August 25, 2020Published by: Robert Haslam

9 tips for mastering social media algorithms

Cast your mind back to the early days of social media and you may recall how everything you saw happened pretty much in real-time. Logging onto a platform was like getting a snapshot into what people around the world were doing and saying at that exact moment.

That’s not the case any more. 

Algorithms now largely decide which posts we see, when we see them, and from who we see them. They identify certain behaviours. They seek out connections. They even help spread fake news and misinformation around big issues such as COVID-19 and the US Presidential election faster than the platforms can remove them (although viral circuit breakers may help).

In short, algorithms try to ensure you keep coming back for more.

And as our time spent on social media continues to increase, it looks like they’re doing a pretty good job. At last count the average person spends two hours and 24 minutes a day swiping, clicking, posting, commenting and messaging on social networks.

That’s a big chunk of each day spent digitally ‘socialising’. It’s also a lot of content that the platforms have to make sure will keep us occupied and engaged with. Sometimes, however, this can lead to harm, which Battenhall CEO Drew Benvie discussed in a TED talk at the end of last year.

Gaming the algorithm
Wouldn’t it be helpful, though, if you knew how to game the algorithm? 

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. 

The social networks remain very tight-lipped about it, and as each takes a slightly different approach, it’s hard to be too prescriptive. What follows, however, are nine tips (five general rules and four organic content practices) that should be of use on any network... 

  1. Increasingly, the majority of social networks prioritise posts from people over businesses. There’s a good reason for this – the more popular social networks become, the more businesses post to them in an attempt to keep pace. The other main reason for deprioritising organic content from businesses, is to encourage them to invest in paid social media to reach specific people.
  2. The algorithms tailor content based on who you regularly engage with. This can mean you tend to see the same people near the top of your feeds.
  3. Algorithms use engagement on posts as a barometer for where to place content in a feed. The algorithms look for genuine connection, so longer comments with responses will outweigh simple reactions or shares. Algorithms will also filter out duplicate content. No one wants to look through their feed and see the same post 30 times.
  4. The algorithms will increasingly demote posts that link to external sites. Partly, this is because of the risk of fake news, partly it’s because diverting traffic to another platform means less time on the platform, and therefore fewer opportunities to serve revenue-generating ads. Instagram goes so far as to make it so that links simply don’t work.
  5. Using newer features will generally lead to higher organic reach. Whether it’s live videos, native video, or even just sharing documents, the platforms want new features to succeed. If you’re among the first to try them, not only will you stand out from everyone else, you’ll also find content performs better. So while Instagram’s Reels may not have had rave reviews, if you’re an influencer seeking new followers and greater engagement, now might be the perfect time to give it a go!

No image. No video. Just a post seeking engagement – and getting it!

Paid vs organic
The platforms all work slightly differently, but there’s one general rule of thumb: if you’re a business, your organic content may not perform as it once did. And if you’re wanting to use social to reach your target audiences, you’ll need to consider paid promotion.

From an organic perspective, though, here are some of my key tips for excelling:

  1. Images and video don't always get the best results (see image above). This is contrary to virtually every article you’ll read about social media content. Images and videos have become so popular that they have lost their impact. It’s important to find the right mix though. I suggest a balance of posts with images, some with links, others with video, and some that are just plain text is a good approach.  
  2. Documents on LinkedIn work very well. Uploading a PDF of a slide deck or an article generates huge engagement and impressions at the moment. But for real success, create it for LinkedIn. Remember that most people will be viewing on both mobile and desktop. Don't make it too hard to read on either.
  3. Share insight rather than linking to insight. People are time-poor and you can’t rely on the connection they have, or the device they’re on. They won’t always want to visit your website or click-through to somewhere else. Sharing value means people are more likely to engage.
  4. Social is at its best when people are being helpful (or funny). Simply sharing link after link doesn't cut it anymore. 

If you’re interested in more detailed information about how each algorithm works, we would recommend the following resources:

You can also follow me for more regular tips and best practice on LinkedIn here.

For those working in social, or just using it well, what have you found? We’d love to hear your thoughts. If you need help with your social content strategy, drop us a line at

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