Social Media Algorithms and the best ways to optimise your content11/05/2021
Sometimes social media can make us feel like we’re shouting into a void. Despite it being easier than ever to share, connect and engage online, with the number of social media users now at a staggering 4.2 billion, it’s become harder to cut through the noise. Algorithms are the tech giants’ way of helping us navigate through the endless streams of information fighting for our attention.
What is a Social Media Algorithm and why are they used?
A social media algorithm is a set of instructions which dictate what content will appear and in what order on a feed. Social media companies need to find ways to ensure that people are being served the content that they want to see the most. Algorithms, in theory, achieve this by curating a personalised news feed, drawing in relevant content that is deemed interesting and high-quality to the user. They’re a bit like Bouncers made from code, that decide who is invited to your birthday party and who isn’t.
With platforms such as Twitter seeing around 500 million tweets a day, algorithms play a key role in sorting through the deluge of posts, videos, and photos that are uploaded. Over the past decade these algorithms have been refined to improve our online experience, with users themselves actually helping to refine them as the algorithm adapts to their online habits and learns from them (how many followers they have, how often they’re on that particular platform etc). However, it’s not always plain sailing. Algorithms have recently been thrown into the global spotlight, criticised for their role in the increasingly divided political climate through the strengthening of social media echo chambers.
We’re not here to tell you whether these algorithms are life savers or pure evil, but we are here to clear up some of the questions that we’re left with; Is this the best way of posting? Will people engage with our posts? Will the people we want to see our content actually see it?
Below we highlight the main features of the various social media algorithms that have authority over our news feeds, and highlight some of the best practises for posting content on these platforms.
Facebook, the elder sibling of the social media platforms, has had more time, and way more users (approximately 2.74 billion monthly users) to help them evolve and fine tune their algorithm. This early dominance, combined with a user’s ability to share content directly to their own feed, unlike Instagram, has resulted in Facebook having the largest potential reach out of the social platforms.
Facebook is all about making networks and friendships; be that friending your old school pal, joining your local neighbourhood watch facebook group, or even somehow finding a worldwide community who are just as into that Argentinian second division football team as you are. Because of these wide reaching networks, Facebook’s algorithm takes every post in a user’s network and then scores and ranks them according to 4 main factors: the relationship the user has with the person posting, what type of content it is, the popularity of the post so far, and the recency of the post. After this ranking, another network scans through all the remaining posts and scores them - there might be an 85% chance you watch some football highlights, but only a 10% chance of you clicking an article about how to look after your houseplants- the algorithm will then present these posts to you in the order it believes you want to see them.
Azzuu’s Algorithm Advice:
To optimise your posts, there are a few things you can do to work with the Facebook algorithm. Networking, replying to comments, and encouraging conversation on your posts is a basic but essential practise, with the algorithm prioritising content from accounts which interact with each other. Similarly, get your audience interacting with one another by asking questions, as well as encouraging an emotional reaction to your posts, utilising the love, care, sad, and angry interactions rather than simply likes. The Facebook algorithm strongly encourages and values relationships and conversations, and the more your posts are engaged with, the more visible your brand will be. Additionally, long form video is a great way to make the algorithm work for you. In 2019, high-quality, original videos became enticing to the algorithm. Original videos which hold a user’s attention for 1+ minutes gain preferential treatment, and videos that are viewed for 3+ minutes are the holy grail. Make sure to also utilise Live video, which can produce 6 times higher engagement than normal video, resulting in a big blue thumbs up from Facebook.
With Facebook acquiring Instagram back in 2012, it’s no surprise that Instagram’s algorithm, albeit with its own intricacies, uses similar ranking criteria for all of the posts on a news feed. In fact, the 3 main factors steering Instagram’s algorithm are the same as factors used in Facebook’s; the relationship with the user, the type of content, and recency. 3 other factors come into play when deciding what content is shown, but they are user-behaviour focussed. The frequency in which a user opens up the Instagram app, how many people they’re following, and time spent on the app all play their part in deciding what the user sees. It’s impossible to control your audience’s online behaviour, but it is possible to give your content the reach it deserves.
