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Don't be confused by the purpose of social media algorithms
Don't be confused by the purpose of social media algorithms

The truth about social media algorithms

Is social media working for your business? Could it be better? SIMON DELL goes back to basics to help you improve your online strategy.

Many of us have heard the term ‘social media algorithms', and depending on how much time you spend on social media, you’ve probably noticed changes in your news feed.

Many may have even seen Adam MosseriInstagram CEO – announce the changes to the Instagram algorithm. But what does that mean for consumers, businesses, and, of course, marketers?

For better or worse, social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram regularly change their algorithms to reinvent how you experience content.

Remember when Facebook just showed you everything, with the most recent posts at the top? Those days are long gone; with social media platforms having more control of the content users can see.

So, here’s the truth about social media algorithms and how they affect businesses and marketers?

What are social media algorithms?

Essentially, social media algorithms are simply a way to sort which posts you see and when.

For example, your typical news feed used to be in reverse-chronological order, so the most recent posts were at the top. Now, the methods are more complex and based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

At the same time, you can still choose to view your most recent posts first. But the default setting is to be shown posts according to the platform’s algorithm. It’s all about creating a better user experience—sort of.

Social networks want you to have a better experience so they can sell more advertising at a higher price. And that’s truly why algorithms exist.

How do social media algorithms work?

Every social network is different, but these algorithms aim to give social media users faster access to relevant content. The algorithm will often consider relevancy, shares, likes, retweets, user’s feed, types of content, and quality content.

For example, a high-quality piece of content and is on-trend will have more chances of appearing on a user’s feed.

"Social networks want you to have a better experience so they can sell more advertising at a higher price."

However, most of this is based on your own behaviour on the platform. For example, you may see posts from people you interact with the most. So if you search for a lot of music-related content, you’ll see more music-related posts.

Using these metrics, the algorithm has a higher chance of showing users the content they will likely interact with by sharing, commenting on or becoming a subscriber; these will, in turn, keep them on the platform.

The issue for businesses and marketers is that the algorithm changes frequently, and the networks aren’t terribly transparent. However, they often give out snippets of advice along the way, so good marketers can keep up with what works best for their clients.

Facebook’s algorithm, for example, seems to be moving away from content that is too explicitly sales-based, focusing more on relevant conversations. And why wouldn’t they? They want businesses to pay to advertise, not do it for free using the right hashtags.

Algorithms for advertising

The same principles apply to all social media advertising. For example, the whole basis of Facebook’s advertising program is that you should, in theory, be able to reach the right people at the right time.

Therefore, it delivers sponsored content and social media ads according to your browsing history and other online interactions.

The problem is, the social media algorithms are never perfect. So, if you try to manage Facebook advertising yourself, you get nice easy options to let Facebook choose your target audience and market accordingly. This is great; however, you don’t get the particular insight to your audience that a marketing professional could deliver.

The ‘fresh content’ illusion

Social media algorithms also work to keep you interested.

Psychologically, if you keep seeing the same posts because you don’t follow many accounts, you think there’s nothing new, and you’ll check less frequently.

A solid social media marketing strategy will help you switch it up, so every time your users open the app, it feels fresh and new.

This ‘new news feed’ experience also allows the social media companies to rotate more ads (impressions) through your user’s feed, which looks good when selling advertising to businesses.

Social Media is one of the biggest to understand how these social media algorithms will help you optimise your social media marketing strategy and deliver better results for you.


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Simon Dell

Contributor • CEO of Cemoh

Simon Dell is co-founder and CEO of Cemoh, a Brisbane-based firm that provides marketing staff on demand. He specialises in digital marketing and brand management. Visit:

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