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Remember when brands were trying to figure out the Google search algorithm in order to game the system and haul in more website visitors? Well, that same mentality has now come to the social media world, where brands are scrambling to figure out how to get their posts seen by as many people as possible by gaming the Facebook and Twitter social media algorithms.
Loss of reach and engagement
If you’ve seen a marked decline in the reach and engagement of your social media posts, you’re not alone. In some cases, brands have seen as much as an 80 percent decline in their organic reach. They may be posting more social content than ever before, but people are seeing less of it than ever before.
Confused? Before you decide to fire the social media guy or gal who’s creating your content, take a step back and consider how social media algorithms could be to blame.
The changing role of the social media algorithm
The problem, quite simply, is that there’s just too much content out there. Even if Facebook wanted to show you every single piece of content created by brands that you follow, it physically could not. In the same way that your company is frantically creating more and more content to ensure that at least some of it is actually seen by fans, so is everyone else.
The role of the social media algorithm, then, is to ensure that Facebook users only see the “best of the best.” Every time a brand creates a piece of content, the Facebook algorithm does a quick test of the content to see how well it does. If it performs well, it will be shown to more and more people. And Facebook and Twitter have now tweaked their algorithms to surface more content that’s a few days old, so that you’re not just getting shown new content being produced in real-time.
New thinking for digital marketers
That should give you a sense of the change in mentality that’s now required of social media marketers. Remember when social media marketers claimed to know the “best time” to post a tweet or the “best time” to send out a Facebook update? Throw that out the window, because the social media algorithms are designed to show the best content, regardless of when it’s created.
How about the old social media marketing wisdom that posting a video will gain you traction on Facebook? Well, that’s only partially true. Facebook has tweaked its algorithm so that only certain types of video – longer-form videos and live video – have a good chance of being seen by users. Thus, if you’re posting a slick two-minute viral video, it has a much lower chance of ever going viral.
How can brands regain the upper hand on social media?
In order to get noticed, brands have several options. One is to play the social media optimization game the same way they played the search engine optimization. You want live video? We’ll give you more live video than you’ve ever seen before!
Another option is to focus more on the care and feeding of your core social media community. Every single time you post content, you want to make sure that as many people as possible check it out. That’s because the Facebook algorithm gives higher precedence to brands with a track record of creating popular, engaging content.
In many ways, the changes to the social media algorithms are meant to encourage higher-quality content. Facebook, for example, is tweaking its algorithm to limit “fake news” and any shameless attempts by users to get content to go viral. And it’s also reducing the incentives to re-post the same content again and again. The new trend is now “one and done” – post it one time, and that’s all. No more relentlessly scheduling posts for morning, afternoon and evening, like people used to do on Twitter.
For now, social media users have the upper hand since the social media algorithms appear to favor them over marketers. But remember: it’s the advertisers who pay the bills, not the users. If marketers eventually sour on social media as a way to reach consumers, you can bet that Facebook will very quickly “re-think” its algorithm.