CHANGE #2: What the heck is going on with the algorithms?

Einstein reckoned that the measure of intelligence was an ability to respond to change… he’d have loved the social media algorithms right now.

Change and turbulence is blowing through the channels at a pace that would knock your washing clean off your line.

Big twisters of change are howling through what you may think is an established landscape.

Here’s a catch-up what you need to know.

TikTok is causing panic, basically 

It all starts to make sense when you realise that the established order of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are looking at TikTok with a measure of anxiety. These are not just tanks on the lawn. These are Chinese tanks playing by different rules.

The main point here is that TikTok’s algorithm is wired differently.

The main driver for the algorithm for the portrait video platform is not connections as social medioa always has been, it’s interest. 

In other words, your relationship with Steve your next door neighbour or your work colleague Joanne is of no importance to TikTok. What is important is what you’re interested in. What are your interests? So, if you like cute puppies, brass bands, London history and Stoke City then that’s a big measure of what you’ll get.

Every time you like, watch or download a video the TikTok algorithm will make an adjustment to what you see. 

It’s no accident that there are two settings for TikTok. The first is ‘For You’ which the algorithm serves you based on your interests. That accounts for 95 per cent of all traffic. The ‘Following’ setting shows you the people you’ve opted to follow. That’s tiny.

This interest driven approach to the algorithm is proving popular with people. In the UK, TikTok users spend 25 minutes a day on the platform compared to about 10 minutes each for Instagram and Twitter. Facebook is out in front with 29 minutes but looking nervous. 

It‘s also worth pointing out that more people leave after a session on TikTok feeling happier than any other platform. That’s deliberate.

The Facebook response

Facebook has grown to become huge by a combination of aggressive innovation, purchasing and aggressive copying. 

If a platform is doing something that Facebook likes the look of they’ll either buy it or copy it.

In the case of TikTok they are copying it.

Facebook are moving away from solely having connections as a driver. They’re using what they’re calling a ‘discovery engine’. This basically means that Artificial Intelligence is working out the things that work well as a whole across the platform. Then it’ll serve more of that.

In an earnings call this week, Mark Zuckerburg spoke of around 15 per cent of content across Facebook is now via the discovery engine with the timeline, videos and group. In Instagram it’s slightly higher, he says. That’s surprising.

“One of the main transformations is that social feeds are going from being driven primarily by the people and accounts you follow to increasingly driven by AI recommending content that you’ll find interesting from across Facebook and Instagram even if you don’t follow these curators.

“Social content from people you know is going to remain important part of the experience but increasingly we’ll also be able to supplement that with interesting content from across our research.”

Mark Zuckerburg, Meta CEO

All this will double by the end of 2023. So, more cute dog videos if that what works for you rather than updates from Steve you want to school with about his new car.

All of that is fine. The only thing is that TikTok have years headstart on Facebook in this game and it’s the game they’ve perfected.  

Reels, Reels, Reels for Instagram and Facebook

One key part of the Facebook response to TikTok is to aggresively copy the portrait video approach. 

Reels is being pushed across Facebook as well as Instagram. 

Yes, there has been pushback from Instagram users at how their beloved platform has turned into a clone of TikTok and a certain amount of rowing back. But the trend is set. 

By the way, spotting this trend I’ve launched after months of work and research a workshop to create portrait video like TikTok and Reels. I think you’ll like it.

Oh, by the way there’s Twitter

Twitter are too busy having a punch-up with Elon Musk to make significant changes to their algorithm.

However, many social media users have failed to spot that links have long been downgraded. Threads are rewarded. Sending people off to your website isn’t. 


In short, turbulent times will see results fluctuate. It absolutely pays to keep a weather eye on what the algorithm is doing. You’re kidding yourself if you think things aren’t radically changing.
I research algorithms and go into more detail for the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme which gives a digital focussed package of skills that every comms and PR needs.

I’ve also launched a workshop on creating video for TikTok and Reels. ESSENTIAL PORTRAIT VIDEO FOR TIKTO & REELS. Take a look.

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