Guide to Social Media Algorithms

4 min read 

Nothing strikes as much fear into entrepreneurs trying to boost their social media like the dreaded social media algorithm. It’s a big looming cloud of unknown that seems to randomly punish and reward unsuspecting social posts.

The function of algorithms is to deliver the most relevant content to users out of the thousands of photos and videos published every minute on social platforms. Pretty helpful, right?

But if you haven’t experienced it yet yourself (although you probably have but just haven’t realized it yet), the big deal about social media algorithms is that they affect reach

What does that mean exactly? There’s a good chance that not all of your followers on a social network will see your posts, which leads to decreased engagement, less leads, and reduced revenue ultimately.

To top it off, those pesky algorithms have been mysticized into something far beyond anyone’s comprehension and a fact of life we have to live with. Sound ridiculous? Good, because it is. 

The Fix: Learn What Algorithms Want

You don’t have to succumb to the destiny algorithms decide for you. They aren’t a huge looming unknown, but rather a system that can be studied and utilized. While none of us can “beat the algorithm,” we can certainly play along with it and learn what it wants.

How do algorithms function?

They take into account a user’s past behavior, what they’ve liked, commented, clicked on, searched, etc., crunch it with some fancy data science, and then serve similar content to users at the forefront of their social feeds. 

While there is a factor of “unknown,” there are two things business owners can do to start cracking the code: 

  • Staying up-to-date about what social networks are saying about their algorithms. 
  • Experimenting with their posts. 

Burdensome? Yes. Necessary? YES. 


Case Study

Sunshine Vitamins, an online retailer of health supplements, has realized that their social media posts haven’t been receiving the same levels of engagement they’ve enjoyed in the past. A significant amount of their website traffic came from social media, so less eyes on their posts meant less sales. 

After a sweep of their social networks, they found the following algorithm red flags:

  • Posts occurring late at night when there were few people online
  • Repetitive posts encouraging followers to tag others or click like (big spam indicator!)
  • More salesy posts than they had in the past
  • No variety in the types of content posted
  • Little engagement with users that commented on posts

With all of these mishaps, it’s no wonder that social networks’ algorithms began ranking Sunshine Vitamins’ posts lower.

Algorithm-Outsmarting Techniques

Keep in mind that it can’t be all one-sided catering to the algorithm. The crux of it all is finding a balance between playing along with the algorithm and producing content your audience wants to see. 

  • Algorithms reward posts with high engagement. Therefore, boost likes, comments, and shares by posting question-based posts that inspire interaction.

  • Use “tag-a-friend” posts to draw more views and engagement. These should be used sparingly though, as they may be deemed as “engagement-bait” and punished by the algorithm. 

  • Timing is crucial. It’s a generally accepted notion that the faster a post accumulates likes and comments, the higher it will be ranked. That means posting when most of your followers are online is key to receiving more engagement per minute. Use the insights tools available on social platforms to find the times your audience is active. This becomes your posting sweet-spot. 

  • Accounts that publish content frequently and consistently find that it performs better than if they post every now and then. Save yourself time and double dip on your own efforts by reusing content from one social platform onto your other accounts. 

  • Publish more native videos for algorithm good grace. These are videos posted directly to a network not via a link to another site. This is also a chance to produce more engaging content for your audience - behind the scenes footage, how-to tutorials, creative commercials, etc.

  • Drop the salesy language. Phrases like “BUY NOW” or “LAST CHANCE OFFER” signal that your post may be too sales-oriented and not quality content. There is nothing wrong with selling via social, but make sure to package your posts with some tact.  

They’re a living, breathing, ever-changing obstacle, but algorithms are here to stay, for better or worse. Learn what they’re looking for, play smart, and you’ll be reaching the top of the feed soon enough. 


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