An algorithm is a sequence of steps used to solve specific problems.

Algorithms are often scientific or mathematical equations. In recent years, software engineers, data scientists and content strategists have begun developing algorithms for search engines and social media platforms.

Each social media network uses a specific set of technical elements, usage analytics and logical decisions to determine where to place content to please its customers. Ultimately, nothing you see online appears to you by accident.

What is a social media algorithm?

A social media algorithm is a way of sorting through posts in a user feed.

Before social media networks began creating purposeful algorithms, most displayed content in reverse chronological order. The most recent posts appeared at the top of your feed. Some social channels still allow users to choose this option.

The idea of algorithms is to provide social media users with the content they’re most interested in seeing. If users see content that’s tailored to their preferences, they’re more likely to spend more time on a social channel, which is good news for the channel. Different social media platforms have their own ideas about the right way to engage users. For instance:

  • Facebook prioritizes posts that “spark conversations and meaningful interactions“. The content with the most engagement reaches the top of the news feed.
  • Twitter places “relevant” tweets at the top of your timeline based on your interaction history with the profiles you follow.
  • LinkedIn (as of 2018) places content at the top of the feed by looking at your browsing preferences and scanning your behavior with each visit.
  • Instagram uses three major metrics in its algorithm: Timeliness, Relationships and Interest. You’ll see content at the top of your feed that’s recent, relevant and from people you care about.

Why use algorithms?

Social media channels worked for years without any deliberate algorithms, using just the reverse chronological order to place posts. So, why the change?

Today there are more users on every social platform than ever before. This means that user feeds are packed full of more content that needs to be managed and prioritized than ever. Social algorithms are there to make sure that you’re seeing the content you actually want to see. It’s all about delivering a better customer experience.

Though an algorithm change often causes a panic among marketers and other social media users, the truth is that if you focus on delivering a consistent, targeted experience to your audience, you won’t have to worry in most cases.

How to master social algorithms

So, how do you keep up with social algorithm changes?

To some extent, it depends on the channel you use. However, for the most part, you can weather changes in social algorithms through:

  • Engagement: Connect with your audience and they’ll be more likely to seek out your content.
  • Interaction: Tagging, @Mentioning and connecting with people expands your reach.
  • Targeting: Relevant content makes the best connections with your audience.
  • Analytics: Use social analytics to find out what’s working well and replicate your results.
  • Paid Posts: Running social ads ensures that your content will always be seen