All About Algorithms
July 21, 2019
Algorithms. Some people hate them. Some people love them. And social media networks love to use them to make money.
If you have done any research into why your content has not done as well as it has in year's past, you have probably stumbled upon the word 'algorithm'. An algorithm, in terms of social media, is a formula that different platforms use to sort users' newsfeeds based on relevancy rather than publish time. These social media networks seek to prioritize which content a user sees in the feed first by the likelihood that they will actually want to see it.
This seems thoughtful of the social media networks. Think about it. How many people do you follow on Twitter? How many people do you follow on Instagram? For most, it would be almost impossible to comb through all of the posts to see what your close friends or accounts you are interested in are up to. With algorithms in place, your favorite social platform will give your favorite accounts a boost to the top.
Why do algorithms exist?
In addition to promoting conversation, which is a common goal among all social networks, algorithms push brands to pay for social ads. The algorithm makes it easy to see your friends and loved ones' posts but makes it extremely difficult to see any brands or companies you follow on your feed.
The theory is that if brands can't reach their audience organically, they will turn to ads instead which in turn produces revenue for the social networks.
Understanding the algorithms
While the basic premise of the different networks' algorithms remains the same, how the different platforms adopted an algorithm and how they prioritize content differs.
Facebook's newsfeed is nothing new. The social network has not organized the content displayed by publish time nearly since its inception. Facebook is, however, constantly making updates to the way it scores content. Facebook uses four factors to determine if a story is relevant for a user's newsfeed.
This represents the total stock of content available that can display on Facebook's newsfeed. This includes everything posted from friends, pages, and paid advertisements.
This is all the information that Facebook can gather from a piece of content. This includes what type of content it is, the publisher of the content, the content's purpose, and more. The goal of a marketer should be to create content that is meaningful and relevant to the people you want to see your content.
This is the behavior of a user and how likely they are to have a positive interaction with a piece of content. This means Facebook tries to score how likely you are to leave a comment, or react to the content, whether that is a positive or negative reaction.
This is the final number assigned to a piece of content based on the likelihood the user will interact with the content. This takes into account the inventory, signals, and predictions. Facebook then uses the score to organize your newsfeed.
While Facebook has a tight control of the content you are seeing and which content you are posting that will be seen, Facebook of course has a way you can pay to get your content shot up to the top of your target demographic's feed. Check out our blog about Facebook ads and boosting here!
While owned by Facebook, Instagram handles their algorithm a little differently. As opposed to Facebook, Instagram in its inception organized their newsfeed purely by time of posting, making it very easy for users to pick a 'prime time' to post their picture. Instagram users were able to easily predict when their content would perform well and when it would not.
In March of 2016, Instagram released a statement that the app would arrange your feed to show the moments they believe you will care about the most. This introduced the Instagram algorithm and the fight to beat the algorithm began.
Like Facebook, Instagram has certain factors that it considers when organizing your feed. Let's dive into them.
This is the measure of how much Instagram thinks you want to see a post. This is based on a number of factors: the accounts you follow, the hashtags you use, and most importantly, the pictures you have liked/commented on in the past. Instagram uses this data to form a positive consumer experience.
Just because Instagram does not sort the newsfeed exclusively by time of posting, does not mean it doesn't take time posted into consideration. When looking at all of the content Instagram has available, it will prioritize a recently posted picture rather than one from a week ago. This keeps relevant content popping up all day.
The third and most unique way Instagram's algorithm organizes its content is your relationship with the user who posted the content. Instagram takes into account users you have personally interacted with the most in the form of comments, likes, and tags. Instagram also takes into account the number of direct messages you have with another user. This is Instagram's way of encouraging conversation among users.
Did you know that more than 5 million tweets are sent every day?
That's thousands of tweets per second.
So how does Twitter sort through all of those tweets? You guessed it! The algorithm!
Twitter's algorithm has a whole lot more content than the average platform to sort through, so it's hard to believe that the tweets were at one point only sorted by time posted.
The algorithm that Twitter has adopted has taken the app some time to solidify, with changes from chronological order to an algorithm-based view and back a few times. But now, it seems that the algorithm is here to stay!
There are a few key things Twitter takes into account when deciding which tweets rise to the top that you need to be aware of!
While Twitter has strayed from a chronological order, it doesn't mean that you will be seeing old tweets rather than what people are talking about now. Twitter still prides itself on being on top of the times, so the algorithm still takes into account recency.
Like most other social networks, Twitter takes into account the engagement rate that a user has had in the past. If one of your followers is an avid retweeter or liker of your tweets, they can expect to see your tweets first according to the algorithm! After all, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior!
Time spend on a specific user profile
This is something that is pretty unique to Twitter. Twitter actually looks at the analytics of how long a user spends looking at a tweet, the longer amount of time, the higher Twitter ranks your tweet. The Twitter team also takes into consideration how long a user spends looking at your profile in order to better predict what a user's favorite Twitter account is and to ensure they see tweets from that account first!
While algorithms help social media users see the content they care about first, it is not always the best thing for the average business owner trying to make their way on social media. The one thing that we can be sure of is that as long as you are producing quality, engaging content, the social platforms will reward you for that! Check out this blog post to learn more about content that is worthy of even the toughest algorithm!
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