If you don’t know how algorithms affect your social media strategy, let me catch you up.
Algorithms are the way social media providers (such as Facebook and Instagram) decide what content appears in each user’s main feed. These algorithms allow users to see more of what they want to see and more of what they’re specifically looking for.
Most providers re-write their algorithms at least once a year based on user trends (are users gravitating more toward videos or memes?) as well as user feedback (“I see too many ads”). Updating their algorithms ensures that the platforms remain fun for mainstream users. This is important, because ultimately it means the provider can sell ad space to businesses on the basis that many users will see it.
Algorithms get a lot of bad word-of-mouth among business owners, though, because unpaid promotions, backlinks, and press are the kinds of posts that are easy to over-produce for which users eventually provide negative feedback (“I see too much of this”). Over time, providers have gotten smarter at burying these sorts of posts so that they don’t drive users from their platforms. And it’s a case of “one bad apple spoils the whole bushel,” because now nearly all business posts seem to get ranked low in algorithms because just a few accounts were too spammy.
When you read between the lines of all this information, as a business owner you can deduce quickly that the best way to get your content in front of the audience you’ve worked so hard to cultivate is to provide the kind of content that users enjoy and engage with—because if you can do that, the algorithm will recognize your content as the kind that makes users stick around longer, and will thereby show more of what you post, more often, to more people.
Sounds simple—but how do you do this, without having all the data these providers gathered in order to inform their algorithms?
That’s the point of today’s post! After a lot of research into what’s going to work within the algorithms of 2019, I’ve come up with 3 things I think you’re going to want to know to start your year off right, and the first one we’re going to cover is for Instagram.
Secret #1 - On Instagram, how long a user looks at your post counts as engagement.
I had a hunch about this starting in fall of 2018. I can’t recall what made me wonder about it, but I do know that I suddenly started scrolling quickly past specific sponsored posts because I knew if I lingered, I was probably going see more of them.
My suspicion was confirmed on a recent episode of the Buffer podcast: The longer a user allows a post to linger on his or her screen, the more “engagement” Instagram reads from that user for that post.
How can you as a business owner leverage this information? By creating the kinds of posts that cause users to stop scrolling in their feeds. This could mean a number of things:
Using the gallery feature to post up to 10 images in a single post. Now that the feature is mainstream and users recognize it, they know to swipe to get the whole story, which keeps them on your post a few seconds longer. Here’s an example.
Posting longer or shorter captions. Everyone’s audience is different; my audience tends to read my longer captions all the way to the end, so by posting longer captions, I get more engagement. However, a peer of mine says her shorter captions get more likes and comments, and her followers tend to scroll on once they realize her captions are over a certain length. Whatever is going to cause your audience to linger—do that.
Leveraging video. If you can hook people in within a couple seconds, you can really bolster your engagement with video, because a video takes longer to get the point across than a picture! Just make sure there’s a payoff for your audience. More on that in this live streaming post and this Instagram one (scroll down to the time-lapse video tip!).
When posting in the main feed, try posting the occasional grid. I’ve seen this used effectively here and here. When there’s a progression of images that are interesting, users are likely to stick around to make sure they see them all.
Use your imagination! This tip could make a significant impact on how many users see your posts in 2019.
Secret #2 - Scheduled posts on Facebook are seen by fewer people.
Both Facebook and Instagram test out all your business posts on a small batch of your audience before showing it to everyone else.
Whether this batch is chosen at random or from a part of your audience that tends to engage, I’m not certain. Regardless, whether or not this group engages with a post by liking and commenting determines how many more people will see it. (This is why you can post a photo with a short caption one day and see it go really well, and use the same format the following day and watch it tank.)
Interestingly, another factor in whether a large portion of your audience sees your content on Facebook seems to be whether it is posted in the moment, or scheduled ahead of time.
I noticed this with my own posts, but again, I didn’t receive confirmation that it was a pattern until Jenna Kutcher shared this same phenomenon with her followers on the Goal Digger podcast. (Unlike my first “secret,” I can’t find that this one been confirmed anywhere by the social provider.) If you’re someone who does the majority of your posting in real time, you’re more likely to see engagement.
However, if you’re someone who likes to “batch work,” like I do, you might be saving yourself time while sacrificing in engagement.
What can you do with this information? I can think of several options:
Choose what matters most to you—time or engagement. If you find that protecting your time is more important, continue on batch working and feel no guilt for it. If you’re trying to increase your social proof right now, give up “batching” until you’ve reached your goals.
Batch for the sake of consistency, but also post exciting “behind the scenes” in real time. This will give you the best of both worlds by demonstrating to the platform (and your audience) that you’re always around. You’ll have spikes and slumps of engagement, but that’s just part of the game.
Schedule your posts ahead of time, but post them in real time manually. Rather than using the “Schedule” feature on Facebook, pre-write and curate your posts ahead of time, and then set an alarm on your phone or calendar to post them in the order you want them to appear. It’s tedious, but it might also mean that you remember to be present to respond to posts quickly, which can also affect how the algorithm reads your engagement.
I do not know if using softwares like HootSuite and Meet Edgar affect this part of the algorithm.
Secret #3 - Instagram classifies your posts into categories, and shares them based on how popular those categories are among your audience.
I had no idea about this one before I heard about it on the Buffer podcast, but it makes total sense.
We can all recognize that there are some topics that light up large audiences of people. Fitness, dogs, and easy family-friendly recipes are all categories of content that some people simply cannot get enough of.
And with all the data collection opportunity these platforms have, it’s no surprise that Instagram has figured out ways to determine what’s in your post, and make sure if it falls into one of these big categories, the right people see it.
Unfortunately, what these categories are does not seem to be public. But if I had to guess, the list is probably pretty similar to the most popular categories on Pinterest:
Health & Fitness
Travel & Landscapes
Marketing & Technology
While you shouldn’t post outside of your brand, if your brand does touch on a category that’s likely to appeal to lots of people within your audience—visually, in the caption, and with what hashtags you use—you might see your engagement increase by posting more often within those categories.
All right, those are your 3 Algorithm Secrets for 2019! Was this helpful? If so, leave a comment below and tell me what’s going to change for you because of these algorithm tips! And if you want more posts like this one, let me know, so I can do the research so that you don’t have to!
Hello! My name is Alexis.
Coffee lover, day dreamer, foodie, and creative. Currently working and living in New Hampshire, I’m an eclectic mix of forward-looking and completely old-fashioned.