The Art of the Algorithm and Your Social Media News Feed
Synonymous with social media feeds, the elusive algorithm is constantly transforming. Here is how the reigning Big Tech trifecta (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) is currently using algorithms to disseminate content and create a user-friendly experience every time you log on, whether you like it or not.
The social media buzz word gets uttered a lot by those who use and depend on social media platforms to boost their marketing strategies. So, it’s important to understand what exactly an algorithm is, how it’s ascertained by Big Tech, and how it can impact what you see while scrolling.
What is an Algorithm?
Traditionally associated with mathematics, the term has all but been hijacked by social media mavens and marketers alike. But what exactly is an algorithm and how does it relate to social media? Algorithms are a way the most popular social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, sort, choose, and prioritize what kind of content a user will see in their feeds based on relevancy as opposed to chronological order/publishing time. Social media networks painstakingly gather and analyze each user’s data based on what that user “likes,” comments, shares, and posts. No two social media newsfeeds are the same. Ever wonder why you’re always seeing the same posts by the same people, brands, and services? You’ve been tracked and subsequently assigned a curated news feed, like digital DNA.
The three most commonly used social media sites are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, respectively. Each site implements a specific algorithm using their own calculated methods, albeit some users deem these practices to be devious or underhanded. As of this year, these are the latest methods each of the three social media sites are currently employing to curate the content you see on your news feed when you log on. Note: all algorithms are subject to change (and they do…all the time!).
The snap-sharing site’s current algorithm is based on specific cues like spotlighting the best posts, pushing the most relevant ones to the top of your photo-friendly feed based on your past interactions with other likes, comments, etc. and giving these posts preferential visibility. This is used to promote repeat engagement/customer retention and boost loyal audience engagement if you’re seeking to build followership. Also, users who routinely engage in the same content are more likely to see YOUR posts. If a user follows a particularly large number of accounts, other users (including business/brand accounts) face greater competition in rising to the tops of these peoples’ feeds. However, business accounts are not at a disadvantage compared to a personal account when vying for the coveted top spot.
Arguably the largest social media site to date with a mind-blowing 2.8 billion monthly active users and 1.84 billion daily users, Facebook’s team of analysts report the average user spends approximately 34 minutes a day on the platform. Since its inception in 2007, the iconic, thumbs-up “like” button is recognized all over the world and has become the mega social site’s branding insignia. The seemingly ancillary button also does double duty - helping Facebook’s engineers dictate what posts users are more inclined to want to see. As of 2021, the social media giant institutes a more complex, sophisticated set of variables to determine how they curate the content you see when you start scrolling. These include a relevancy score that is given to friends’ posts as well as ads and the implementation of the “See First” feature, which allows users to personally hand-pick the profiles and group pages they want to welcome them at the top of the news feed frenzy. Other variables include time spent viewing posts, videos, links, stories, and more.
The news/politics social platform has consistently relied on the trusty “Timeline” feature to apply an effective algorithm. However, the “Timeline” algorithm doesn’t present your news feed in chronological order when you log on. Instead, it’s based on the “While You Were Away” and “Show Me the Best Tweets First” features, the latter similar to Facebook since it’s purely based on relevancy. However, frustrated users can simply hit the “refresh” button to see any live tweets that post in real time.
This is just an overview of the various, updated methods the social media deities are using to implement their latest algorithms. While some users don’t mind the algorithms, others claim it’s overreach on the part of the site and view it as a blatant way to control what users see and cannot see. In the next post, we’ll explore different techniques on how to outsmart your timeline and get around algorithms, so you never have to miss an important post, ad, video, or link.
What are some of the latest algorithm practices you’ve noticed while perusing your favorite social media platforms? Please share with the Social Attraction team!