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January 22, 2015

All Hail the Algorithm: Algorithmic Newsfeeds on the Rise

Facebook rocked the boat when they introduced the newsfeed all the way back in 2006. Before this centralized newsfeed, in order to see what had changed since the last time you’d visited Facebook, you had to visit each of your friends individually. Facebook took this relatively private checking up to a new, public level.

People were unhappy with the change at first, expressing their annoyance at Facebook’s new homepage. But over time, all this was forgotten; the new newsfeed was a powerful way to get a message across to all of your friends at once, right there when they logged in.

In the beginning, newsfeeds were simple and fairly straightforward: a post of some kind was shared by one user and displayed at the same time to that user’s networks. If you were online when a particular post was shared or shortly after, you could see the post or scroll to see it. If others in your network shared information since that time, you might miss it. The process didn’t need much of an explanation.

Since then, the face of newsfeeds has changed. As search engines got smarter, so did social media networks; algorithms made this change possible. While the average social network user isn’t affected by the change – other than being fed more information that’s valuable rather than spam – brands who use social media to market products and services are. Now, instead of a post going out to all followers after being shared, it is displayed based on one algorithm or another; if a post isn’t being shared with enough followers, the brand can pay to give it a bit of a “boost.”

While various algorithms exist and each network does things differently, there are three primary algorithmic newsfeeds: chronological, user-recommended and algorithmic.

Chronological

Chronological is the closest example we have to the original newsfeed setup. When a post is shared, it goes out to the walls of those within a certain network or a group of followers. When these users log in, they see the most recent posts and shares of their friends.

Twitter is a notable example of a chronological newsfeed. If you’re online when a user or brand that you follow shares something, you’re more likely to see it than if you log in hours later and need to scroll through hundreds – or even thousands – of other posts. While this network has been using this method for some time, the appearance of a “while you were away” button on the accounts of some users on January 2 indicates a possible shift in the near future, or at least a way to view posts that you may have missed that will more likely than not be based upon an algorithm.

To best use networks like Twitter, and others that utilize chronological display features, learning when your followers are most active is critical. If a user isn’t signed on when you share, they will probably miss the information you post. Another option is to post the same content at various times, to ensure more users have a chance to view it. While chronological newsfeed displays were the norm at one point, Twitter’s recent change shows a shift toward other features in the near future.

User-Recommended

User-recommended – or popularity-based – newsfeeds break from chronological feeds in an important way; they display content based on its popularity. This can take on a variety of forms. Some sites – like Reddit – display content based on user votes; the more votes a specific post receives, the higher it will be displayed. Others rely on using likes and shares to decide what’s the most popular, displaying these posts over others in user newsfeeds.

For maximizing results on networks that utilize user-recommended newsfeed algorithms, engaging and sharing with your followers is critical. Use email marketing and cross-network sharing to get your content out to as many users as possible. Ask them to “vote” or “like” your content and to share it with others. Over time, this will become more natural and your content will earn more positive feedback naturally. It will also be displayed higher in the newsfeeds of your followers in the future.

Secret Algorithms

Certain social media giants – like Facebook and more recently, Pinterest – use a more complex, secret algorithm to determine which posts are displayed to users via newsfeeds. While it is impossible to determine exactly what causes certain posts to be displayed over others, a combination of post popularity, brand reach, post type – a photo, link or text for example – and other things like user preference and browsing history, are likely behind these algorithms.

As a brand marketer trying to engage an audience and to maximize your reach, this can be frustrating and difficult to understand, but, it doesn’t have to be. To achieve best results on networks like these, posting valuable content on a regular basis in a variety of forms is essential. Share links and post photos on a regular basis. Other musts include:

  • Engage your followers. Ask questions that start discussions to keep activity levels higher.
  • Drive traffic from your site to your social media accounts. If user history determines what content is displayed, creating a reason for visitors to find you on social media is critical.
  • Review your social media stats on a weekly or monthly basis. Take the time to understand which posts received the most views and start to modify your strategy accordingly.
  • Consider paying for “boosts” or more views. Social networks like Facebook and StumbleUpon offer options to display content to targeted user groups that make understanding the complex, secret algorithm less confusing while maximizing your efforts.

Understanding social networks and how your content is displayed to your followers is critical for ensuring you reach your target market effectively. Take the time to evaluate your social media efforts – are you working with the algorithms or against them? What could you be doing differently to better engage your followers and to ensure your content is shared?


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Adrienne Erin is a blogger and Internet marketer for what she thinks is one of the best SEO companies out there. When she's not blogging about tech and social media, you might find her practicing her French, whipping up some recipes she found on Pinterest, or obsessing over vintage postcards and stamps.

One Response to “All Hail the Algorithm: Algorithmic Newsfeeds on the Rise

    avatar Greg says:

    Thank you for sharing

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