How to beat the latest social media algorithms to boost organic reach.
No one would argue that the explosive growth and popularity of social media created a level playing field so that businesses of all sizes could suddenly enjoy direct and fruitful relationships with their customers – with a level of targeting that was previously unimaginable.
In the early days of social media, it seemed easy. Build it and they will come.
Brands enjoyed a lot of success communicating with their followers at minimal cost. Most social media feeds of the major networks (Facebook for B2C brands, LinkedIn for B2B brands) displayed posts in reverse chronological order. In short, the newest posts from accounts a user followed showed up first, including those posted by brands. Pure and simple.
However, the euphoria of seemingly unlimited access and reach of those early days didn’t last as long everyone had hoped. What happened? The social networks changed the rules of the game by implementing algorithms to manage how content is presented to users.
Social media algorithms are a way of sorting posts in a users’ feed based on relevancy instead of publish time.
With the use of algorithms, social networks now prioritize which content a user sees in their feed first by the likelihood that they’ll actually want to see it. They have certainly gathered lots of personal user data to be able to predict this.
What happened after algorithms were implemented? Organic reach dropped like a hot rock as more paid advertising options became available – and needed – in order to reach more of your followers and to attract new ones. Not surprisingly, the “too good to be true” free ride turned out to be just that.
Curse you, Algorithms! Algorithms get a bad rap because we think they’re keeping our content from being seen by our followers, but we also NEED them. The sheer volume of content being created and shared online is ridiculously overwhelming, so there has to be SOME way to sift through it all and present what should be most relevant to a particular user. With all the data social networks have about their users, they should be able to predict pretty well. The issue is, how they prioritize content presentation is still a mystery and it’s always changing.
Plus, algorithms naturally have to benefit the social network’s business model – which unfortunately, seems to work against the user and the brand. Let’s face it, all of the major social networks are now public companies, they need to deliver results for their shareholders.
As a marketer or business owner, that means that the first gatekeeper of your content being seen is a software program, not a human. So, your primary mission is to appeal to the algorithm brain, if you will, to maximize the organic reach of your brand’s content. As the rules of the game keep changing, it’s critical to stay on top of developments and announcements by the social network giants that may impact algorithms – both formal and implied.
“Meaningful Engagement” is the name of the game for the foreseeable future.
In January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Facebook algorithm will prioritize “meaningful interactions” from friends and family over content from brands. This has made it much trickier to get your business’ organic content the screen time you want it to.
In July 2019, Richard van der Blom published the results of his research and analysis of over 3,000 LinkedIn posts to give users and brands insights into LinkedIn’s algorithms – and the company is clearly following Facebook’s lead by also modifying its algorithms to reward “meaningful engagement.”
What does “meaningful engagement” look like?
Both Facebook and LinkedIn’s algorithms prioritize active interactions like commenting and sharing over likes and click-throughs (passive interactions) – the idea being that actions requiring more effort on the part of the user are of higher quality and thus more meaningful. Rather than passively scrolling through the News Feed and occasionally pausing to “like” a photo or an article, Facebook and LinkedIn want users to be inspired to engage in conversations with each other.
Knowing this, here are three strategies you should start implementing immediately:
Share content worth engaging with
This means brands should create quality content focused on sparking conversations between users. Try including questions in your posts, or writing about timely, relevant topics that users are sure to have an opinion on.
Proactively engage with your content and the content of others
When someone engages with your content, don’t just acknowledge it with a “like,” reply to the comment to keep the algorithm happy and your content boosting.
While sharing a post is a pretty “active” interaction compared to most, Facebook is going one step further. Simply getting shares is not enough. Your post must be shared and also get engagement on that share to be prioritized in the algorithm.
Helping others’ content get more visibility is a good practice and can be a catalyst for reciprocation, so be a good social media citizen and “do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you.”
Keep your audience inside the social platform
As both LinkedIn’s and Facebook’s business models are driven by advertising revenue, neither wants you to share content that directs users off the platform and away from their advertisers’ messages. Therefore, links to outside content will be de-prioritized. Text only posts, Text + documents (photos, native videos, PDFs, etc) now perform best. This means you need to get more creative when you want to direct people to your web site.
I know, all this sure smells like a lot more work. But executed effectively, social media engagement can deliver hard bottom line results, so it’s worth the effort to get it right. It can have huge implications if you’ve implemented social selling and/or an employee advocacy programs, as employees will require more training to focus on how to engage more effectively (feel free to contact me to help you with that! J).
However, in my opinion, focusing on “meaningful engagement” as an algorithmic priority is long overdue, because it may finally discourage one of my biggest pet peeves. Too often, both end users and brands use social networks as one-way megaphones – broadcasting incredibly self-serving, salesy content while they completely ignore any and all engagement with it. This practice ignores the unique underlining benefit to social networks over all other traditional media: two way interaction and the ability to directly connect with your audience and generate real, valuable relationships.
While the unintended consequences of this are yet to be seen (ie, increase in frivolous comments on posts clogging user notifications?), in theory, I think this is a good direction that can deliver more thoughtful, helpful content while discouraging counter-productive behavior like mindless broadcasting.
Do you agree? Drop me a message and tell me what you think!