5 tips on how to work with social media algorithms to maximize reach and engagement
Remember those good old days when you’d just go online, scroll down your social media feed and see all the posts in reverse chronological order? Those simple days are long gone. These days social media networks run on algorithms that use complex criteria to decide what users will see in their feed.
If you want to take advantage of social media to grow your brand online, you must understand what algorithms mean for you. In this post, we will be sharing our top 5 tips to help you stay in social media algorithms’ good graces for just about any network.
What are social media algorithms, anyway?
A social media algorithm is a way to sort the content in the users’ feeds based on how likely they are interested to see and engage with it. This likelihood is in turn based on a range of factors such as the information in the user’s profile, their settings, as well as their past activity on the platform (e.g. which pages and accounts they followed, which posts they liked, etc).
Before algorithms, social media networks used to present content in reverse chronological order with the most recent posts being displayed first. That is still an option on Twitter since its main focus is to provide a space for conversation about current affairs.
But most other platforms have long switched from sorting the posts based chronology to the so-called relevance-driven feeds. In this way, the algorithms determine how relevant the content is to each user based on their characteristics and their past behavior.
For example, Facebook may prioritize posts from your friends and family and show them before all the other content because those are the accounts that you engage with most often. And Youtube might recommend you certain videos based on what other users like you (e.g. in terms of demographics and previous activity) are watching.
So, the function of a social media algorithm is to sort and prioritize content based on users’ behavior. On the surface, that’s intuitive enough to understand. But behind the scenes, it is a lot more complex than a simple sorting formula you would type in a spreadsheet. Modern social media algorithms are based on machine learning principles and are capable of sorting data according to complex and dynamic criteria that are beyond an average marketer’s understanding.
Do not over-promote.
Social media algorithms are now cracking down on purely transactional posts by ranking them down in users’ feeds. And understandably so – social media networks’ make money by selling advertising space. If they make it easy to promote content organically, there won’t be an incentive for marketers to use paid advertising.
Therefore, it makes sense to accompany your promotional content with some commentary. Rather than making your post purely transactional, include some helpful information or provide some context to your post. We also recommend to tone down on commercial terms such as ‘BUY NOW’ to avoid having your content flagged as spammy.
No matter the network, social media algorithms tend to favor the accounts that publish on a regular basis as opposed to every now and then. Therefore, it is important to not let your account fall into oblivion.
That’s where a content calendar comes in. With a content calendar, you can make sure that your posting schedule is regular so that you do not fall out of both your followers’ as well as the algorithm’s good graces. The content calendar also makes it easy to publish content on several networks at the optimal times to maximize your content’s reach.
Publish more native video content.
As a growing trend, all platforms tend to prioritize native video content i.e. video content that is shared directly onto the platform as opposed to an external link.
Whether it’s a client testimonial or a mini-commercial, any type of native video will be given more weight by a social media algorithm. Facebook and Twitter have been especially explicit about their love for native video content.
Another common thing amongst all social media algorithms is their love for engagement. Posts with high engagement (likes, shares, comments) are prioritized by the algorithms which display them on top of the users’ feeds.
When it comes to engagement, the easiest way to get more of it is to simply ask your audience a question. According to Buffer, question-based posts enjoy 100% more engagement compared to regular text-based posts.
Another great way to accrue more engagement is to publish tag-a-friend posts where users tag someone they know in the comments so that they receive a notification about the tag. That way, the users are more likely to engage with it by liking or commenting.
Go easy on the hashtags.
Hashtags play a crucial role in driving engagement and spreading your posts’ reach. As far as algorithms are concerned, hashtags affix your posts to a category making them searchable and discoverable in the corresponding hashtag feed, thereby extending their reach beyond the people that already follow your account.
However, stuffing your posts with the maximum amount of available hashtags is a bad practice, especially if you use the same hashtags across all of your posts. There is a chance that the algorithm might pick up your overly-hashtagged content as spam which can compromise your account’s visibility. For example, there have been many reports of Instagram imposing a ‘shadowban’ on posts that had been tagged with multiple similar hashtags, thereby rendering them undiscoverable in the corresponding hashtag feeds.
To prevent this from happening, be sparing with your hashtag use. Do not use the exact same hashtags across all of your posts, and do not stuff your captions with too many similar hashtags. To be on the safe side, it’s best to use a balanced combination of branded, niche- or product-specific hashtags plus hashtags that are specific to the post.