Episode 4: What the Heck is the Social Media Algorithm

podcast Jun 25, 2019

You've probably heard of the social media algorithms but do you really understand their purpose? Do you realize these are in place to enhance the user experience? You can either choose to be bitter about the algorithms or you can embrace them and use them to your advantage. 

 

In this episode, I explain what the algorithms are, why they are important, and how you can embrace them. Let's be honest, if you're not embracing them and staying knowledgable about them, you're probably wasting some time, effort, and energy in your social media efforts. I hate to even think about that happening, so let's get you up to speed.

Listen to the Full Episode:

 

Links Mentioned in this Episode:
Facebook Newsroom: https://newsroom.fb.com/
Melanie Dyann Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melaniedyann/
Social Media Examiner: https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/
Mari Smith: https://www.marismith.com/

Full Transcription of this Episode:

Okay, so this episode is like, a big deal. Like, some people refer to things like this as like “pillar content” or “pillar post”. But really what you just need to know is this episode is really freaking important. And it's all about the algorithm. And most likely, I'm going to refer back to this episode. So it's highly possible that you have come into this episode, because I've talked about the algorithm and I've, you know, provided a link in my show notes to this episode, because you need a little more understanding of what the heck I'm talking about when I talk about the algorithm. So I'm going to describe to you what the algorithm is, why it's there, and kind of how you can learn from it and how you can utilize it in your business social media to your advantage. 

So what is the algorithm? So let me just, I'm not going to get fancy, because algorithm, first of all, it's hard to even spell the word algorithm, let alone understand what it is. Algorithms are essentially mathematical formulas made by really smart people that can predict things, okay, and do things. But the social media algorithms, I like to refer to them as leprechauns. Because, again, I'm not smart enough to truly define to you and explain exactly what it is in its actual technical terms. But really, what you need to know is, it's like magic. It's just magic made by really smart people to do really smart things that most of us can never understand. So the leprechauns, right? Anyway, the algorithms are they, they look at things like, in our social media, to be able to create a positive user experience. That's essentially why it's there. But I'll get into that a little bit more in a second. But what it is, is, these algorithms are in place, and they look at things like vocabulary that we use, they look at the type of content (meaning is it an image? Is it a video?) and they look at user activity on the content, and they put all these things together and they use these algorithms to dictate what goes into our news feeds. So when you log into Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, any of them, they all use algorithms to help create what's in your user newsfeed. If they didn't do this, we would see so much content that we would hate social media. There are metrics out there all the time, it's like every second, there's like a million posts made to Facebook. I mean, it's like crazy. And the more friends you have, the more connections you have, the more content you would see. You would see so much content that you would hate it. I remember Twitter before they actually embraced an algorithm in their newsfeed… I hated Twitter because I would log in, and I'd be like… if I logged in, and then I logged in 30 minutes later, I felt like I was so far behind on what had been updated since the last time I logged in, that it was like, so frustrating and impossible. So that feeling and experience is exactly what these algorithms are eliminating, they're trying to prevent that. So that's one of the reasons why they're there. So you know, it's important for us to understand them as a business, because, you know, the algorithms actually, you know, will dictate that most of our stuff is not seen, because personal stuff, personal social media content gets kind of the priority in the news feeds. And that's because, of course, you know, most people are using social media, for personal reasons for personal connections. They don't want to be sold to and they don't want to be, you know, always barraged by business content. So, you know, this is why it's really important for you to understand it. 

Now, let's talk a little bit more in detail about kind of what these algorithms, you know, look at. And this is important, because I talk about this all the time, you know, I say that, you know, your content, your social media content… it needs to be valuable. It needs to offer value. And it needs to be helpful. If you're just selling all the time, one, it's just not going to be looked upon greatly by your audience and two, the algorithms are going to hate you and your stuff is never going to be seen in the news feeds. So that's one of the things that they always talk about is, you know, they can look at the vocabulary that we use in our content. So if you create a post and you use language, like, you know, “come in and buy today”, or “check out this discount”, or “subscribe now,” or you know, whatever, that vocabulary is actually flagged, these algorithms have that vocabulary flagged (and many, many, many more) and they automatically know that your content is kind of selling. And so what they're going to do is they're automatically not going to show it to very many people. But if you have a follower, who tends to always click on that type of stuff... they love your stuff and they love your salesy, promotional content (maybe they're one of your, like, best customers, they always buy from you, they're always engaging on that, you know, promotional style content), they actually will probably see these posts! Because Facebook knows -- they're looking at the activity at the user level. So, they're looking at the activities that people take globally, but also individually. And what I mean by that is, you know, for example, they know that people don't, overall, people don't want to see promotional, salesy posts. And so overall, they squash, you know, they're going to automatically not present that stuff in the newsfeed. But if a specific individual happens to like that type of stuff, and is always commenting and engaging, and kind of clicking through to the links, then Facebook knows that too. And they're going to show them those things, because they know that that's what that person likes. 

