*Note – I’m touching on this subject because I’m finding there are still a lot of people on the web who really don’t know about this. If you’re aware of ‘the algorithm’ and the information contained in this post, please feel free to ignore.
Have you ever been searching Instagram and thought to yourself ‘Why the hell are you suggesting these photos to me, Instagram?’Likewise with Twitter, have you ever been on Twitter and wondered why some people’s Tweets are always at the top of your feed whilst others never seem to show up at all? This is ‘the algorithm’ at work.
Gone are the days of things showing up chronologically on your time line. These are the days when the algorithm picks ‘exactly what you want to see’. I say that in quotation marks because for weeks now my feed has been filled with babies and baby announcements, so clearly the algorithm isn’t functioning at proper capacity.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and even WordPress all use some form of an algorithm for showing you content. Cracking the algorithm is, in itself, a form of social media marketing.
So, how does it work? I suspect only employees on the inside know for the certain the full extent to the algorithm’s functions. That being said, there is one rule of function that seems to work.
- Engagement is the most important thing you can garner with your content.
In the case of all social media platforms, engagement is likes and comments. In the case of YouTube, engagement also includes people clicking the ‘Thumbs Down’ button to dislike, and it also includes watch time.
So, let’s break down how this works on each site.
Twitter is going to suggest to you the Tweets from people on your feed with the most comments and likes. So this is why, if you follow celebrities (in addition to your friends and family), the celebrities tweets are always going to appear near the top of your feed. This is also true for Follow Trains, comment threads or anything that garners a large amount of comments in a short period of time.
Twitter is also going to suggest to you the Tweets of the individuals who’s Tweets you’ve liked and commented on in recent past. So if you’re ever thinking that ‘I haven’t seen a tweet from this person in a long time’, it’s probably because you haven’t liked or commented on any of their Tweets.
Even though in recent months they’ve moved away from publicly showing how many likes a photo has, likes are still a driving force to what photos are suggested to you on Instagram. This is how, if you search Instagram, you can always seem to find one of the Kardashian sisters, no matter how little attention you pay to them or care about them. With like… 100 million subscribers each on the platform, the moment they post a photo they get A TON of likes, and those likes are what push them to the top of suggested posts.
When a celebrity or influencer says “Comment below with”, that is them trying to garner more comments so that the algorithm suggest their content to more people. Trust me when I say this, they don’t give a damn about your comment. When someone you watch on YouTube says ‘Follow me on Instagram and tell me you came from YouTube’ that’s a tactic to garner more engagement and get their photos suggested to more people through the Instagram algorithm.
When a brand does a giveaway on their Instagram and the requirement of the giveaway is to ‘Tag a friend below’, this is a two-fold promotion for them. 1) You’re tagging your friend so that your friend can see their Instagram, which is promotion and 2) You’re commenting on their Instagram page, which counts as engagement. More engagement means they rank higher on the algorithm of suggested posts. Do you have a chance to win? Sure. One in… however many people tag a friend and like the post. This is why so many brands do giveaways. The promotion they’re getting just from you tagging their friends is worth the… probably 20 dollar value of whatever they’re giving away.
First, I will say that likes and dislikes count as engagement on YouTube. So, whether you hit the like button or you hit the dislike button you’re working in the favour of said person creating the YouTube video. If you really don’t like it, you’re doing much better if you just click away from the video.
Secondly, watch time plays a factor in engagement. YouTube tracks average watch time for videos. So, if a person makes a ten minute video and most people click off after 2-3 minutes, they’re not going to get recommended as a suggested video in Youtube’s algorithm. This is why so many people will say ‘Stay tuned to the end to find out —–‘ or ‘Stay tuned to the end for the giveaway’ or ‘Stay tuned to the end to hear a secret’. If you watch through to the end, that works in their favour with ad revenue, with Youtube’s algorithm and with making their channel look as though content is valuable and worthy of YouTube investing in.
When a Youtuber says ‘Comment Below with’… well with pretty much anything… that is their attempt to drive up engagement. ‘Comment below with your favourite day of the week!’ or ‘Comment below and tell me what colour your eyes are!’ That YouTuber really doesn’t give a flying fuck what colour your eyes are, they just want their video to look more legit to the YouTube algorithm. The more comments they get, the more legit they look, the more likely they are to get suggested as a ‘video to watch’.
Facebook, much like Instagram (because Facebook owns Instagram) will suggest to you the comments, status updates, photos, memories, etc… from the people who have the most likes and comments. So, you’ll notice that if you have a friend who is a bit of a Facebook whore, for lack of better terminology, their posts are always going to seem to be at the top of your feed… whereas your quiet friends who don’t have a ton of Facebook friends will always seem to appear much lower down on your feed.
If you are the quiet friend trying to get the word out about your blog, your writing or anything of the sort, the way to go about it is to ask for likes, ask for comments and to ask for people to share your content. The more engagement that you get, even if you need to ‘pimp your content out’ (for lack of better terminology), the better off you are.
If you’re using Facebook to spread word about your blog, your writing, your music or your artwork, I strongly recommend joining groups and finding a community of people who will help to share your content with Facebook. The more it’s seen, the more Facebook is going to recommend it.
WordPress, working with transparency (which I love) actually tells you just how their algorithms work. I talk a lot about them on my page, but mostly in the comments section of my posts, so I don’t know how many people are truly aware of how it works.
If you’d like the source of any of the following information –> Click Here (If you’re looking to work the WordPress algorithm in your favour, I highly recommend clicking and reading the entire page)
The algorithms are often being improved, and what content we show depends on a complex combination of factors. Here are examples of the types of information we may use to make our recommendations:
- The title, content, tags, and categories of posts.
- Other text from the site, such as usernames and logins; site names and the host name (support.wordpress.com).
- Total number of likes and comments.
- Who has liked and commented on a post.
- Total number of followers.
- Who has followed a site.
- How recently a post was published.
- How often or recently a site has posted.
- The content of what you have liked and commented on.
- Whether posts have links, images, or videos.
- How often a site has been rejected from being recommended in the Reader.
Content we filter out from our algorithms:
- Sites we think may be spam.
- Sites that have mature content.
- Sites with potentially objectionable content.
- Content that is not in your language.
The moral of the story? Asking for likes, comments and engagement helps. It helps in big ways. If you can find another way of getting people talking that doesn’t require your asking them something, then you’ve struck gold. If someone is asking you to ‘Comment below what colour your eyes are’ don’t do it. If a brand says ‘Tag a friend and you’re entered to win’, unless you really, really love the brand, only give that free promotion to a brand that you really love. And, if you want to truly make an impact with the content you’re pumping out, surround yourself with an incredible online community who’ll stand behind you and your work so that you can share your world with the web and they will help and support you every step of the way.
Also, if the Kardashian’s keep getting recommended to you in spite of your not giving a flying fuck, you’re not crazy. They’re cheating the system. It’s estimated as much as 60 percent of Kim Kardashian’s online following is bots. Bots that help her stay at the top of page and relevant on just about every website. She’s got the money, so I wouldn’t have a hard time believing that she bought all those bots.
Also, there’s a rumour going around (I’ve yet to see in action) that you can now buy bots to artifically ‘growth hack’ your accounts whilst you’re least active on social media. I don’t know if this is true or not, I’ve not seen it in action. But… I did see a relatively average Youtuber shoot from 52,000 subscribers to 750,000 subscribers in about four days earlier this month. So, I don’t have a hard time believing it… especially since his engagement is still the same as it was when he had 52,000 subscribers.