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  • Tanushree vaish

Why Social Media Algorithms are not as Bad as you Think

Social media has changed the way we perceive the world. The interactions with businesses, brands, and even our friends and family are being driven by the online world. Businesses have seized on this opportunity to connect with their customers by not only deluging their users with their content but by breaking down the barriers of communication and appearing more human and relatable.

According to Data re portal, 4.33 billion people use social media, equating to 55 percent of the total population on Earth. In the past 12 months alone, a total of 521 million new users joined social media at an annual growth of 13.7%– an average of 16 new users per second. Imagine all the content from these accounts being disorganized and scattered. 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.

Social Media Algorithms

What are they?

Algorithms are mostly invisible aids, augmenting human lives in increasingly incredible ways. To briefly elucidate, algorithms on social media platforms are the technical means of sorting posts based on relevancy instead of publishing time, in order to prioritize the content a user sees first according to the prospect that they will actually engage with such content. For example, the posts which are recommended to you when you scroll through your social media feed, or the stories of your friends that appear first on the dashboard, are determined by algorithms.

Algorithms can be written by coders who make use of machine learning. They use machine learning and data science to sort data and rank posts. Machine learning means that algorithms ‘learn’ how to carry out tasks under various levels of human oversight. The tasks that would be tedious for humans to carry out are carried out by these algorithms. Several tasks such as managing the flow of content through active recommendations as well as negative shadow bans and mediating interaction with information through likes and comments to improve content discoverability are handled efficiently by algorithms. In addition, algorithms rank and filter information in ways that create incentives and conditions of interaction for content creators that are similar to markets.

How do they work?

If you spend any time on a main social media platform such as Facebook or Instagram, you are encountering the outcomes of an algorithm every day. If you think back to social media over the years, you might be able to remember how you viewed posts. Most likely you saw posts on your feed in chronological order, starting with the most recent post and working your way backwards. However, more recently, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels have changed their algorithms to alter the image feed showing you prioritized posts. The algorithm prioritizes posts from groups that users care about. For example, most social media feeds do not show updates and friends’ posts in reverse chronological order. Instead, they organize news feeds based on things the user has shown a preference for seeing in the past. Algorithms gather and process metrics based on the user’s browsing, liking, commenting, and sharing history to present news the user will most likely want to see.

Interest: How much Instagram thinks you want to see a post. This is based on past content you’ve viewed, liked, and interacted with.

Decay: How recently the content was posted, prioritising timely posts over week-old posts.

Affinity: Your relationship with the user who posted the content. Users you’ve interacted with most in the form of comments, likes, tags, and direct messages will appear higher in the news feed.

Furthermore, three secondary factors also determine the ranking of posts in the news feed.

Frequency: How often you open the app, as the algorithm shows you the best post since your last visit.

Following: The more people you follow the less frequent you’ll see multiple posts from the same people.

Usage: The time you spend in the app will also determine which posts Instagram chooses to show you. The more time you spend in the app, the more variety of posts you will see.

After reading the above, you would come to cognizance that algorithms are and can be a good thing. They are an incredibly useful tool that plays out in the background of your life, accomplishing tasks without your knowledge. However, some algorithms play a more prevalent role in your day-to-day activities.

Pros of Social Media Algorithms

Relevant Content First

Based on your behaviour, Facebook or Twitter might put posts from the people at the top of your feed because those are the accounts that you have interacted with the most. Imagine you missing out on the posts from your close friends and family because of the chronology of social sites. To avoid this the algorithms that are based on behavioral design come to the rescue. This can be helpful in keeping up with people who live far from you or that you aren’t able to see. The algorithm is working well in this case, as social networking was the original intent of social media platforms like Facebook.

Pertinent Content

Whether it’s clothing, articles, videos, or whatever else you are on social media to find, algorithms can be helpful in matching the best content for your interests. This helps you to waste less time on social media and spend more time on the information that fascinates you.

Spam Control

Imagine on your search timelines, if you encounter a completely unfiltered display, the volume of repetition and useless spam on social media dwarfs the volume of useful, new content. A totally unfiltered search would be excruciating to browse, and I don’t think there’s a person on Earth who could sit looking at it for ten minutes and disagree.

So some filtering is always going to be necessary to avoid torturing readers. It’s just a question of where the line is drawn.

For anyone who is wanting to hit a homerun on social media platforms, the quintessential task is to understand how the algorithm works, in order to get the best out of the content on any platform. Using the information mentioned above users can form an effective strategy in order to maximize potential engagement on the content. Many users have complained that the algorithm has had a negative impact on their overall engagement rates, hence why it’s important as a user on any platform to understand the mechanics behind it and use the factors that affect the news feed rankings to get the most eyeballs on your content.

Algorithms of various social platforms

Facebook recently changed their algorithm to rank posts each user sees in the order they’re most likely to enjoy them based on factors called ranking signals. Ranking signals are data points about users’ behavior. For instance, are people sharing a certain post with friends? How often do you like posts from your co-worker? A business? Do you watch live videos? What do you re-post?

While Instagram’s algorithms have come forward to identify a couple of their ranking factors when favoring a post. Instagram will base your interests on who you follow and what content you have liked and favored 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.

And also, it will make sure to always prioritize posts that help you maintain strong relationships with friends and family. 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.

The Twitter algorithm allows for both relevancy and publishing time as ranking parameters. Users wanting to see the most recent posts can change their content preference settings. If this isn’t selected, Twitter will rank posts like Facebook and Instagram.

The factors that the Twitter algorithm takes into considerations are:

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.

Are the algorithms really biased?

The real question arises here. Are the algorithms biased to certain pages or people? The answer for this depends on how well we understand and try to manipulate social media algorithms. This analysis and breaking down the algorithm will lead you to the ultimate search for organic reach on each social media platform.

As people grow more educated about social media algorithms, some have started to wonder if social media users are living in an echo chamber, a bubble, only exposed to types of posts that they and their friends already like. The algorithm curates their – our – entire online existence. It controls which family and friends’ updates you see, which news you see. But social media platforms are becoming more transparent, prioritizing open and honest communication with their users, admitting mistakes and publicly outlining steps to rectify those mistakes, and providing users access to data that was previously hidden and unknown. That’s how we’re able to put together a guide like this.

Let’s take a deeper look at how algorithms are being misinterpreted. People are getting angry because Instagram’s organic reach is going down, but it’s a sign that maybe you have the wrong audience or you’re not putting out relatable content in the first place.

Find a more precise target audience. You need to have an idea of what your target market is looking for or what your product is designed for. Using the Insights tool of Instagram Analytics can help determine your audience demographics. Social media management and optimization platforms can also help you analyze engagements and understand what the numbers mean. Read more about finding the right target audience here.

In a nutshell

Social media platforms will continue to pursue a more perfect user experience by way of algorithms. Though with the potential for greater oversight or regulation, it remains to be seen what the long-term future looks like for this approach. For the time being, the best thing you can do to beat the social media algorithm is to stay informed. Know your goals, know your analytics, know the platform changes, and adjust and optimize your content according to your best knowledge. Understanding and keeping pace with what your audience wants most - and what the algorithms favor - is incumbent in maximizing audience reach and engagement for news media organizations of all sizes.


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