Understanding Social Media Algorithms

Algorithms were put in place to make sure all social media info is sorted to provide users a relevant and seamless experience while browsing their favorite social media tool. But what exactly is an algorithm and how does it work?

You have heard it once, and now you are hearing it again! Social media has changed the way we interact with businesses, brands, and even our friends and family. We just can’t resist the temptation to scroll through a feed when we have a little bit of extra time on our hands. Businesses have capitalized on this opportunity to connect with their customers by not only overloading their users with their content but by breaking down the barriers of communication and appearing more human and relatable.

With so many businesses and people using social media, there needed to be some sort of structure to determine who sees what. Algorithms were put in place to make sure all this information was sorted to provide users relevant content and a seamless experience.

For marketers, however, algorithms are seen as huge obstacles when trying to optimize content and campaigns. The whole process can seem extremely overwhelming as social media platforms lack transparency in how they favour these contents. To get a deeper understanding of how to work around algorithms, it is important to understand what an algorithm is and how it can vary across different channels.

Social Media Algorithms

As briefly mentioned above, social media algorithms affect the way in which data is sorted according to a set of predetermined rules. These rules determine how the content gets sorted on a user’s feed. Algorithms will use both machine learning and attributed data points to ensure that the content in a feed is focused more on relevance based on users’ interest, encouraging interaction from the user.

Just like with anything in this world, algorithms are not always perfect, that is why they are constantly changing to ensure users are getting the best possible content, but this can be seen as a challenge to most marketers as they are constantly needing to keep up with new rules by changing or adapting their strategies.

Social media platforms have not said much on their algorithms and so the best way to test out how the bots favour your content is through the trial and error approach. It is also important to understand that algorithms change across channels as user expectations change as well. For instance, Instagram and Facebook users would expect to see more business to consumer content whereas LinkedIn users might expect more business to business-related content.

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Social Media Platforms And Their Algorithms

With the small amount of information that these channels have released over the years on algorithm updates and their overall rules, here is how algorithms work across popular social media platforms.


Facebook has stated that in order to promote its transparency they will help users understand their algorithm through ranking signals. Ranking signals is data that has been accumulated by the bots to understand a user’s past behavior. There are three major ranking signals that Facebook focuses on: who the users are interacting with, the types of posts they are interacting with, and how popular the post is.

With these ranking signals, Facebook will then use the data to create a feed based on what the user is most likely to enjoy.


Much like with other platforms, Twitter’s algorithm is constantly evolving. Twitter highlights two points of their algorithm. First, Twitter algorithms will give you both real-time content and content picked out by the algorithm. Secondly, the algorithm can be disabled from your feed if you wish. But how will they rank your content? A blog post by twitter highlighted the main ranking signals to keep in mind when producing your content:

How recent is your post: How long ago was this post published? Twitter will favour recent posts over older posts.

Engagement: How many likes, comments, clicks, retweets, favorites and impressions your tweet has received. The algorithm will favour the ones with higher engagement.

Rich Media: The different types of media used in your content. Algorithms like different ways of engagement.

Activity: How active your account is and how many followers you have. Algorithms want to know that the account is active and engaged on the platform.

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Instagram, similar to Twitter, has come forward to identify a couple of their ranking signals when favouring a post. Instagram will look at:

Interest: Instagram will base your interests off who you follow and what content you have liked and favoured more over the others. Machine learning will understand a user’s past behavior and make sure to fill their feed with the right content in mind.

Relationship: Instagram will make sure to always prioritize posts that help you maintain strong relationships with friends and family. So the algorithm will use past behavioral data to show you who you have interacted with the most.

Frequency: If you are someone that is constantly on Instagram your feed might feel chronological, as it will order the information according to your last visit. Whereas if you are absent from the app, it will show you what they think you will like according to your past behaviour.

There are many more factors in the algorithm that will influence a user’s feed, but as you can see most are based on past behaviour.

Tik Tok

Tik Tok has become one of the most popular social media channels in 2020, becoming the next must in marketing. Tik Tok has been rather transparent and provided information as to how their algorithm ranks the 15-second videos. Much like other social media channels it creates a personalised feed based on a user’s likes, comments and what they mark as not interested. Tik Tok also gives you an opportunity to select some interests in order to make sure they are serving you the right content.

One important thing to keep in mind is that Tik Tok does not take into account a profile’s reputation. For instance, even if they have a high follower count and multiple people have previewed the clips, it will not affect the placement it gets on your feed.

Optimizing Your Content

Now that we have looked at some of the biggest social media platforms, let’s take a look at how you can optimize your content to make sure you are favored by the algorithms.

Include Video Content

As users become more and more overwhelmed with data and information, videos have proven to be an effective way to engage with your audience. Shorter videos or even GIF’s have a higher chance of grabbing your users attention than a regular text post.

Both Facebook and Twitter have highlighted that they value variety in content, so make sure to incorporate videos into your social media post planning.

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Invite Users To Interact

Inviting users to interact with your content can be pretty intimidating at first, but as highlighted above, engagement is key to getting your content favored on the algorithms. Engagement can be compared to the snowball effect, the more engagement you get on a post, the more you will be rewarded. Also, don’t be scared to ask your users to interact, a simple “comment below” will go a long way and even serve as an indirect call to action.


Social media is all about consistency! As the name implies these channels were created for socialising so it is good practice to show your users that you are active and frequently using these channels. Algorithms recognise the importance of frequency and so they favour profiles or pages that are more active.

A great way to make sure you are keeping track of your posts is by investing in a social media management tool, which will help you plan your posts in advance and keep up the consistency. If you are working with more than one channel, there is nothing wrong with cross-posting, this will help you make sure you can squeeze all the engagement from your audience off of one resource.

Mind How You Reference Your Links

There is nothing wrong with sharing links on social media to interesting articles and even websites, however, depending on how you do it the algorithms might mark them as spam. If you do want to include a link, make sure to provide context and relevance to show that it serves an overall purpose.

Beat The Algorithms

Now that you have a little bit more information on algorithms you can focus on creating content that will be “catchy” to your consumer. Even though social media channels have been able to provide information on their algorithms in the last few years, there is still a lot that we don’t know, but the little information that we have will go a long way to help you plan your next content calendar.

Want to learn more about digital marketing? Check out our blog to understand what goes beyond social media.

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