What is an algorithm?
An algorithm is a set of scientific or mathematical rules used by social media platforms to determine which content to display to users, and in what order.
Most algorithms are designed to deliver the content a user is most likely to engage with, based on previous content they’ve interacted with (that’s why your TikTok feed is filled with funny cat videos).
A challenge you might run into as an individual, business, or marketer looking to grow on any algorithm-driven platform is that most platforms hide the formula behind their algorithms. So you can only go off the best practices shared by third-parties.
Still, developing even a vague understanding of how social media algorithms work can help you optimize your content strategy to increase visibility and engagement.
What is the purpose of social media algorithms?
Social media platforms developed algorithms as a response to user behavior and proper ad targeting. They serve many purposes for both the platforms and users including:
- Offering personalized user experience: Social media platforms use algorithms to analyze users' behaviors, interests, and preferences to curate content tailored to their needs. By showing users content they are more likely to find interesting, algorithms help to improve the overall user experience, keeping them engaged and active on the platform.
- Ensuring content relevance and quality: Social media thrives on attention and to hold the attention of their audiences, social media platforms want to deliver content that is relevant and valuable to their users. Algorithms are used to prioritize high-quality content that is timely, engaging, and shareable. By doing so, platforms can maintain user satisfaction and encourage the creation and sharing of meaningful content.
- Stimulating user and financial growth: When users are highly engaged, they spend more time on a platform, which is part of the metrics used to determine whether it’s growing. Algorithms help social media companies target users with ads they are most likely to click on, which improves the effectiveness of ad campaigns and drives revenue for these platforms.
How do social media algorithms work?
Social media algorithms are often mysterious and unpredictable, yet they play a crucial role in shaping the content we see on our feeds.
- Analyzing user behavior: Algorithms keep track of social media users’ likes, shares, comments, and follows. This data is used to create a profile of each user's interests and preferences. Then, based on this profile, the algorithm curates a personalized feed of content that it predicts the user will find engaging.
- Content ranking: Social media algorithms assign a ranking score to each piece of content based on various factors, such as recency, relevance, and engagement metrics (likes, comments, shares). Higher-ranked content is more likely to be displayed in users' feeds. This ranking system ensures that users are exposed to the most engaging and relevant content on the platform.
- Network effects: Algorithms also take into account users' social networks and their connections' behavior. Content that is popular within a user's network or has been shared by people they follow is more likely to be displayed in their feed. This network effect helps to surface content that is relevant to the user's interests and encourages the sharing of content within communities.
How does the algorithm of each social media platform work?
You might be wondering what the top social media platforms have their algorithms do. Here’s a look at a few:
- Twitter: Prioritizes tweets based on relevance, recency, and engagement, with an emphasis on users' interactions and interests.
- Instagram: Ranks content according to factors such as interest, timeliness, and relationships, prioritizing posts from close connections.
- TikTok: Evaluates user interactions, video information, and device/account information then promotes content that aligns with users' preferences.
- Pinterest: Utilizes a smart feed algorithm that combines users' interests, followed accounts, and the popularity of pins to curate a personalized feed.
- Facebook: Considers factors like content recency, user engagement, and the strength of user relationships to deliver a customized content feed.
Tips for navigating social media algorithms
Social media algorithms can either hurt or enable your success. Here are some tips to help you achieve the latter:
- Create engaging content: To increase the visibility of your content on social media platforms, focus on creating content that is engaging and shareable. High-quality content that resonates with your target audience is more likely to receive engagement, which can boost its ranking in the algorithm.
- Interact with your audience: Engage with your audience by responding to comments, asking questions, and encouraging discussion. Building a community around your content can help increase engagement and improve your content's performance in the algorithm.
- Analyze and optimize: Monitor the performance of your content and make data-driven decisions to optimize your strategy. Analyze which types of content perform best on each platform and use this information to inform your content creation and distribution.
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