Demystifying Algorithms

You’ve probably heard how an algorithm on Facebook or Instagram has changed again, but you’re not quite sure what that means. Algorithms basically control social media, this includes who see’s your content and what content you see. This post aims at demystifying algorithm and how it affects your social networking as an artist.

“What does the algorithm look like?”

Well you can’t see the algorithm happening, but based on the behavior of the social network you can see its impact by how content is manipulated on the network. Here are a few examples:

  1. Posts and accounts that you like (or follow), you see more. For Example: If you always like you’re studio mate’s art Instagram photos, their content will always pop up in your newsfeed
  2. If you like certain content themes, similar accounts will be suggested to you. For example: If you frequently follow local artists on Facebook,  more local artists will be suggested as people to friend.
  3. Photos and posts will be displayed based on what the social network thinks you want to see and what they want you to see (oftentimes as sponsored ads). For Example: You may see a post that was shared days ago at the top of your feed, instead of something that was shared an hour ago.

So, social networks control who sees what you post and share. Even if you are friends with someone or follow someone’s account, you may not see their latest shared piece of content due to algorithm.

“So, what exactly is the algorithm? I don’t get it….”

We don’t know what the algorithm is exactly. Social networks don’t tell their users what the algorithm is. They also happen to be always changing.

All we know is they are, “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post” (Instagam). 

Think of working with algorithms in relation to the theory of abstraction. You don’t need to know how exactly electricity works and how it powers your house to know how to utilize it. And you don’t need to understand all of the parts of a car to get in and drive to the grocery store. This means that we don’t have to understand the details of the algorithms to use social media.

“How to I affect the algorithm?”

While you don’t need to know how the algorithm works, there are a few ways to post and share content to benefit your content sharing.

  1. Encourage comments to build a discussion – posts with lots of comments tells the algorithm in the social network that this post is generating interest. This will cause the network to share put it in front of more user’s newsfeeds. You can encourage a discussion by asking open ended questions and responding to all commentators, even if its a simple, “thank you.”
  2. Generate posts with lots of likes – if an image you shared on Instagram only received 5 likes and normally you received 30, something went wrong. Revisit you content, image quality, hastags and the time of day you posted. Delete what didn’t work and try again. When a post or imagae receives lots of likes, note what sort of content you shared and figure out what about it drive its success.
  3. Share other links, pages and profiles within your content – Using the @ sign on Instagram and tagging people on Facebook generates link-able content to other profiles
  4. Interaction with others –  build true fans and followers and create an online relationship with other accounts. This means liking and commenting on other pages and profiles, sharing their content and being active on your social media.
  5. Content Timing: Certain social networking sites have more or less activity at certain times of the day. A quick Google search can tell you the optimal post time for your content.
  6. Hashtags: trending hashtags and using brand hashtags can alter who sees your content. Some social media networks thrive with many hashtags and others only prove successful with 2-3 hashtags.

We can’t control the algorithm but we can work with it. While you need visibility for people to engage with the content you post, you need to have people liking, commenting and sharing to get that visibility. This can ofttimes leave us feeling like  social networking is a numbers game. However, treating it like building relationships instead will help your overall marketing strategy.

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