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  • Tanushree Vaish

Significant updates to Social Media Algorithms over the years

We have seen the tremendous rise of social media in the last decade or two. From the late 90s, phones and computers have also gone through historic developments, and now, we have come to a point that even an hour without online connectivity or presence can make us feel terribly disoriented.


You may not have an idea about how algorithms work, and may have trouble understanding social media algorithms in 2021, but worry not, we have got you covered. It's true that algorithms, ever since they have been introduced have gone through a lot of changes across all the different social platforms.


Today, the way your feed is designed is wholly different from what it was when you first opened your account, ages ago. In the recent past, you must have also come across “influencers” lamenting about algorithm changes and how that is negatively affecting their reach. In today’s article, we look into the system used by these social media platforms to rank the content on your feed, and what marketing strategies are important to ensure that your post reaches your target audience.


Algorithms, in the simplest of terms, are clearly defined, calculated and repeatable processes that computers use to solve certain problems. When the platforms were launched, all the social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest used to show posts in a reverse chronological order. While that is still partially possible on certain platforms, the overarching use of algorithms have become a common affair.


Each time a page or person you follow posts some content, the algorithms analyse it based on your viewing history. It takes into account several aspects of your viewing history like which posts you like or share, what hashtags are associated with that content and even how long you spend reading a post or an article that you clicked on. Then based on the content quality the algorithm decides on a ranking system according to which the content gets displayed on your feed.


But, before we dive into how social media algorithms have changed over the years and what it looks like today, remember that algos change from network to network, and so there is no one right way of ensuring maximum engagement. Moreover, the people in corporations or the people responsible therein, often do not reveal much about the algorithms and all that we know about them are either from whatever they tell us, or from the insights which the users gradually notice and come up with.


The feed that you see on logging into any social media platform is a direct result of a buzzing hive of algorithms predicting what you might love seeing. The primary use of algorithms is to present an user with the kind of content they are likely to enjoy most. The ulterior motive of these corporations is that if an user finds your social media experience to be enjoyable, they will be inclined to return for more. This translates to more valuable usage hours within your demographics which in turn is something the company uses in selling ads.


FACEBOOK

 

The organic traffic has reportedly been decreasing from 2014., but Facebook says it is the direct consequence of having too much content on the platform. Facebook’s introduction of the story feature in 2016 might have been an effort to redirect some content, and in 2018, they reported that 1 billion stories were being shared on the platform.


Facebook's algorithm went through quite some change in 2018, when they announced that their focus will shift to privacy and in turning Facebook into a “living room”, which would prioritize meaningful conversations. By meaningful conversations, they meant commenting or liking a photo or a status update, reacting to a post that a friend has shared, multiple people replying to each other’s comments on a piece of content from the news feed or the sharing of a link over Messenger.


This was an effort to get rid of the problems like trolls, fake news and the echo chambers that the platform had ended up creating. However, this resulted in a significant decrease in organic reach for several publishers and creators.

Significant updates for 2021

Facebook is now focusing more on posts in groups and events, as that is a major draw for people to use facebook. They are also beta testing a recommended tag listing, when writing a post, which could be a way to generate more reach.


How to beat the Facebook algorithm in 2021?

Make sure the content of your posts is engaging, and instead of countless ‘that's greats and wows’, inspire a few deep meaningful conversations. Make sure to use the video feature on Facebook. It does not even have to be live ones, just a video of over 3 minutes seems to gain more traction than a post about the same content. Moreover, make sure your profile is public.


INSTAGRAM

 

Instagram has also had their algorithm revamped recently. Earlier, it was pretty straightforward, where posts in your news feed would be simply ordered chronologically. If one of the people you followed posted something before the other, then the latter’s post would show up on your feed first. However, their algorithm underwent a tremendous change in 2016, when it became more engagement centric. This new algorithm considers factors like which accounts you like the best and interact with the most when figuring out the way your feed should be arranged. This is to capture your attention and keep you occupied and engaged on the platform.

Significant updates for 2021:

There is always an apprehension about Instagram downgrading content from business accounts, but this hasn’t been proven to be a hundred percent true. More and more people are seeing content that they don’t necessarily follow, due to their explore page. Instagram has, however, announced that posts with clickbait or engagement bait don’t get recommended, along with posts that incite engagement through contests and giveaways. Any post, repurposed without any value addition, fails to get recommended by the algorithm. The newly introduced reels feature, which is Instagram’s effort to hoard some of the TikTok’s user base has gained immense traction, and some accounts reportedly exploded since the introduction of this feature.


How to beat the Instagram algorithm in 2021?

The first hour after you post something is extremely crucial, and it's extremely important to engage with followers’ content, after you have posted. In the next two hours, it is recommended that you reply to all the comments. Hashtags generate a lot of reach for posts, but there is no one strategy for it. Experiment to see what works best for you. You also have to stay consistent, as the algorithm will downgrade a random posting schedule. Instagram stories and reels these days have become great tools to initiate conversations and get more organic reach with your audience, without disrupting your grid.


TWITTER

 

Twitter is a platform with a weird amalgamation of news and social media. While a part of the content there deals with what is happening in the world, another part of it has genuine weird content, which appeals to its users. Twitter is a platform where a lot of important things happen. It's a place where often politics takes place, lies and scandals are uncovered, and even revolutions are happening on Twitter.


So, Twitter's algorithm today, other than time, takes into account the credibility of the user, and repetitive agenda like content, posted by automatic scheduling tools are also flagged by the algorithm. Tweets with higher engagement rate get preference.

Significant updates for 2021:

Twitter also has two kinds of settings with regards to how your news feed is arranged. One is algorithmic and one is chronological. That being said, even in the algorithmic setting which displays content based on the user's past behaviour, time remains the most important ranking factor. Twitter will continue to upgrade and prioritise tweets based on time and highest engagement. So both, the number and the frequency of posts matter on Twitter.


Twitter released the ability for a user to toggle between the top tweets algorithm and recent tweets. That is for iOS only. It's predicted that they could roll this out to the desktop version too.


How to beat the Twitter algorithm in 2021?

Recently, longer tweets utilising the 280 character limit were shown to get more engagement, and were thus favoured by the algorithm. Reportedly, tweeting 2-8 times per day and asking questions yielded better results in terms of reach. Creating polls once a month or so also seemed to help increase reach. Replying to comments within the first 2-3 hours of sending out a tweet seemed to gain more traction too. Higher engagement rates were also noticed when tweets contained an image link, had two or more hashtags, and specifically asked the followers to retweet it.


If you have heard about social media algorithms, just in passing conversation it might be a little intimidating. But it really is just a set of calculations and it is not quite possible to grasp why the algorithm comes up with the content it does. There are however these tried and tested ways in which to get on top of the algorithm. Along with these, there definitely will be some aspects that work best for you, and your target audience. However that is something that only you can discover with time and by keeping a track of what kind of engagement your content is getting.

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