December 15, 2023

How Do Social Media Algorithms Work?

By Charles Miller

"The algorithm likes this"

"The algorithm likes that"

"The algorithm changed"

In the social media marketing world, people are constantly talking about algorithms and how to take advantage of them.

But 95% of people get them wrong.

That's because they focus on little hacks and tricks.

There's one that was working well on Instagram a few months ago (and still kind of is) where you create a video that's only a few seconds, add text to the screen telling people to read the caption, and then put useful content in the caption. This often leads to good reach because the algorithm sees that viewers are watching the same video over and over again, so it thinks it's interesting and shows it to more viewers.

But this post isn't about the occasional trick that pops up.

That hack won't build a brand, and it might stop working soon.

This post is about understanding algorithms on a fundamental level, so you can thrive on every platform, forever.

Lesson 1: every social media platform's top desire is to make more money through selling ad space to companies.

Lesson 2: whatever gets them the most money is what they'll make their algorithms like.

Lesson 3: that "whatever" is the following...

People Staying On The Platform

The longer you're on a platform, the more ads they can show to you, and the more money they'll make.

Most social platforms track interest through engagement and time spent looking at posts.

The more engagement you get (especially reposts and replies), the more the algorithm will reward you.

The more time people read your posts, watch your Reels, etc, the more the algorithm will reward you.

Show platforms that your content is keeping people on the platform, and they'll reward you.

People Getting On The Platform

If a platform can get someone who's not on their platform to make an account or log into an existing account, now they have a new person to show ads to.

They track which posts are getting people on the platform by looking at shares and bookmarks.

When someone sends your post to friends, it signals that more people might use the platform, which means more ad $$.

When someone bookmarks your post, it signals that they'll be back to read it again, which means more ad $$.

Show platforms that your content is getting people to open the app, and they'll reward you.

What To Do About It

Jumping on algorithm hacks like the one I explained in the beginning is fine. Do it if you want.

But the long-term move is to understand how algorithms work on a fundamental level and acting accordingly.

The 2 best types of content:

  1. Emotional - This stuff gets lots of engagement and shares because it moves people emotionally. It mostly includes politics, humor, relatability, and motivation. People see that stuff, like it, reply to it, and send it to their friends.
  2. Useful - Stuff stuff gets a solid amount of engagement and shares, and a ton of bookmarks because people can get value out of it. They can use it now or save it for later. It mostly includes how-to guides, how-I guides, tools lists, ideas lists, quick tips, and other applicable stuff.

Write posts that are in one of those two baskets, and make sure you coordinate some engagement (e.g. exchanging likes and replies with a few other creators in your niche) to give your content a guaranteed level of engagement.

That's how you make the algorithm "like you".

That's how you make your social accounts grow.

P.S. Whenever you're ready, I can help you in 3 ways:

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