If “algorithm” could be a verb many social media platforms would be asking “to algorithm or not that is the question?”
Twitter has been looking at Facebook for some time and asking this question. Facebook page managers often complain about, compare and contrast the levels of their organic reach and criticise Facebook for its algorithms which encourage them down an advertising route, because of the poor reach of organic posts. Facebook marketers often long for the simplicity of Twitter, where if you tweet something and your followers are looking at their timelines, they will see your tweet.
When Twitter announced earlier this year that it was implementing its own algorithm, Twitter fans around the world were up in arms. An algorithm deciding which tweets to show you would surely alter the Twitter experience and take away one of Twitter’s main differences compared to the other platforms.
With Facebook’s own Instagram recently venturing down the algorithm route, it’s not surprising that Twitter is exploring algorithms and how to implement them.
At the time of writing, Twitter’s algorithm is still very much an opt-in function often appearing in the guise of “while you were away”. However you shouldn’t be surprised by Twitter’s move towards implementing its own algorithm.
While the platform still has many loyal fans among it account holders, Twitter is often seen as confusing and clunky to new users. Being able to serve popular and more relevant tweets to people’s timelines could increase the number of new users, something which advertisers would welcome. And of course instead of scheduling tweets to appear when your Twitter followers are most active, the cynics amongst us would say that Twitter is encouraging us to promote our tweets via its advertising platform.
So what are the lessons that we can learn from algorithms working on other platforms?
In trying to beat or work out the algorithms please don’t forget that these are social platforms, where being social, making connections and building relationships work best.
Firstly we need to think of content that is both interesting and relevant to the audience we are trying to engage with. Engagement, especially sharing of posts drives up reach. The algorithm learns that any post with lots of engagement is important and therefore will be served up into people’s timelines more often than others.
Before we even think about engagement we also need to ensure that we have gained the attention of users. Our content needs to be great rather than good or merely so so.
Video and animated gifs are becoming the standard for grabbing attention in user’s timelines. Failing that our content should be at least graphic in nature, using images and infographics to bring our posts to life. Many in our field believe that live streaming will play a huge role in determining what users see first in the timelines.
Tame the Beast
Staying on top of algorithm changes has become a job in itself. Facebook will often tweak its algorithms, or even test new versions for a period of time. We’d certainly encourage you to regularly look at Facebook’s Newsroom site, where Facebook announces these changes and tests.
Sadly, rather than using information about algorithm changes to further engage and connect with their Facebook audiences many Facebook marketers have tried to stay one step ahead of the changes. So if live streaming video is being treated preferentially by the algorithm they will move their content to live stream video. It will still be the same spammy content but now in a format which is being treated more favourably by the algorithm.
So if Twitter fully embraces an algorithmic future, learn about how that algorithms works but please stay social.
Have you managed to stay social and tame Facebook’s algorithms and what are your thoughts on Twitter’s experimentation with them? We’d love to hear from you.