Algorithms: a guide for creatives and NGOs with limited budgets

Facebook Instagram algorithm

Everything you need to know, in 2019, about the Facebook and Instagram algorithms and how to make them work in your favour if you’re an artist or charity worker with a tiny budget and no time.

What do we mean by algorithm?

In normal speak, an algorithm is a procedure for solving problems. In social media speak, it’s the stuff that social marketers’ nightmares are made of.  It’s basically the procedure that your social media platform uses to decide which pieces of content are displayed to which users, and how frequently.

But it’s not as complicated as you might think. Because it’s an algorithm, by its very nature an algorithm is logical. And once you understand what factors kick in around the algorithm, your social media content will be much easier to plan. 

Social media channels have to use a formula to determine how often a post might show up in someone’s feed and how long it might stay there. 

How does the algorithm work?

That formula uses real-time data from its users. So, as people are reacting and commenting on posts and sharing them, Facebook and Instagram are serving up that content to the people their algorithm has calculated, will most want to see it.

What this means, is that usually, your social network doesn’t serve content in chronological order, but rather in the order Facebook or Instagram deem will be of most relevance to you. Which explains why sometimes you don’t see a post until the event is over or the news is old. 

When it comes to the algorithm, “meaningful” interaction is where it’s at. 

Understanding the Facebook algorithm

Facebook no longer careshow much time users spend on its platform, as long as that time is “quality” time.

  • The Facebook algorithm prioritises “active” interactions.
  • That means commenting and sharing are prioritised over likes and click-throughs, which are both considered to be passive interactions. 
  • The logic here is that those “meaningful” interactions require more effort and are therefore of higher quality.

With that in mind, you need to consider comments, reactions, comment replies, sharing links on messenger and engagement on shares. 

“Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”

Mark Zuckerberg

In practical terms:

  • A Facebook user is much more likely to see a post if their friends and family are commenting on it. 
  • “loving” a post is more valuable than “liking” a post. And same with the other emotion reactions.
  • Replies to comments are particularly valuable as the algorithm sees this as the content catalysing conversations between users. Facebook has pretty much identified conversation as the most important outcome of the current algorithm, so a key goal of any social strategy should be publishing content that inspires users to tag friends and start conversations. 
  • When people share a piece of content with a friend over Facebook messenger, the algorithm gets a wee bit excited. 
  • In the past the algorithm prioritised content that received many shares. Now it’s all about the engagement on those shares. 

Understanding the Instagram algorithm

Instagram, on the other hand, does care how much time people spend on their platform. In fact, its team have fairly explicitly stated that their primary goal is to maximise the time spent onsite. That means, accounts that help Instagram achieve that goal are more likely to seen more often by more people. 

Interaction

Instagram prioritises content from users who interact with eachother a lot. So if someone is leaving comments on your posts or you DM eachother, the algorithm assumes you are “close”. Obviously having notifications enable for an account makes it even more likely that content will be prioritised. 

Interest

A user’s past behaviour impacts which posts are deemed important by the algorithm. Past behaviour includes the content you’ve clicked-through to, the content you’ve liked and shared, the groups and pages you’re connected with and what you post to your own page. Machine vision technology can assess the content of a photo to deem what it represents, for example, and then you’ll be served with more of that content.

Timeliness

Newer posts get showed first (at the moment, remember the algorithm can and does change any time). So, the “recency” element of the algorithm means that it is important to may attention to the behaviour of your fans and posting when they’re online and most likely to interact with your content. 

Ideas for using the algorithm to improve your social media content

So, what does this all mean? Here’s some tips for improving the likelihood that your content will appear more frequently to more people, based on what we just learned about the algorithms.

  1. Meaningful interaction is where it’s at. This means you need to start conversations with people. Instead of just posting a piece of content, ask questions that are likely to provoke a response.
  2. Angry, sad and love reacts are considered “active” interactions, as opposed to just liking a post. Bear this in mind as you’re crafting your content. 
  3. Know when your fans are online and post content accordingly. Use Facebook’s built-in analytics to analyse this data for your own page. This means that your fans, friends and family are more likely to interact with your post (because they’re online and active), which means it’s more likely to rank highly according to the algorithm. One way to maximise timing is to create a content calendar and to stick to it. 
  4. Send posts via Messenger to specific people when appropriate. 
  5. When your content is shared, assuming it’s a public share, go ahead and respond to that thread. Something like “hey, thanks for sharing this, how awesome is it that ….”, to start a conversation with the person who shared it from your page. A the very least a heart reaction (on the share) will make that content appear to even more people. 
  6. If people comment on your post, react or reply. A post that has a lot of conversations will perform much better than one that does not. 
  7. Facebook is totally onto you if you try to “game” the algorithm. For example, if you explicitly ask people to like or share your post, Facebook is likely to rank that post for low interaction. 
  8. The algorithm loves video. Facebook itself has noted that video content drives higher engagement and interactions and therefore likely to rank higher. Video does not mean posting a youtube link, but rather creating specific original content and posting via Facebook or Instagram, or even better, creating live video content. 
  9. Conversations in FB groups are important. If you don’t have one, consider starting one or at least joining appropriate groups for your audience and brand. 
  10. There is such a thing as baiting people to engage and Facebook does not like it. They’ve begun to demote engagement baiting, including specific requests to engage in audio and video. 
  11. Now that you understand (hopefully) how the algorithm works, you can understand why it’s important to encourage your team, employees, friends, super fans and brand advocates to help push your content. As Facebook prioritises content from friends and families over business, this is a critical strategy for reaching a bigger audience, but also ensuring your content is ranked higher. 
  12. Make sure you’re targeting the right audience. Facebook gives you the option of setting preferences and restrictions every time you make a post. Say for example you’re holding a launch event on the Gold Coast but you have fans all over Australia, perhaps you might restrict that post to people who live in Southeast Queensland?
  13. Constantly linking offsite makes Facebook sad. Of course, the platform is more likely to rank content higher if it is unique content to Facebook. This is why diverse content types is important. Visual content garners 87% more engagement. Every one of your posts needs to incorporate something visual. 
  14. Use hashtags and shout-out / link other pages where possible. 

Recommended reading related to algorithms and social media

  • Lateris a scheduling tool for Instagram and their blog is full of very practical advice for strategic use of the platform. Their tips for making the Instagram algorithm work in your favour are great. Read here.
  • Facebook has a bunch of its own content online to help users better understand the platform and to create content more likely to generate interaction. This article on engagement baiting is worth reading.
  • Sprout Social is also a scheduling tool for social media and they’ve laid out a great article on algorithms, what they mean for social media and some of the historical changes. Read it here.

Need help with social media? Wombat Creative Pty Ltd runs interactive social media workshops for communities throughout Australia with a focus on regional economic development, creative artists and not for profit sectors. Contact us for more information.

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