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Digital Mums Understanding social media algorithms

Understanding social media algorithms


Quality conversations

All algorithms give priority to posts that achieve higher engagement figures. While likes do count here, the ultimate engagement to achieve is comments and replies because algorithms prioritise what they call “meaningful interactions” and want conversations to happen.

This means it’s very hard for brands to achieve reach because, let’s face it, you’re unlikely to get as many engagement interactions as a friend or family member.

Out top tips

  1. Really focus on engaging content topics and formats and use data to work out which content consistently gets the most engagement interactions (we will cover how to use data to track success later in this blog series).
  2. Post things that encourage a response or comment, such as asking questions, always adding a comment when sharing content, running polls or even better running interactive Live videos where people can ask questions in the comments.
  3. When you get a comment on your post you should go back to people immediately/very quickly to encourage further conversation. Algorithms love multiple people replying to each other’s comments on a post so try and encourage your audiences to engage as much as possible with you and each other.
  4. When you go back to someone you will need to do more than leave a generic “thanks” or “yes agree” type comment because the algorithms don’t count this to be true engagement. Aim to leave a short sentence and think about how you can progress the conversation further, perhaps by asking further questions.
  5. Post when people are online because early engagement counts. Use the data available on the social media platforms to find out when this is.
  6. Think about who will be interested in your tweets and posts and @mention them to encourage them to engage with you. Only @mention one person at a time this isn’t about spamming loads of people to try and get them to share your content. This is about attempting to start a quality discussion with someone that you really think would be interested.
  7. Engage in conversations other people are having, so comment and interact with others in your community.
  8. Encourage people to share your posts/tweets, but don’t be spammy and ask them to do so - they should want to do so. The key here is to post things that they want to share with others and often this is about quality content, which we will cover next.
  9. Avoid overly promotional or ‘salesy’ language. It’s fine to have the odd post promote a product or service but don’t continually push aggressive sales tactics. The algorithms are sophisticated and will pick up language like “flash sale everything 50% off” and will know if you’re using click-bait or engagement-bait language like “you’ll never guess how much we’ve knocked off our products click to find out”.


Relevant content

Conversations are queen but content is king. The platforms refer a lot to “relevancy” and “quality” content when explaining how their algorithms work. Clearly, users want high-quality, relevant content served to them when they want it.

Which content formats should you share?

This content can take many forms, whether gorgeous photographs and strong graphics, watchable videos, well-crafted blogs or engaging podcasts. While there have been some trends around visuals outperforming text and video outperforming visuals, there isn’t a one-sized fits all content strategy that works on social because the social media algorithms prioritise relevant content and what is relevant for one person isn’t the same as what’s relevant for another. Ultimately, the algorithms use machine learning to build a comprehensive picture of what a particular user likes based on what they regularly engage with and serves it to them. So if someone engages more with video then they’ll show them more videos.

What topics should you focus on?

The algorithms learn what topics people are interested in too. So while our CoFounder Kathryn will see a lot of English Bull Terrier related content on her feeds because she owns a Bullie, our CoFounder Nikki will see a lot of French Bulldog related content on her feed because she owns a Frenchie. This happens because they are a bit obsessed with their dogs and will engage with any content that relates to them.

Our top tips

  1. Have a robust content strategy that adds value to your audiences, don’t just have a content strategy that revolves around pushing your products and services. We will cover content strategy later in this blog series.
  2. Place your customer at the heart of your content strategy. We’ll be talking lots more in this blog series about understanding your audience on a deeper level.
  3. Be consistent with content. Later in this blog series we will talk about building a sociable brand, which will help you create a consistent and well-rounded set of content topics that makes sense for your brand and will interest your audience. It’s also important to be consistent with your creation schedule and posting schedule so people learn what to expect from you. Twitter’s new Topics feature, for example, will see the algorithm link content to Topics if accounts consistently share content on that topic that gets a lot of engagement.
  4. Spend time analysing your content results using the insights/analytics available on the platforms. See what content topics and formats people like. This relates to the conversation tips because generally, if they like the content they will interact with it.
  5. When new content formats are introduced, try them out. Brands that jumped quickly onto Stories formats are reaping the rewards. Often, when new features are introduced on a social media platform the algorithm will prioritise this new content format in order to fully launch it. This then stops once they have take-up so it pays to be the early bird. Instagram are about to introduce Reels, video content formats similar to those on Tik Tok, for example, and rather than thinking about you might use Tik Tok (yet another platform to get your head round and spend time on) instead explore this format on Instagram to see if it might work for you.
  6. As much as possible, post native content. Native content is hosted in the platform itself, for example uploading a video directly to a Facebook post rather than linking to a video on YouTube. Experiments done on the Facebook algorithm revealed that it’s likely the algorithm penalises external links to YouTube one of its biggest competitors. There is some evidence that external links to quality written content hosted elsewhere is marginally lower but not so much that it outweighs the benefits of sharing this high-quality content. For video there does seem to be a strong bias, which is likely because Facebook is actively trying to compete for eyeballs on video.
  7. Capitalise on trending topics with real-time marketing. Real-time marketing involves looking out for relevant trending events/topics and jumping on them with marketing efforts. If a topic is trending in your space/industry then it’s clearly relevant for your audiences and can help you gain reach.
  8. Invest in a hashtag strategy. Sit down and spend concerted time and effort searching for the relevant hashtags around your brand and use them. The more people you reach with your content the more people that will engage with your content, which means more people are likely to see your content.
  9. Interests - hashtags, topics,

Relationships

When deciding whether to serve a user a post, the social media algorithms also look at their relationship with the account that posted it. Users that regularly engage with you are more likely to see your tweets and posts. This can also help you to reach their connections, even if they aren’t following you. For example, on Twitter, users that regularly engage with your tweets are more likely to see more of your tweets. Their followers are then more likely to see your tweets, even if they don’t follow you themselves. And if your tweets become really popular within your industry generally then the algorithm with prioritise them even further. This explains why, on Facebook, for example, you’re likely to see more posts from friends and family that you have closer and deeper connections with.

So you are looking to become a credible and quality user of social media.

Our top tips

We have just one top tip for building relationships on social media and that is to follow the top tips for conversations and content above. If you follow these relationships will follow.

Can you game the system?

We get asked this a lot from our Foundation in Social Media Marketing students because it's always tempting to think there are easy shortcuts. And there are even people online that claim you can game the system. You can’t. The social media platforms are clamping down on the sort of behaviour that people think can game the system. Spammy content. Bots that auto-post on thousands of accounts a day or follow thousands of accounts only to unfollow the next day. A common myth is that you can game the algorithms by using personal profiles for your business instead of business accounts in an attempt to trick the algorithm into thinking you're a person. However, that won't help.

The 3 most important things to remember are:

  1. Place your customer at the heart of your social media strategy because you need to add value with quality conversations and content and the better you can understand and empathise with them the more effectively you can do this.
  2. Craft a content strategy to bring quality and relevant content to your community to reach them and their connections.
  3. Make data-driven decisions to learn what drives the most engagement in conversations and content. Regularly look at your insights/analytics on the platforms and do more of what is working and less of what isn’t.

Thankfully, we will be covering all of these in more detail in this blog series.

Why not download “Success on social media” to get all this content packaged up in an easy to access white paper and get more bonus content.

For more useful social media stuff check out our free social media taster lessons, courses and podcasts here or why not sign up to find out more about our next Foundation in Social Media Marketing course here.

If you feel ready to outsource your social media then we have over 1,500 trained graduates that have undertaken 350 hours of learning to become leading social media experts. You can find them via the That Works For Me platform here.

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