Azzuu’s Algorithm Advice:
Posting regularly, and making use of Instagram’s multiple posting options such as Stories, IGTV, Feed, and Reels will make it easier for your audience to see your content, whilst also providing them with varied types of content to consume. Cross-promoting your content i.e. sharing your Reels video to your Story can drive different audiences to either your most recent post, your highest performing post, or whatever you like. This ultimately boosts your engagement, which in turn gets you extra brownie points in the eyes of the algorithm. To ensure the best possible reach beyond your existing networks, use hashtags to increase your brands visibility. Target relevant hashtags with around 10k-200k posts as they will provide the right kind of traffic, and more visibility than if you used a hashtag with 100+ million posts. Finding the sweet spot between not spamming your audience with 30 hashtags, whilst still trying to extend your brand’s reach can be difficult, but the industry standard of a maximum 8 hashtags is a good place to begin exploring.
Using Instagram’s Live function is another powerful way of boosting your reach, and working with ambassadors/ other brands/ influencers that support and highlight your brand is a great way to collaborate on content. Finally, another way to keep Instagram’s algorithm working for you is to drive more interactions through Instagram stories. Stickers such as Polls, Questions, and Emoji sliders are excellent ways to personally engage with your audience, creating valued interactions that will help the algorithm boost your content to a wider audience.
TikTok uses a sophisticated algorithm, which has been the driving force behind the app’s phenomenal growth in the past few years. This growth is showcased by the huge visible impact that TikTok has had on online culture and trends since entering the social media ring. The power of TikTok’s algorithm is in its passive personalisation. Whilst other platforms like Facebook rely on the user making networks of friends and other interactions such as liking posts, TikTok is able to learn what its user likes without them having to lift a finger.
The algorithm collects multiple data points including; hovering over a video, repeat viewings, what time of day a video is watched, and viewer demographics just to name a few. With 5-6 measurements being taken per user every minute, the algorithm is able to speedily learn what the user likes and doesn’t like with minimal effort.
Due to TikTok’s initial uptake being mostly the US teen market, with lip-syncing the catalyst for the brand’s early popularity, the culture of TikTok became a personal and community based experience. In the earlier days, TikTok became a sanctuary for users to break away from the perfectly-polished, advert-ridden culture of other social media platforms. Because of this and the advanced-yet-DIY video creation tool that TikTok offers, there are reservations about brands entering those spaces. Brands need to be careful not to be seen as trespassing into a social space which is focussed on fun and creator-led content.
Azzuu’s Algorithm Advice:
Rejecting traditional social media ad styles, TikTok’s users react more kindly to authenticity. Authenticity can be built and utilised by brands by creating video challenges that creators want to get on board with. A fresh approach is key, and collaborating with Influencers and creators who are already high-profile on TikTok can be extremely beneficial. Working in this way is a great way to build an audience on TikTok, as the appeal of watching a friend or familiar face use a product/talk about certain subjects is much greater than being sent a generic ad.
Twitter occupies a rather grey area in public consciousness. Whilst it may not be the largest social media platform, (in fact, as of January 2021 the relatively new-born TikTok already boasts almost double Twitter’s 353 million active users) Twitter’s timeline evokes a 31% higher emotional connection, and is 28% more memorable when compared to other social media platforms. This shows that Twitter is an invaluable platform for brands and companies, and understanding how Twitter’s algorithm works and how you can use it to your benefit is essential.
Azzuu’s Algorithm Advice:
Due to Twitter being largely used for news and trending subjects, its algorithm prioritises timing and relevance. With that focus, Twitter’s algorithm could be seen as less sophisticated and influential than the mighty algorithm of Facebook. Utilising hashtags, engaging in conversations with users in your field, and following relevant profiles all help steer the algorithm towards increasing your brand’s visibility. Twitter describes the ideal Tweet as being the ‘Three C’s’: Concise, Clear, Conversational. Tweets with video content are the most engaging, and using a GIF gains 55% more engagement than not using one. Sparking conversation and interaction is Twitter’s raison d'être so it’s no surprise that tweets which provoke an emotional response and increase engagement are served straight into our news feeds.
What Next? Continue to Explore
As demonstrated, each social media platform has its own unique way of curating your news feed. Whilst there are certainly best practises to get the most out of your content, it is essential to continue exploring and strengthening the social side of your social media.
Here at Azzuu, we provide clients with the tools to improve their social media output. We work with our clients to provide new opportunities for engagement, interaction, and sponsorship. This enables them to quickly create a wide range of diverse content, ensuring they’re not only reaching their fans, but also engaging them on a personal level and building a larger audience for the future.
If you'd like to learn more about Azzuu and how we can support your brand, then please get in touch, or request a demo. We'd love to hear from you!
Written by James Newbigging