Everything you need to know about social media algorithms
Given its growing importance in digital marketing, attention has steadily shifted towards social media algorithms. Whether you’re searching online, scrolling through your social media feed or receiving recommendations from Netflix, you are being guided by an algorithm that understands your consumption habits perhaps more than you do.
Social media algorithms show people things they’re most interested in and likely to engage with. This is based on two factors:
Algorithmic quality: the quality standard of the content available.
Your previous history: the actions and reactions you’ve taken to specific content in the past.
Why do social media algorithms exist?
There is an endless amount of content floating around in the social media space. Literally thousands of posts, photos and videos published every minute. Without algorithms, sifting through all of this content would be impossible. So algorithms do the legwork of delivering what you want and weeding out content that is deemed irrelevant or low quality.
In theory, that is.
How do social media algorithms work?
Networks are traditionally vague about the specifics of their algorithms. But through experimenting and trial-and-error, it can be easy to identify algorithms. But the key is finding a balance between what an algorithm wants and creating compelling content for your audience.
Here are some general algorithm-outsmarting strategies that work across all channels.
Ask questions to encourage comments from your audience
Social media algorithms treat engagement (i.e. likes, comments and shares) as a snowball effect. So the more engagement a post gets, the more likely it is to be shown to more people.
Therefore a simple way to encourage engagement is by creating discussion and asking questions. This way, you’re connecting with your audience at the same time.
Tag other accounts in your posts
Tagging other accounts serves as an invitation for more users to check out and hopefully engage with your content. If you’re mentioning another business, brand or customer, always tag their account accordingly.
This tactic can be applied to tag-a-friend posts where people are invited to tag friends in response to a question or comment. But this should be used sparingly rather than engagement bait. They are especially useful for promotions such as giveaways.
Optimise your post timing
Timing is a huge factor in determining how much engagement a piece of content will receive. Posting when your audience is most likely to be active means that your posts are more likely to be seen and engaged with. The best times to post on social media vary on different platforms and for different businesses. Conduct some of your own research and look at analytics such as Instagram Insights, which clearly tells you the times and days your followers are most active.
Social media algorithms tend to reward accounts that post on a frequent basis rather than every so often. This is why it’s important to create a content calendar that allows you to regularly post. I recommend using Buffer, a free online tool to schedule posts in advance and manage multiple platforms in one place.
Publish more video content
All platforms’ algorithms favour video content (published straight to the platform rather than an external link). Whether it’s a looping video or a mini commercial, any type of video is fair game.
Mind how you present your links and craft your captions
You won’t see posts simply promoting a link and nothing else gain much engagement. Social media algorithms don’t want to see accounts share links and walk away – it’s spammy. Instead, provide context to your links and promotions. Spice up your captions with some commentary or humour.
Try to tone down transactional terms such as “buy now” which could potentially flag your posts as being too salesy.
Experiment with different types of content
I always tell my clients this. Variety is key! Keep followers on their toes and stay in the good graces of any given algorithm by experimenting with different types of content. Here are some examples:
- Image-based posts versus text-based posts
- Long-form versus short-form videos
- Content with links versus content without links
- Posts with one hashtag versus posts with multiple hashtags
Experimenting first-hand can give you the most insight in regards to what performs well and what doesn’t.
Love them or hate them, social media algorithms are here to stay. But having an understanding of them should give you an advantage in your posting efforts. As a social media manager, I always ensure I keep up to date with the latest algorithm changes, as they are constantly being adjusted across all platforms.