How Do Social Media Algorithms Work?
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Social media has become an integral part of our lives. We use it to keep up with friends and family as well as stay current on news events. We also use social media to help us make informed decisions about purchases. With this utility in mind, business owners jumping into social media often wonder, how do their algorithms work? Let’s delve deeper into what algorithms are and how you can use them to your advantage when posting content and ads.
What Is the Algorithm?
Algorithms vary by social media platform, but they all serve the same purpose. They help the platform determine what content to show you. While we think of the algorithm as one thing, it’s made up of multiple AI programs that run in tandem, each with a specific goal criterion. One might look at end-user behaviors. Another might examine the likes and engagements on pages. Yet another might watch hashtags and keywords to see the kind of content all users engage with. All these smaller programs work together to help the platform curate the posts that show up on your individual timeline.
The Algorithm Is Not an Exact Science
While social media algorithms have become very sophisticated over the years, they’re far from perfect curators. You’ve undoubtedly been on a platform and noticed that something you viscerally dislike has shown up on your timeline. You think to yourself something like, “Why would you show this to me? I routinely ignore or block stuff like that.” You might be seeing it because something you do like is trending in common with this thing you don’t like. For example, say you like dogs but not horses. During the Super Bowl, your timeline might suddenly become flooded with horses if Budweiser releases an ad featuring both animals together. Because the ad with both animals together will begin trending on social media, there’s a chance you’ll see the animal you dislike because it’s now linked with the animal you do enjoy.
Using the Algorithm to Your Advantage
Social media subjecting you to something you dislike because it’s suddenly associated with something you enjoy isn’t a bug. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of a feature of the algorithm. I don’t mean the “negative engagement is still engagement” feature we often criticize social media for promoting (though that is a factor in an algorithm’s rankings). I mean that the social media algorithm actively looks for topics that trend together in order to suggest new things to users.
When you’re creating your social media campaign, both organic posting and paid content, you can use this feature of the algorithm to your advantage. Examine posts from your competition and look for ways that consumers talk about your industry, products, and services. For example, if you run a cabin rental company, you could consider organic posts that emphasize self-care and relaxation to help tie your content to those hashtags and keywords and expand your reach beyond those directly interested in travel destinations.
Key Algorithm Considerations
Each social media platform programs its algorithm differently to match how they want users to engage with their site. TikTok, for example, places a high priority on user behavior. LinkedIn, meanwhile, focuses on hashtags and video content. While all social media platforms place some importance on engagement, LinkedIn specifically values comments over likes. Since posting across multiple platforms helps to boost your social media signal, it's important to have a content strategy that is multi-faceted. When I create online content for clients, I make sure to,
Post content that is relevant to current events or discussions (and include relevant hashtags and keywords)
Create content that is insightful and knowledgeable
Offer variety in the accompanying media - switching between videos and graphics for example
Create posts that demonstrate my client's expertise
Follow a consistent posting schedule that utilizes key posting times
This helps ensure that I have quality content consumers will want to engage with, uploaded consistently enough that the platform sees my content as timely and relevant.
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