Cracking the Code: How to Navigate Facebook and Instagram’s Secret Algorithms

    Gone are the days where posts appear chronologically in your Facebook and Instagram feeds. Both social networks developed their own unique algorithms to determine what you see on your social feed, and in what order. While the algorithms are kept top secret, research and personal experience moves us further toward cracking these ever-changing algorithms.

    Getting your social post to the eyes of viewers is essential, whether you’re blogging for fun or for business. A post that receives more exposure is likely to generate more followers, fans, and sales if applicable. The amount of likes received can determine how well an account is respected, and in some situations, can even mean money. The more eyes a post or ad is seen by, the more of a chance a brand has to gain a larger following and new consumers.

    So is this new algorithm for better or for worse? Many ‘Grammers were upset when Instagram rolled out its new system of ordering posts. Some think Instagram is no longer “fair game” – that now photos get lost in the shuffle, and many do not even appear on the feed at all. When viewed from a different perspective, however, the new Instagram algorithm can actually help your photos rise above. It used to be that the more you post, the more you appear on the feed. This is no longer necessarily the case. “Serial posters” – users who post many photos a day, but photos that are low quality – will sink, while those who share compelling visuals on a less frequent scale will rise. Think of it this way: quantity over quality shifted to quality over quantity.

     With the latest algorithm update, Instagram prioritizes active users. This is a marketing trick to keep users on the Instagram app longer and checking more frequently. So what constitutes as an “active user”? An active account is one that engages frequently. This means facilitating conversation, writing captions that tell stories and pose questions, and commenting and interacting with other users. Instagram also wants to see you make the most of their features. This means sharing in-the-moment to your Story and using Instagram Live. This is also a good way to keep your audience engaged and up to date with your life, even when you are not posting a photo.

The focus is now on how to make your Instagram photos original and creative. According to Kevin Systrom, co-founder and chief executive of Instagram, “People miss about 70 percent of the posts in their Instagram feed. What this is about is making sure that the 30 percent you see is the best 30 percent possible.” This is good news to marketers. If your photos are compelling and you seek an authentic following, you will have an advantage over spam accounts with purchased followers. When viewed from this vantage, the new Instagram algorithm will be helpful to people and brands making the effort to produce quality content. When authenticity is key, spam doesn’t stand a chance.

    Facebook takes a similar approach with its new algorithm. You won’t notice every single post on your Facebook feed, but you will notice the ones that rise to the top. The posts that make it to the top of the feed are typically the ones gaining the most interaction. The Facebook algorithm picks up the amount of activity (in the form of likes, comments, and shares) a post is receiving. The more engagement a post receives, the more Facebook identifies it as important and relevant. This is why it is helpful to respond to comments left on your posts.

Ever notice how a “So and so are Engaged” post will show at the top of you feed? Facebook looks for keywords when it comes to sorting posts with the algorithm. Terms such as “birth,” “engaged,” “married,” “congratulations,” and anything regarding current events will be flagged as important, and therefore will receive priority. If you want your brand’s post to gain attention, avoid using dull words.

    Content posted directly through Facebook takes precedence over content shared from an external source. For example, someone doing a Facebook Live video will likely be placed higher on the newsfeed than someone who shared a video from Youtube. If you want your content to be spotted, make sure you are posting it directly through Facebook’s uploading system and not from a source that will direct the viewer off of the Facebook platform. After all, these sites/ apps want you to stay as long as possible scrolling on their server.

    The new Facebook algorithm poses potential threats for businesses. Posts from Pages as opposed to personal user profiles are less likely to appear on the newsfeed. Pages can pay money to have their ads/posts appear to more viewers, but not every company has the funding for this method. This particularly hurts small businesses. If you are a blogger or company with sufficient funding, use paid promotion on the posts that are showing signs of success in order to expand the positive reach even further. If you are a blogger or a business with limited funds, there are still ways to help your posts be seen. Post content natively, and make sure the content you are creating appeals to your target audience. See which posts of yours have received a lot of hype and which have flopped and learn from it. Likes – or the lack of – are telling when it comes to figuring out what your target audience wants to see. The new Facebook algorithm does not encourage clickbait and promotional wording, so make your posts as organic and relatable as possible. Create engaging content, and don’t be afraid to play around with Facebook’s new visual features such as 360 videos/photos. It all comes back to the theme of quality. Quality content will attract more attention, thus gaining more Shares, thus reaching more viewers.

    Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg or Kevin Systrom, there is no way to know the specifics of the hundreds of factors that go into arranging the newsfeed. The above practices, however, will get you started on the right path. Create engaging content, continuously reply to comments and messages, and be persistent. Do not get discouraged and do not expect overnight results – genuine growth takes time and can sometimes feed tedious, but it is incredibly more effective than artificial growth. Keep at it every day, have patience, and the change will be noticeable.

    Remember that these complex algorithms weren’t created to hurt, but to help. The ultimate goal of the algorithm is to display content the platform determines is most relevant to the user. There’s nothing wrong with a little competition for feed placement if it means a decrease in spam and a push for quality. It’s not about beating the algorithm – it’s about learning to work and grow with it.

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