So what this does is it allows these social media platforms to kind of create a unique, custom news feed for each individual based on their interests and their activity. And their interests go anywhere from the actual topics to, you know, the types of pages that they follow, the types of posts, and again, they're looking at that language, that includes certain language that they know, hey, whenever somebody talks about this, you know, Melanie always engages. So Melanie must like that. So we're going to show her stuff that has that language in it. They also know this, they also know what kind of content that people like. So globally, overall, Facebook Live right now as it is today, it's the summer of 2019... They they know that Facebook Live, people like Facebook Live. People will enjoy watching it, they tend to watch it, they tend to comment on those posts more. So globally, Facebook Live tends to automatically perform better from an organic reach standpoint, meaning more people see it in their news feeds. But they also know that some individuals don't like Facebook Live videos and hate them and never interact on them. Therefore, that particular individual may not see your Facebook Live because they don't like Facebook live videos. So they're looking at the language, but they're also looking at the type of content. And so whether it's a video, whether it's an image, whether it's a graphic, even the colors that are being used -- they are able to see all this stuff from literally like a robotic standpoint, meaning like there's not a human reviewing all these things and deciding whether or not it gets presented there. The algorithm is an automatic mathematical thing. It's technology. It's code. It's leprechauns, people, it's leprechauns. And so they're looking at all this stuff. So they're looking at language we're using, the formats we’re using, and they're looking at the activity that's happening on those types of formats. And so what they do is they use all this data, okay, all this information, and they're able to create that custom user experience. And so one of the things that I find, you know, you know, personal pages do tend to perform better because most people want to interact with other people, meaning their friends that they're connected to. And so our news feeds are predominantly filled with content from our friends. But if you are always engaging on business content, and you're active in a lot of Facebook groups, and you're just always interacting on business oriented stuff, your Facebook feed may actually be somewhat dominated by business-oriented content or professional content. And so again, it goes back to that your own custom user experience. But what I find, I believe that we have two choices when it comes to these algorithms. Because, you know, in one camp, you could look at this, and you could say, what the heck, like, I'm doing all this hard work, and creating all this social media content and nobody's freakin seeing it. Because, you know, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, all of them, you pick it, they all have the algorithms now. They're not showing anyone my stuff. Well, I get you, I understand. And, you know, a few years ago, the organic reach really started to tank and it's tanked further and further and further. And some businesses have gotten really frustrated and have abandoned social media, because they just feel frustrated. You know, here's the deal, you can be frustrated, and you can be bitter about it. And you can kind of abandon these platforms. But I want to encourage you to take a different thought process and to change your mindset. I want you to embrace it. I want you to embrace the algorithms, because by embracing them, you're committing to understanding them and you're able to work with them. And you can take this knowledge, and you can use it to your advantage. So here's the deal -- Our number one goal, when it comes to being on social media needs to be able to connect with our audience in a valuable way, outside of selling them things. We’re not on social media to sell, okay? If you are on social media, and your number one goal is to sell a bunch of stuff, you've got the wrong mindset. Because social media is a social place for you to connect and to foster relationships with your current customers and potential customers. It's a place for communication, it's not necessarily a place for selling. Now, granted, we have marketplace, and all these things where we can sell, but, really, our number one goal is to connect with people. And that way, we can connect with them online, so that they actually make the decision of whether or not they're going to engage with us and do a business transaction… whether it be come into our store, or call us, or order our stuff online, or create an appointment for our services, right? But the social media content and the interaction is really to create a space for you to show that you know what you're talking about, you're able to offer value, meaning helping them, and you care about them as a human, not just to sell to them. The other thing I want to remind you of is that no advertising has ever been free. So if you've been on social media for a number of years now, then you've gone through the journey of seeing how, you know, five years ago, six years ago, we would make posts on our business pages and it was great. I mean, everybody saw them, they interacted with them, it was like, I mean, it was kind of easy to be honest with you. And now we have to work really hard just to get people to see our content. And that is because the algorithms have gotten stronger and stronger. But here's why they've gotten stronger -- there's more businesses online than there ever have been. There's more people online than there ever have been. So there's more content online than there ever has been. And so therefore, these algorithms are important, they're important for that user experience. And we have to remember that we don't own these platforms. Facebook owns Facebook, Facebook owns Instagram. You know, we don't own the platforms, these are not our platforms. We are borrowing them. We are using them. We don't even have to pay to create a business page. So we're actually able to have a presence in these platforms and be a user for free. But advertising has never been free. And so if you expect that you can be on these platforms, and everybody's going to see all your stuff, you're going to sell a whole bunch of stuff you got, I mean, you got another think coming. So you need to look at it as it's an opportunity to create communication and to foster relationships. But it's also an opportunity to advertise. You can do paid ads, and you can put money behind some of your posts if they're really important, and you want people to see them. But really, you know, it's you can't be bitter that you know, you have to pay to play, so to say. You can't be bitter about that, because advertising’s never been free. It just was sort of free for a little while on Facebook, I mean for like a hot minute when it first came out and we were able to create these business pages initially. And that was just a window of opportunity. And that was a temporary thing. And it went away, and now here we are. So again, you can either be bitter about it, and you can be grumpy, or you can embrace it, and understand it and work with it. And by doing that, then you're going to give yourself a better chance at success. 

