Social Media Algorithms – Part 1: How Do They Work?

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If you are creating stellar posts, but they aren't reaching your followers, it may be that social media algorithms aren't helping you get your posts where they need to be. That's because while social media platforms use algorithms to find the best and most relevant posts for users, your reach and engagement will suffer if they aren't sending out the right signals to pick up on.

It's essential to understand how social media algorithms work so you can ensure your posts aren't going to be unnecessarily railroaded and your audience will get to enjoy them. 

If you find the idea of understanding algorithms intimidating, you aren't alone. Let's face it. Even the word algorithms is enough to make most people switch off. 

But don't worry… You just need to know how these algorithms can help you learn how to create compelling posts that resonate with your audience. After all, data analysis is an essential skill for social media success

This first blog of our 2-part series explores how social algorithms work. In the 2nd installment, we will discuss how to apply them for greater social post reach. 

What Are Social Media Algorithms and What Do They Do?

A woman stands in front of a whiteboard illustrating an algorithm’s logic sequence.

Social media algorithms are complex mathematical equations that sites use to rank posts in an order that shows users the most appealing content first. Algorithms do this to find the posts that best match each user's browsing habits. 

Without these algorithms, posts would appear on users' feeds in chronological order. The problem for businesses is a deluge of irrelevant posts would quickly bury the most interesting content for their audiences.

Providing compelling content also helps platforms boost ad revenues by maximizing the number of active users. 

How Do Social Media Algorithms Work?

The leading social media platforms use similar algorithms, and they are all based on users' viewing choices and also engagements, searches, and even Siri results. The algorithms constantly change as they adapt to each account holder. 

For example, if you are only watching and engaging with accounts that share Justin Bieber's images, your feed will have suggested posts/tweets/videos on Justin Bieber. 

YouTube home page Justin Biever video suggestions based on recent browsing history.

Now, if you suddenly stop and start engaging with posts about hockey, your feed will evolve and change to show less Justin Bieber and more about hockey.

While social media channels update their algorithms to improve their performance and enhance the user experience, the main driver for change is individual account holders' changing interests and tastes. 

Here are some examples of how social media uses algorithms:

What Factors Do Algorithms Take into Account When Ranking Your Post?

Social media algorithms use artificial intelligence to learn your preferences from your browsing habits. It doesn't take long for the algorithms to start recommending posts.

Just look at a few Reels on Instagram or videos on YouTube, and the algorithm will start to suggest content similar to those you chose to view. 

So, what do algorithms look at? Here are some of the most important factors that algorithms use to choose relevant posts for you. 

Information about the Post 

Information about the post informs algorithms of the type of content and its significance to users. 

Engagement Insights

Engagement insights are your and other users' activities that help algorithms decide if you will be interested in seeing a particular post or something else on the topic. Some of the most significant engagement insights come from…

Reel insights displaying plays and likes.

Relevancy

Algorithms recommend the most relevant content to you based on what they learn about your browsing habits, including: 

Recency

These algorithms take into account when posts were made, prioritizing more recent content. 

Quality and Reliability 

Algorithms rank high-quality posts further up the feed and suppress those that spread misinformation or present duplicate content.

Social media companies are under pressure to eradicate fake news, bullying, and spam. They now put a greater value on reliable information on their feeds. Authenticity is also a critical factor when it comes to improving engagement. 

Creators' Followers and Activity

The number of users you attract and the extent to which those followers or other users engage with your posts will influence how high your posts rank in users' feeds. 

Relationships 

Algorithms consider your connections and how much you interact with other users. If the user follows you and interacts with you regularly, the algorithm is more likely to recommend your new material to them. Contacts are also the basis for recommending new friends and connections. 

A woman’s hand likes a Viral Solutions post on instagram.

Why Is Understanding How Social Media Algorithms Work Important? 

Simply put, you need to understand social media algorithms because you want your audience to see and engage with your posts! If you don't know how algorithms work, you won't have any influence over whether people will see and engage with your content. 

Of course, your primary goal should be to provide exceptional content that is both entertaining and informative and that your audience will love. 

If you only create content to chase likes or shares, your efforts are doomed to fail. 

Here's why…

So, you need to understand what your audience wants. That means asking questions like the following: 

The most important factor to consider when creating content is to create content your audience wants. Creating content with value will also make it shareable and be more favorable within the algorithms.

social media tool kit

How Do Social Media Platforms Use Algorithms?

Social media sites use algorithms that are effective at providing the type of media format that successfully reaches and engages their target audience. 

Chances are your business has a presence on more than one social platform. So, you should have a basic understanding of what the most popular ones look at.

YouTube

YouTube's algorithms are designed to recommend videos on its home page based on what you have watched before, with some top trending videos thrown in. If someone watches videos like yours, there's a great chance your video will be recommended to them. 

YouTube has also designed its algorithms to keep viewers watching videos on its site for as long as possible. Therefore, making appealing recommendations is central to its success. 

The platform describes its algorithm as a “feedback loop in real-time” that suggests videos to viewers based on individual preferences. 

YouTube continually updates its list of suggestions based on the videos the viewer most recently watched and the interests gleaned from their viewing history. Its algorithms focus on three main areas to create suggestions that make viewers feel compelled to click on the next video.  

TikTok

Most social media algorithms favor content and posts that have been built or followed. TikTok is a little more democratic. As TikTok was designed primarily for entertainment, posts are more likely to get a look in if posted by newcomers.  

TikTok's feed algorithm doesn't consider the user following to rank posts, unlike other social media sites. Nor does it put so much importance on quality indicators, such as originality, as other sites. So, it's great if you are a smaller account that wants to get established.  It also is geared toward providing unique feeds tailored to individual preferences. 

Facebook

Facebook says its algorithms base recommendations on many factors:

Over the last few years, Facebook has been emphasizing genuine interactions, which hold viewers' attention for longer, and those that are exchanged between close friends.

Instagram

Instagram's algorithms are based on several factors, including the following:

Instagram has recently focused more on original content than reposted and shared posts.

Takeaway

Understanding social media algorithms is critical to increasing the reach and engagement of your posts. But you'd have to be a computer scientist specializing in algorithms to understand the nuts and bolts of how they work. 

Don't let that discourage you from trying to understand how they affect your posts, though. The good news is that when you know how these algorithms can affect how your posts rank, you can work to improve the rankings of your posts on social media. 

When you create quality posts that your audience loves seeing and reading, you are well on your way to getting noticed by social media algorithms. So, create engaging content that is relevant and interesting to your audience, and you will simultaneously make your followers and the algorithms happy.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series to learn how to apply insights into algorithms to your posts for better reach and engagement!

If you struggle with social media, it may be worth getting some outside help. That’s why Viral Solutions is here. Contact us to set up a free consultation and watch your followers grow!

 


At Viral Solutions we are committed to seeing YOU succeed. It is our goal to grow your business with proven digital marketing strategies that will help your business for the long haul.

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Filed Under: Social Media

About Lauren Zylyk

During her time working for Walt Disney World, Lauren quickly grew a social media presence on platforms, mainly through Instagram. With a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing paired with her passion for marketing, Lauren grew her audience even more by creating a blog and through use of other social media platforms. She loves the impact that social media has and how quickly it can get information around worldwide.
When she is not busy keeping up with the latest trends online, she can be found baking cookies in the kitchen, watching hockey, or at the gym. She loves hot yoga and trying out any new dessert recipe. She can’t cook, but she can sure bake!