reels are featured, and the order of featured stories at the top of user feeds. Overall, you need to know about three things:
- Engagement: The more users interact with your content the more your content will be shown to them.
- Content Type: It’s no secret that Instagram is gravitating towards Reels (video) and they are prioritizing Reels content above all else at the moment.
- Relevancy and Quality: Based on user preference, how likely are users to interact with and share your content.
Twitter uses machine learning, but you should focus on these things:
- Relevancy: This can be anything from topic, timing, and even location of a content source.
- Engagement: The more someone engages with your content the more likely your content will be shown to users.
- Content Type: Images, videos, GIFs, and polls do well on the platform rather than just text-based content.
The “belle of the ball” these days… You need to focus on appearing on For You Pages. There are a few factors to consider:
- Engagement: How users interact with yours and other content will fuel the platforms recommended content.
- Content: Your captions, hashtags, sounds, and filters affect who your videos will be shown to. If someone interacts with a lot of similar content, then your content will be recommended.
- Account: Location and language settings are used to suggest content and creators to users on the platform.
How do I create content when algorithms exist?
Well… you just… create it. Sigh… If only it were that simple, right!?
Here are a few key takeaways from the simplified breakdown of the algorithms:
- Know your audience: It’s hard to be all things to all people and you need to get consistent engagement with people who are your customers and potential customers so your content is shown to them more. So pick a niche and create content for that niche.
- Stay current, stay relevant: Check out what’s trending on your social platforms and create content based on that – but make it your own. This could be trending topics, trending content types, etc. We’ve created a handy guide to figure this out!
- Use hashtags wisely: Don’t spam tag your content – on any platform. Choose your hashtags based on the content you have created and based on keywords that are relevant to your audience and business. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re using keywords in your captions as well – it’s not just about the hashtag.
- Encourage engagement: What do you want your audience to do? Do you want them to comment? Share? Like? Why not ask? But remember it’s not just about asking for engagement; it’s about giving them a REASON to engage as well.
- Stay consistent: Posting a flurry of posts when you get started and then disappearing for a month isn’t helpful. Neither is posting once per week. You need to post consistently on whatever platform you have chosen. It may take a little trial and error to see what the optimal posting frequency is, but the key is to remain consistent. And remember that consistency is also related to timing, so you need to figure out when your audience wants to hear from you.
- Know what type of content performs best: If the platform you’re on wants video, you need to create more video (hello, Instagram!). It’s also important to remember that things like watermarks from other platforms may affect your quality score if you share with a watermark across all socials. For example, Instagram isn’t fond of TikTok watermarks on reels shared to the platform.
- Get social: I’ve talked about this a lot, but social media has “social” in the title or a reason. Each platform likes it when you’re active. That means content sharing and engaging with other people on the platform.
- Quality is Queen: Each algorithm is there to determine whether your content is high or low quality. Focus on creating high quality content rather than just churning out as much content as possible. Your followers and other social media users won’t interact with your content unless they find it interesting, so you need to start listening and figure out what is interesting to your audience – go beyond content. You need to surprise and delight with a little bit of entertainment.
Candace Huntly is the Founder at SongBird Marketing Communications, an award-winning agency working to take organizational and individual brands to the next level. With a passion for all things related to creativity and strategy, she specializes in media relations, influencer marketing, organic community engagement, content, and adapting strategies for any sized business – large or small. Basically, if you need to put your brand, product, or cause in the public eye, she will find a way to do it, while making the approach unique to you.
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A version of this article was originally posted to the SongBird Marketing Communications blog.