COMPUTER RULES: What you need to know about social media algorithms

Over the past few months I’ve been delving into research on social media algorithms to keep my training deck updated.

Like mystical golden fleeces these evolving rules are secret codes locked in Mark Zuckerburg’s golden throne.

So powerful are they that they can dictate what is rewarded and overlooked on social media. Each platform has one. They are unique and complex. But there are some common themes that run through them all that I’d like to share.

Please remember, the algorithm doesn’t care about what that that middle manager wants. It’s going to tickle the tummy of people doing the things IT likes.  

Don’t repeat yourself. I repeat, don’t repeat yourself

Nobody likes a bore. That same story repeated over and over. But what if the same thing is what you are being asked to do over and over? If you are bored creating it you can bet your audience is too.

Well, for one, think of a variety of ways to tell the tale. Video, an image with text added. But don’t use the same image over and over. When briefing a freelance photographer ask them to take a spray of images moving the camera or the subject so there is some motion. This way the algorithm can work out that this is a different image.

Use a different type face or choice of colours.

Don’t link

All the algorithms HATE, HATE, HATE it when you link away from their site.

They want you to stay and never leave. Why? Becuiase the longer you stay the more attractive you are to advertisers. So, Mark wants you to put your holiday snaps, jokes, events, fundraising, video sharing and messaging of your Gran all in the one place and never leave. So, basically, do the other platforms. Twitter rewards threads and LinkedIn encourages long form posts.  Everyone rewards video.

Tell real human stories

Think of your audience, who are you trying to connect with? New parents? The Edelman Trust barometer every year confirms that ‘someone like yourself’ is trusted higher than the chief executive for routine matters.

So, a homeowner talking about their experience to another homeowner connects and will get more engagement.

The additional benefit of this is that those real people will also have social media accounts where they share your content with friends and family. Make a point of enlisting their help when sharing it and telling them what time you’re posting.

Enlist supporters offline to go online

When you post can you call on a tribe of supporters?

The family who are warning people against swimming in the reservoir because their son drowned have their own network of friends and relatives. So does the staff member who has won an award. Ask them to share the contact with them and tell them what time you’ll look to post, too.

Birmingham City Council have a network where they alert residents when they post COVID-19 information. They ask them to share with their friends, families and communities. That’s such a good idea.

There is no number, there is just quality

Don’t fall into a trap of making yourself post only twice, five time or ten times a day to a particular channel.

The truth is that quality is the benchmark. If its fresh content that will chime with your audience then you’ve got a chance.

If you engage then others will engage

Another consistent trend amongst algorithms is that it encourages and rewards you for engaging with people.

In other words, that may include asking them questions they’re likely to respond to. Answer their questions. Like their Instagram post. Comment on their answer. This stuff isn’t hard. Before the internet it used to be known as manners.

Avoid catch-all studies and look at YOUR data

You can find them if you look online, the ‘best time to post to Twitter’ studies that crunch tens of thousands of tweets. Avoid them. Your audience is your audience and if it’s 18 to 24 Afro Caribbean men think about what time they are likely to be online.

Look at your insights and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Each algorithm has differences

I’ve written about the generalities. If you really want to dig into a platform you need to dig into the research. TikTok, for example, likes it when you use existing video trends. Twitter likes threads. Get to know them.

I’ll go into more detail into social media algorithms at the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops here.

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