"Voodoo". "Black magic". "The death of a platform".
These are just some of the affectionate terms that people have been using to describe social media's shift towards algorithm-based feeds. Social media audiences have frequently been averse to change, even if they don't fully understand the ramifications of such updates, and this continues to be true. But as marketers, we have to rise above this aversion to change and instead embrace it. In that spirit, what do algorithm-based feeds actually mean for your marketing efforts?
Facebook using an algorithmic feed is nothing new. For a variety of reasons - including the sheer number of users on the platform - Facebook has been using an algorithm-based feed since very early on in its existence. In a post on Facebook's own blog, they explain their reasoning behind the News Feed:
"The goal of News Feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don't miss the stories that are important to them. Ideally, we want News Feed to show all the posts people want to see in the order they want to read them."
While it's well understood that Facebook's feed is governed by an algorithm, what makes it so damn tricky is it's transience. As soon as marketers feel like they've got a grasp on what makes the algorithm tick, Facebook shuffles, then reshuffles the deck.
Currently, the algorithm places importance on a few key factors:
- How often you have an interacted with that type of post before, content included. (Yes, Facebook is keeping a tally of every time you "like" those cute baby goat GIF's)
- If/how often the post has been hidden by others.
- How well received (in terms of engagement) the past posts from that user have been.
- How well the post has performed with users who have already viewed it.
The goal behind the News Feed is pretty simple: to promote the best content to the most relevant people - but what does this mean for you as a marketer?
Create the best content. Make sure your content is engaging, education, or entertaining. Most importantly, make sure that your posts are relevant to your audience. As much as you would like to think hat all your content is awesome, ultimately it's up to your audience to decide.
As others platforms look to the sustained growth in users that Facebook has seen over the years, they're beginning to adopt the network's strategies.
Twitter has recently been undergoing an identity crisis of sorts, and it's still somewhat unclear as to how they will emerge. They toyed with the idea of expanding the character limit of tweets to 10,000 characters, and that was ultimately nixed. However, the platform has rolled out an algorithm-based feed similar to that of Facebook. And when the feature was first announced, a typical tweetstorm erupted and the hashtag #RipTwitter was born as people prematurely mourned the death of the chronological feed.
The 10 seconds where my @twitter was all out of order before I could opt out of their stupid algorithm were truly terrifying.- Brian Daly (@briandalynj) March 10, 2016
As it turns out, the feature to view "the best tweets you may have missed" is essentially an expanded version of their previous "while you were away" feature and is easy to opt out of. As for how this update can benefit brands, the feed prioritizes content that receives above average engagement.
Since many companies have a larger base of followers, this will reward brands that produce engaging content by giving them additional organic reach within the algorithm-based feed. Another benefit of the Twitter algorithm is that now if your audience is engaging with your content there's a larger chance that the engagement is a result of the tweets being relevant, not just timely.
As for Instagram, they're not currently not facing the same user predicament that Twitter finds itself in, but they too, have indicated that an algorithmic feed is imminent. From Instagram's blog:
You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it's become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don't see the posts you might care about the most.
Not sure about you, but I near obsessively check my Instagram feed and rarely miss a post - however, only following ~300 people makes this much easier. In any case, this statement essentially mirrors what we have heard previously from Facebook and Twitter. Feeds are simply becoming too crowded and an algorithm is the best way to cut down on the clutter.
Again, brands are being forced to fight for a share in an increasingly small amount of social real estate. It's yet to be determined exactly how the algorithm will work, but it likely won't be as detrimental for businesses as the Facebook feed proved to be. Simply due to the nature of the platform, all posts are still likely to be shown within the feed, just not not in a chronological manner. Contrast this to Facebook, where there are an unknown number of posts that will never grace your screen.
'Algorithm' might still be a scary word, and the math behind them may be even more frightening, but understanding how they work and how they can be leveraged is certainly not "voodoo" or "black magic". It all really hinges on your ability to create valuable content that will be boosted, not hindered by these feeds. Certain platforms (we're looking at you Facebook) will also require you to reevaluate your paid social strategy in order to properly maxmize your impact.
This post originally appeared on the Likeable Local blog.