And so what do you do? Well, there's a couple things you can do. Number one, you need to always offer value. Do not be on there just to sell because it's just, you're not gonna, you're just not, it's not going to work. So utilize these social media channels, maybe shift up your goals a little bit, and try to create relationships so that you can nurture people before they become a customer. Or you can nurture them in between transactions… maybe you've got existing customers who have used your products or have been in your store and by being on social media, you can continue to nurture them, you know, outside of your store, if you will. So look at it that way. And the other thing you can do is just always stay up to date on the algorithm updates. They do, I personally believe that the algorithms are adjusted constantly. I think that when you have big data and really smart developers behind these algorithms, they're able to continuously update them and constantly improve things. I do believe that they make major updates, you know, whenever they're needed or necessary. And that could be every couple months, it could be once a quarter, it may even be once a year that these platforms do a big, big update. But a lot of times when they do the really big updates, they're fairly transparent. And if you're like, well, I'm on like LinkedIn, I'm on social media, I'm on Twitter, I'm on all these places, I can't keep up to date with all this stuff. I agree. But what you can do is you can follow the leader. And Facebook is king. And I can tell you right now that everybody pretty much follows the lead of Facebook. So you know, Facebook, definitely is the king when it comes to their communication as well. So you can follow their blog, and they're pretty good. It's like the Facebook newsroom, just Google it, it'll show up. And I'll put a link in the show notes as well. And they are pretty transparent. When they make these changes, they tell you what the changes are and they tell you why they're making them, and they tell you what it means as a business and what you need to do. And so you can check those updates out and you can respond to them, make sure you understand. For example, one of their more recent updates is they talked about video, they talked about how video is huge. And so they automatically will, you know, give video, you know, a better boost in the newsfeeds. And so you can be like, “Okay, I'm going to do more video now, now that I know that” or you could be like, “well I hate video, so screw you Facebook.” Well, that's fine, but you're going to be working against the grain here. So embrace them and understand them, and then keep yourself knowledgeable about them. 

So that is like what I wanted to come and talk to you about. Again, this is kind of one of those little foundational things. You know, I don't think that anyone can ever be an expert on the algorithms. I'm certainly not, like, a true expert on the algorithms. But I make a very, very, you know, deliberate effort to understand them and to try to stay up to speed for them, not only for myself, but also for you. So there's going to be times when I talk about algorithm updates on, you know, my Live videos, in my emails (so if you're not subscribed over there, go to, you know, my Facebook page, it's Melanie Dyann -- D-y-a-n-n, or subscribe to my emails on my website at MelanieDyann.com). And I will, you know, I do my best when these major updates come out, I do my best to make sure that I get in front of you guys as soon as possible to kind of break them down for you. But, you know, you can do the same for yourself too. I like to follow Social Media Examiner. They do a pretty good job of providing these updates. And then another thought leader out there that I love to follow when it comes to, especially Facebook, updates is Mari Smith. And I will provide links to these pages in my show notes for you guys. But these are great resources for you to follow so that you can stay up to date with this stuff outside of me. But again, I like to think that, I take pride that I break break it down for us, for the DIY marketers. But I want you to just commit to always trying to stay up to date so that you can, you know, understand it, and use it, and know it so that you know what you're doing. Because, you know if they're coming out and saying hey, video is king… video, video, video, and you're still out there, sharing, you know links, links, links, links, and only links then, you know, you're making it harder for yourself. 

So, but that's what I got, you guys. I hope that you enjoyed this podcast. I hope it was helpful for you. Whether you had a little bit of an understanding of the algorithms or whether you literally were like, “Oh my gosh, I don't know what all these people are talking about when they keep talking about these algorithms.” But anyway, this episode is definitely one of those foundational ones that I think that I hope everybody listens to because we all need to have a basic understanding of what this is because so much of content strategy jumps off of this. I mean, so much of our content strategy kind of needs to have that algorithm knowledge conjoined with it. So anyways, that's what I got for you guys. If you haven't already subscribed to the podcast, please do so. I would love for you to subscribe because that way you will not miss an episode as I come to you and publish these things regularly. And also bonus episodes that maybe sometimes don't come out into my email. So if you subscribe to the podcast then you are definitely going to get that notification wherever you love to listen to your podcasts on all the different platforms. So until next time, my friends, I will talk to you soon!

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