6 Apr

The Almighty Algorithm: What it is, and why you should care about it. 

By Victoria Knepp, Consultant

Tell me you’re in marketing, without telling me you’re in marketing… 

Me on the phone with my mom: Well, if you’re scrolling and you stop your scroll to look at something for even a few seconds, that tells the Instagram algorithm you’re interested in that. So, you’ll get more content like that in the future. 

My mom: … 

I’d be lying if I said the word “algorithm” didn’t make my eyes start to twitch. It sounds like something to do with complicated math, and let me tell you that is not my thing. The algorithms on your social channels are what curate your experience. Don’t fret, you’ve got me and this blog to help you decipher them. As a marketer, keeping algorithms in mind when creating content is a must.

So what’s an algorithm, anyway?

The technical definition says, “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation.”

Say what?

For us marketers, an algorithm is how the social channel or search engine looks at your interaction with content, to then influence what content you see more of, or more frequently. So, what I see on my Instagram feed is different than yours. Since there’s a bazoodling (that not-word seems appropriate here) amount of content posted every minute on social – close to 700K Instagram stories – algorithms also serve as a way to pare down your content. There’s some coding and computer sorcery happening in the background too, but you don’t really need to worry about that.

Interestingly enough, search engine and social media algorithms are now referenced in the definition of the term, not just math and science references. Once upon a time, scrolling through Instagram was purely chronological order. It quickly evolved to giving you the content you want, and for better or for worse, giving you the ads you’d be interested in.

Now that you’re in the know, here’s what you need to know.

Each social channel has a different algorithm, and at any given time, those algorithms are changing. Wondering what the latest are? (Me too.) Here’s a rundown.

Algorithms on social channels look at what accounts you follow, as well as what accounts you engage with most – likes, comments, clicks, etc. They also look at the timeliness and popularity of content, and your habits when using the platform. Based on all of their calculations, they prioritize content on your feed. Wondering how to write to the algorithms? (Again, me too.) Here are some suggestions.

As I mentioned, algorithms don’t only show you content from accounts you follow. They also are showing you ads from accounts you may want to follow, based on your interaction and engagement with similar content. This is how we as marketers are able to create targeted ads. So, thanks to these somewhat creepy robot stalking algorithms (I’d be remiss if I wrote this whole blog without mentioning that I’m very much aware how weird, odd, creepy, whatever-your-adjective, algorithms are) your ad isn’t just thrown into social media land. It’s instead thrown onto the feeds of people who are probably actually interested in it. Curious about how to optimize your ads in algorithm land? Check this out.

SEO – search engine optimization – a term we hear all too often, is essentially a three-word synonym for algorithm. Search engine algorithms scan content and pair it with keywords, site traffic, and various other factors when determining what results to show you. When you use SEO in your content, you are playing to the algorithm, in hopes that it will see your content as relevant and important for various keywords, in turn, showing up in more searches, and in the top few results. SEO is an entire other blog (or 67) so check out more here.

So, whether you think these pesky algorithms are friend or foe, they’re there. So, my advice? You might as well read up on them, and learn to work with them, or at least recognize when they’re at work. (And if you’re leaning towards foe, buy an extra box of tin foil and put some on your head.)