So, what’s the deal with social media algorithms? And how can we use them to our advantage?
If you’re like me, then you spend a lot of time on the internet—like, an embarrassing amount of time. It can feel magical to open up a social media website, go through a bunch of content, and then hit refresh and see a bunch of new content. But where does all this content come from? It’s not brand new. People are creating a lot of content all the time around the globe, but there isn’t that much new content every second… is there?
Well, yes and no. Yes, there is enough content being created every second that you could hit refresh as fast as possible and still see something new (if you were looking at every social media platform at once).
But content that you see when you refresh isn’t exactly new. It’s newly curated just for you.
In other words, every time you visit a social media website or refresh one, that site often attempts to show you content that is new for you. Social media algorithms are how social media websites decide what to show and in what order to their users.
One question people often ask is: why don’t social medias post their content in reverse chronological order (showing the newest stuff first)? Sometimes, social medias do show us content in chronological order. Twitter can even be set to chronological order.
But more often than not, an algorithm is deciding what we see. This gives social media companies more control with the type of experience that their users see. (It also helps social media companies harvest data by seeing what content we are specifically interested in).
How does the social media algorithm actually work?
On a basic level, social media algorithms track what each of us do on our accounts and then curates all of our content for us: whose posts we see, which comments are highlighted, and even what advertisements are presented to us.
On a more advanced level, we can’t really say. We can speculate on the finer details about how the algorithm works, but only those who actually work on the algorithm for the social media companies can say exactly how they work. Algorithms of this caliber are some seriously complicated coding. And social media companies like to keep the inner workings of their algorithms as mysterious as possible.
With that said, there are some aspects of the algorithm that we can discuss: how we can work with the algorithm to get better interaction and mistakes that we can make regarding the algorithm.
How can I best utilize Social Media Algorithms?
First things first, take time in creating what you post. A social media post, especially for a business, needs to be good quality. We can’t just post whatever we want whenever we want.
Social media platforms do not like that. It comes across like spam when we lots of “meaningless” content.
Instead, we should post well-crafted content. This involves having an actual message or presenting some topic of discussion for your followers.
You can also generate a social media personality for your business that is in line with your brand. For example, some of the most iconic Twitter accounts in the last few years have been international fast food chains. Who would have expected the burger chain Wendy’s to be so savage on the internet?
Many social media sites also have specific content that they prefer in their algorithm over others. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example, seem to have switched to prefer videos posts (not video links) on their platforms (https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-algorithms/).
To summarize a well-crafted social media post: take time to make it, consider your audience (your current followers and prospective followers), and figure out what type of content works for those two groups. Don’t be afraid to try new things so long as you keep the quality up.
Another social media best practice is to post frequently and regularly. This can be a challenge since we just discussed keeping the quality high, but social media algorithms seem to prefer when accounts post often as well.
Depending on what type of content you are producing for your social media, and what type of business you are running, this could mean posting once a week or many times a day. A good middle ground to aim for is to post a few times a week with high-quality, engaging content.
It’s important also to post at optimal times of the day and week. If your market is local, meaning in the same time zone, it’s probably not best to post at 3 a.m. when the majority of your followers are asleep.
Instead, you should post content when your interaction is likely to be higher.
One way to figure out when to post is to try out different times of the day and week for a short period of time (say, a month to three months), then the analytics will show when your best interaction times were.
It is also important to post regularly, as in, make a schedule to post on social media. This will not only help with how the social media algorithm views your account, but it will also help you to continue making content regularly.
One last social media algorithm best practice: interact with the community!
There is two main ways for interaction. First, you can create posts that allow your community to interact with you (such as asking an open-ended question to your community). Second, you can interact with posts created by other accounts and content creators.
We recommend a mixture of the two, especially because social media algorithms don’t like when accounts log on, post something, then log off. That seems too much like a bot to the algorithm.
Here’s some ideas for interactive content and how to interact with other’s content:
Ask your followers an open-ended question. Example: a social media account for an ice cream shop asking their followers to comment their favorite ice cream toppings (mine is caramel).
Do an occasional giveaway. Use this one sparingly as the social media algorithms might not appreciate this semi-artificial boosting. But when giveaways are done right, they can be a great way to generate long term followers. Example: Tell your followers that there is a giveaway, but to enter they have to like and comment, or interact with the content in some way.
Like and comment on content that is similar to yours, or adjacent to yours. Example: a landscaping business could like and comment on #topiary.
Lastly, reply to some of the comments on your own posts. Don’t go through and reply to every single one if there are a ton of comments, but responding to some comments can help show that your account is here to use social media as a social media. Beware: don’t feed the trolls—best to just ignore any troll comments.
And now, what practices do social media algorithms not like?
We covered a lot of these above, but again, don’t post shallow content, make sure your content is well put-together, quality is always better than quantity (though quantity is important too!), and don’t log on only to post and then immediately log off.
And lastly, keep in mind that developing a social media presence and community will take time. It requires serious time and energy (which is why companies often hire a social media specialist). Do be patient, and don’t resort to any shortcuts or “hacks.”
Occasionally on social media site, a trend will pop up that goes something like “tag your post with #SomeWord to instantly go viral.” We’re sorry to say, but those “hacks” don’t work.
Instead of looking for something to instantly boost your social media presence, focus on making small gains every single day. You got this.