How Do The Social Algorithms Really Work?

Instagram Algorithm

Why chasing followers is pointless

If you are on social media there is a good chance you have seen someone posting recently asking for help to reach their follower goals. There is nothing about this I disagree with. If I am scrolling on social media and it is going to take me 3 seconds to follow you and help you I will gladly do it. What concerns me is that people don’t realise how these social networks actually work. Follower numbers is something that is very low down in the list of what helps your engagement. Both Twitter and Instagram have algorithms that favour certain factors well over the actual number of followers you have, and someone with 10 followers could easily post a post that absolutely kills it compared to someone with 20k followers who posts a post that gets little engagement.

So the question is, how do the social media algorithms work?


Remember when Twitter changed their timeline from a chronological one to one that works in a similar way to Facebook? Then made it possible for you to see tweets someone else has ‘liked’? Do you want to know the reason for this?

Twitter are WAY, WAY behind Facebook in selling advertising space (or inventory as it is called in the business). The only way they can increase the space they have to sell advertising on is by showing you more tweets. Now obviously, everyone would start going crazy if they started getting shown absolutely random tweets that have nothing to do with their interests. Thus, Twitters little tweaks were born.

When you are looking at your timeline, you are actually looking at a collection of tweets that have been gathered by Twitter and then scored by ‘relevance model’. This is the first indication follower count means nothing. If you usually tweet about beauty, it is likely that most of your followers have the similar interest of beauty. If you start going out there on a limb and tweeting about politics, it is highly likely near enough none of your followers will see it.

This is also the case with the ‘in case you missed it’ part of your feed. You may not necessarily be shown tweets from people you know, but if they are scored as relevant you will see tweets by people you do not follow.

How does Twitter rank tweets for you?

There are a number of different ways that tweets are ranked using the Twitter algorithm. Twitter now borrow quite heavily from how Facebook’s newsfeed works. There are three main factors to your tweets being ranked.

The tweet itself

The tweet itself is a big factor in how it is ranked in other peoples newsfeed. The media and language used in the tweet is one way that relevancy is determined, but also interactions. Once a tweet starts to gain interactions. So this is where the domino effect comes in. Basically you want to post out a tweet that gets as many interactions as possible in the first few minutes of it’s lifetime. These interactions then ensure the circle widens a little. Then the interactions from these users makes it widen more, and it continues. If you want a tweet to go viral you really want to be looking at getting as many RT’s and likes as possible in the first few minutes. Timing and hashtags, I have often found, are the best way to do this.

When you are A/B testing the best times to tweet, remember the above. The way your tweets appear on someones newsfeed will be completely different to the way someone else’s will. You cannot just read a generic “this is the best time to post” guide and hope it works for you.

The tweet’s author

The second thing the Twitter algorithm takes into account is the author. Randomly, the origin of your relationship is one of the factors they count. So if you both followed each other around the same time, you have more chance of seeing each others tweets in your feed. If one of you followed then the other took ages, there is less chance. Past interaction also plays a part here. If you have interacted with this persons content in the past, regardless of relevancy, you will be more likely to be shown their content now. Your ongoing connection to them is also a huge factor. This is to ensure people see stuff from family and friends and continue to use the platform. If you regularly interact with someone you will see their content all of the time.

This is why, rather than follower hunting or furrowing your brow over algorithms, the best thing really is to just make friends and interact with people.

The tweet’s you found engaging in the past, and how often you use twitter

The engaging in the past bit sounds pretty self explanatory doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Twitter will show you similar content to what you have liked and RT’s in the past.

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  1. Tania
    January 21, 2018 / 3:50 pm

    This was such an interesting post to read! I have to admit that I’m not all that technical with understanding the algorithms, particularly as things are changing all the time. Seeing things others have liked is a feature that really bugs me, but it’s been interesting learning about why it’s been introduced. Xx
    Tania | When Tania Talks

    • January 21, 2018 / 3:51 pm

      If you are ever unsure, start from “is this going to help the network make more money” and work from that 😂

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