Navigating the Changed Social Media Algorithm: The Top 6 Algorithm Changes You Need to Be Aware Of

Social media platforms determine post placement on a user’s feed based on a series of factors ranging from the geographic location of the user to the degree of engagement with a particular brand or post.

These factors (that determine how a social media user’s wall or feed looks) are fitted into a type of code called an ‘algorithm.’ This algorithm looks for patterns in the user’s social media usage to determine the type of posts the user enjoys and helps design the feed to be more user-friendly.

As a rule, all platforms regularly update and modify their algorithms to improve customer experience and to implement data security measures online. But, Facebook recently led the charge towards a massive overhaul of existing social media algorithms. What are these changes and how do they affect social media marketing campaigns for businesses? Read on to find out.

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The social media algorithm changes in action this 2018

When we talk of algorithm changes on social media platforms, we refer to the following:

1) Visibility of posts that the platform determines is relevant to the user

Traditional social media algorithms placed all social media posts into the mix and gave users control over the content they wanted to search for and see. But the new algorithm has changed the game. Now, the platforms decide what content users should ideally see, and they share posts on feeds accordingly.

This change was incorporated first by Facebook with the objective of providing users with content that was relevant and useful to them and which had the potential to generate meaningful conversation.

So, say a user engages with one brand more than the other; then he/she will see more posts by that brand and fewer posts by the brands he/she doesn’t engage with until the posts by the less-engaged brands completely disappear.

When this happens, the user may not see posts that are in reality meaningful and valuable to them but are unfortunate to have less engagement. For small businesses, this is an extremely scary proposition. In the face of renowned, highly-engaged brands, their content may not stand a chance.

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2) Greater emphasis on on-site links and in-app content over external content

Before the algorithm changes, social media was an even playing field for everyone. Irrespective of whether links led to other social media posts or external websites, social media platforms like Facebook allowed users to access all content organically.

But this isn’t the case anymore. Now, the preference is for posts that contain on-site and in-bound links and content that’s available only in-app. Posts that contain links to external content producers and aggregators are sidelined in favour of internal content sources.

The new algorithms limit the searchability and visibility of all external links and rank such posts at the bottom of the list.  Unable to be found, many posts with external links (especially links belonging to less engaged brands) will remain undiscovered for ages.

The best examples of this are top-rated content producers and aggregators like Vice, Mashable, Buzzfeed and NewYorker, who all experienced a reduction in readership and social media ranking due to the algorithmic changes.

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3) Removal of bot applications used in content measurement, analysis and publishing

Social media bots were embroiled in a scandal during the US Presidential Elections. It was found that the bots implemented by businesses to collect customer data leaked sensitive information to Russian authorities, which resulted in their meddling with the Presidential Elections. Multiple accounts were hacked, and private information was shared with unknown parties putting everyone at risk.

The new social media algorithm, especially the one in Twitter, strictly warns against the usage of any bot-technology for data collection of any kind. While, on the whole, this makes social media safer, for brands engaged in customer profiling and targeting, this may be a huge blow. Without bots to assist them in demographic and psychographic data collections, brands may be left clueless about the changing customer landscape on social media. This can make content marketing a humongous challenge.

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4) Restriction in hashtag usage, visibility and effectiveness

Instagram’s new algorithm allows users to select which hashtags can be displayed on their newsfeed and which posts/brands’ feed can be tagged with a particular hashtag. The objective of this algorithm change is to make available only that content which users find relevant.

For example, if a brand uses the hashtag #runnershigh, Instagram users now have the ability to direct the platform not to show any content that contains the hashtag #runnershigh or to selectively remove posts by specific brands which contain the same hashtag.

For brands, this is a death warrant. Say you’ve used this hashtag at least in 20 posts. So, that’s 20 posts not reaching one particular customer. Now, imagine if 20 people click on the ‘Don’t Show For This Hashtag’ option on their account. That’s 20 posts each not reaching 20 customers, and this translates to a huge loss of businesses in terms of brand visibility, CTR and conversions.

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5) Amplification of content to connections/friends of different degrees

Social media algorithm changes don’t just affect the kind of content users view, but they also impact the content that the friends, connections and followers of the users view. Take LinkedIn for example. A page that a user engages with extensively will automatically be shared with a few of the user’s first degree connections, and these will be further shared with his/her connections’ connections.

If for example the user regularly likes, comments and shares posts by a specific brand, 5-6 of the user’s first-degree connections get to see these posts on their feed often. Now, if any of these connections engage with the same posts extensively, their first-degree connections (who are the primary user’s second-degree connections) get to view the same set of posts.

This kind of snowballing restricts the type of content visible on the platform. Instead of letting all posts reach users organically, the new algorithm only gives visibility to those posts that receive the highest engagement.

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6) The incorporation of AI into algorithm mapping

When we talk of social media algorithms, we don’t just refer to a static set of codes that are designed to make the platform act in a particular way. We refer to an evolving, living, breathing and ever-expanding software that can change based on audience engagement across the platform.

The best example is YouTube which has one of the most challenging algorithms to crack. Post visibility depends on multiple factors like watch time, attention retention time, upload frequency, length of subscriber list, subscriber activity and so on. The AI-driven algorithms use this information and more to keep modifying the way YouTube results appear to viewers.

The negative impacts of the social media algorithmic changes

The changes to social media algorithms have placed brands in a pickle. Just as they help highly-engaged, renowned and well-performing brands perform better on social media, they also bring in a set of disadvantages which impact small brands and start-ups in particular.

These disadvantages include:

  • Only selective posts get published on the platform, restricting the others to the shadows
  • Users will not have visibility into posts that aren’t heavily-engaged with and may miss out on information which they otherwise would have enjoyed or found useful
  • Social media marketing efforts of brands will be lost as many of the posts they create may not reach their customers at all
  • Organic reach as we know it has come to an end and no brand/page on social media will receive solid organic-driven site visits
  • The algorithms also change the way SEO is used and restrict hashtag usage across platforms, further reducing post and brand visibility

Social media is one of the strongest tools in the marketing repertoire of small-scale businesses and start-ups. As influencer Neil Patel puts it, social media has the lowest entry barrier and is the easiest marketing tool to leverage for business marketing. Knowing how to tackle these new algorithm changes can help businesses target the right audiences and effect conversions quickly and easily.

In the next part of the series, we’ll take a look at how to tackle the algorithm changes in the Big 2 of the social media world – Facebook and Instagram.

Feature image credits: Pixabay