It seems like forever ago since we could log into our social media accounts and see status updates from our best friends and family members. Even that dog account you follow so passionately seems to have lost interaction with its followers and it is excruciating to watch. Instead, what we’re currently being shown is what social media thinks is the most popular post of the moment, therefore bypassing everything we might want to actually see on our feeds. Ultimately, this is social media algorithms at work.
On 11th January 2018, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg stated the company’s objective was ‘no longer primarily to surface “relevant content” for Facebook’s 2 billion users, but to prioritize meaningful social interactions that benefit them.’ This means (hopefully) Facebook will be reverting back to normal, allowing us to see status updates from our loved ones again – but this may take some time. You can read the full article here.
For the meantime, let’s discuss how social media algorithms are currently at work. Owing to organic reach, which is in rapid decline as more and more content is being created and shared every day, we need to understand what is happening to make sure we are optimising our social media accounts properly and to maximise future engagement.
In 2017, we saw firsthand the dramatic declines in social media’s organic reach. Since this change in algorithm, a large amount of businesses and personal accounts have been affected by the change, so it’s crucial for accounts to make sure content is seen by doing what the algorithm wants. In reality this means creating good, quality content with no spammy posts or links It is further owing to this algorithm change that brands are now working harder than ever to market creative content to make sure their audience is totally engaged.
Now that we understand what the algorithm is and does, let’s talk about the how different social media platforms set up theirs up.
How Does Facebook’s Algorithm Work?
Facebook’s algorithm heavily relies on engagement. A recent study has shown that Facebook accounts for 1 minute for every 6 minutes spent online. With more than 2 billion active users online every day, the social media giant is continually looking for user habits, whilst looking to analyse what people are currently liking, sharing and commenting on during the day.
The intelligent creature that Facebook is, it uses factors and signals to determine the updates that are placed in each users’ News Feeds and essentially, looks into the interaction a certain post gets from all its active users. If the post received great feedback or a large amount of engagement, this is why it’s more likely to show at the top of your timeline.
If you’re a lover of large corporate brands such as Starbucks (37 million FB followers) or ASOS (5 million FB followers), it’s accounts and profiles such as these tend to dominate our feeds owing to account popularity. Their loyal followings are the main reason why their posts and ads are more likely to be shown, rather than post from a friend which has a only few comments.
The time of posting is also big factor when it comes to seeing certain statuses online. Have you ever noticed that people still like and comment on your post the day after it was sent out? From the way the algorithm currently works, by posting early in the day, Facebook knows when a post is popular and will continue to show it to more people as long as it is retaining engagement.
One of the best ways to ensure your social efforts meet the algorithm’s criteria is to follow the best practices Facebook has to offer. Their media hub offers a set of on-going best practices that are designed to help your marketing plan. Here are just a few ways we businesses can help beat the algorithm to see relevant posts:
- Post timely and accurate information that supports your business.
- Post quality content.
- Avoid “spammy” content.
- Don’t just post sales updates.
- Share information with your users.
- Respond to commenters.
- Vary the times you post updates to reach everyone on your Page.
How does Instagram’s algorithm work?
At first, Instagram was about taking pictures in the moment and sharing them straight away. Hence its name… Insta-gram. Shift forward a few years and this has all changed. People are now posting whatever they want, mostly staged images portraying a perfect background, an impeccable home or an untouched piece of delicious steak. For a short time, we saw posts in chronological order. But similar to Facebook, we tend to see content days after it was originally taken based on popularity.
Instagram reaches over 800 million monthly active users, and according KISSmetrics, 70% of users follow their favourite brands on the platform and actually want to consume their content. Even so, there’s no doubt you’ve heard someone in the last year screaming at their phone: “The Instagram algorithm is so annoying!”. Bloggers, influencers and business owners alike are feeling the strain as engagement and post likes appears to be decreasing every single day, similar to Facebook if you’re not using paid advertising.
To understand how the Instagram algorithm works, we first must understand that the mobile app is designed to maximise the attention they get from you, and their algorithm is no different.
For example, if Sally looks at a lot of food accounts and followers all the top food hashtags on Instagram, the algorithm should tailor her timeline to show food and lifestyle related content. If Sally then begins to look at sport and gym related content, the content shown on the timeline should also change.
Instagram is clever in the way it evaluates the engagement metrics, so they consider an indicative of how useful the content is to their user before appearing on their feed. However, over the past year or so, more and more people have noticed a huge shift in the way they view content, and don’t actually seem to be seeing posts from their friends, family or popular feeds anymore. Is this really what they think people want to see?
When a post has been uploaded to Instagram, there are many things that take place. Instagram compares the engagement of your new post to the engagement of previous posts of yours, on similar days and times, therefore showing to the amount of people they think the post deserves. The below graphic taken from Medium shows exactly how it works:
The way to beat the Instagram algorithm is to post at times of the day when your audience are most likely to see your content and use appropriate hashtags. Ideally, people are likely to be checking their phones on their daily commutes (7am – 8am) at lunch time (12 noon – 1pm ) and after working hours (5pm – 8pm) so keep this in mind for future posts. Alternatively, if Instagram sees mostly spam accounts are liking and commenting then your post will go down on the algorithm. This is another reason why using bots is never a good idea!
How do Twitter’s algorithms Work?
There’s no denying that like most social platforms, Twitter also had it rough in 2017. And like most, Twitter’s algorithm has evolved over the years.
From all the hype over Facebook and Instagram’s algorithm last year, it’s not surprising from the Twitter Engineering Blog that the platform hasn’t updated its ranking algorithm for more than a year.
Currently, Twitter’s timeline highlights the top tweets you “missed” while you were away. This genius idea was first introduced in 2015. Come 2016, Twitter began to apply the same algorithm that powered “while you were away” feeds to slightly reorder more of user’s timelines. For the most part, Twitter displays tweets from accounts the user is already following – in reverse-chronological order.
Similar to Facebook and Instagram, Twitter ideally chooses the tweets the user is shown based on accounts they interact with most. In the most part, this will be your favourite blogger or influencer accounts to follow, friends, family and more.
On the odd occasion, a user might see spot a tweet from an account they don’t even follow. So how does that happen? The answer is Engagement. Twitter connections that engage with you are more likely to see your tweets, even if they don’t follow you themselves – and vice versa. For more information about this, you can check it out here.
What are your thoughts on the current social media algorithms, do you feel they could be improved?