What Is a Social Media Algorithm and How Does It Work?

What Is a Social Media Algorithm and How Does It Work? Vizion Interactive Reading Time: 4 minutes

Social media algorithms are here to stay. As a social media marketer, this could mean implementing major changes to continue reaching your audience. Luckily, adapting to social media algorithms isn’t difficult. Cultivating a basic understanding of how to define algorithms, how they affect social media, and how to use them to your advantage can help you master this latest change in Social Media Marketing (SMM). Here’s what you need to know.

Define Algorithms in Social Media

All social media sites today use algorithms. The definition of “algorithm” is a pattern or set of rules that problem-solving operations (especially computers) use to make calculations. A social media algorithm is the mathematical calculation that sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Snap Chat use to understand user habits and to customize the social experience. Social media algorithms work seamlessly behind the scenes, optimizing the user experience without them knowing the system is at work.

As a user, social media algorithms are helpful equations that make the social experience more personal, relevant, and enjoyable. As a marketer, however, they can present a significant hurdle on the road toward reaching your audience. If you don’t play to the beat of the algorithm’s drum, you might find it difficult or impossible to put your content in front of your desired audience. If the algorithm doesn’t see your content as relevant to the user, it will make it as good as invisible. Conquering social media algorithms is your only hope for the future of SM marketing.

Learn How Social Media Algorithms Work

Social media algorithms work by customizing each users’ feed based on his or her past actions on the platform. For example, most social media feeds do not show updates and friends’ posts in reverse chronological order. Instead, they organize newsfeeds based on things the user has shown a preference for seeing in the past. Algorithms gather and process metrics based on the user’s browsing, liking, commenting, and sharing history to present news the user will most likely want to see.

Social media sites still prioritize the chronological order of posts to show users the freshest information, but they also use an algorithm to focus on content that’s most important to the individual logged on. For years, social media algorithms did not exist. Instead, platforms would show users the latest updates and posts from the profiles they liked and followed. With the introduction of social media algorithms, social sites are pushing marketers to pay for top slots.

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans are now on social media. Facebook and YouTube are the top contenders, with 68 and 73 percent of U.S. adults using them, respectively. The boom of social media in the past decade has meant users’ newsfeeds are more and more packed with content and information. Separating your message from the clutter can be difficult or impossible unless you utilize social media algorithms to your advantage.

Facebook’s Latest Algorithm Update

It’s important to note that Mark Zuckerberg recently made a major change to Facebook’s algorithm. His 2018 announcement stated that the platform will start to prioritize personal connections and meaningful interactions between friends and family over advertising and marketing content. It is Zuckerberg’s wish to bring Facebook back to its roots – likely in an effort to increase the dwindling user engagement rates in recent years.

The new update could be bad news for marketers, but it certainly doesn’t mean the end of Facebook Ads. Marketers will simply need to keep a close eye on Facebook’s changing algorithm to stay relevant on users’ newsfeeds. Make Facebook’s tough algorithm work for you by working with the elements that the platform will now prioritize. While Zuckerberg did not break down exactly how the update will work, he did drop a few clues.

It appears that Facebook will give priority to elements that actively engage users, such as comments, reactions, replies, shares, and messenger. The algorithm will also look at the amount of time a user spends viewing a piece of content, the type of content, and how informative posts are. To stay relevant with the latest update, it would seem that brands need to focus on posting informative, high-quality, and engaging content.

Use Algorithms to Your Advantage on Social Media

There’s no arguing that a brand’s organic reach via social media has plummeted. Facebook is leading this decline, but it’s apparent across all major social platforms. The drop is due to a combination of users resisting branded content and social media sites updating their algorithms to reflect this change of heart. It’s more important than ever for brands to understand and master algorithms if they wish to continue appearing on their target audiences’ social media pages. Here are a few tips to live by when navigating social media algorithms:

  1. Keep posting videos. Videos are still highly rated across social media platforms. Algorithms favor videos – especially live videos – because it is a type of content that users react positively to seeing. Zuckerberg himself said that live videos get an average of six times more user interactions than regular videos.
  2. Eliminate spammy and clickbait language. Users don’t react well to “spammy” language that’s clearly meant to bait them into taking an action. Plastering “COMMENT and SHARE if you agree!” is an example of bait language that won’t fare well with modern social media algorithms. Keep your content honest and engaging and you won’t need to lure users in with sales speak.
  3. Create Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups is a center point for the social media’s site audience engagement efforts. The new algorithm will reward brands that encourage meaningful consumer interactions through Facebook Groups. Connect to your community by creating local events in the group and posting relevant news stories.

If you keep your audiences’ wishes in mind when posting branded content on social sites, you’ll be more likely to adhere to the rules of various social media algorithms. Keep your content value-driven and focused on customer engagement and interaction for your best chance at staying relevant. Social media remains an enormous opportunity for marketers. Make the most of it by having social media algorithms work for you, not against you.

Also check out:

What is Facebook Business Manager?

Wendy’s Social Media: A Guide to Branding Your Voice & Building Your Team

How to Use SnapChat for Business