Last week Meta published insights into its feed algorithm and how it’s using AI to help predict which posts to highlight to users. A day later, LinkedIn followed suit. While the details that go into algorithms are always fascinating, I am a firm believer in simplifying social media marketing by finding similarities between platform algorithms and using those similarities to create content that can be recycled across them.
So… what’s the big takeaway from these algorithm updates that came out last week and how can you incorporate them into your regular content posts?
First, a look back:
When you first started posting on Facebook or MySpace, I have no doubt that you made short posts intended to update your friends about what you were doing or where you were going. Most of those posts likely didn’t even include pictures. Same with Friendster and AOL Instant Messenger away messages (remember those?). Twitter, in fact, was built that way.
However, as social platforms added capabilities for business pages and accounts, we saw platforms begin to evolve. Feeds began to favor creators and thought leaders who presented entertaining, surprising, or complex ideas that received high levels of user clicks, views, and likes. Instagram came along in 2010 and required a higher level of content creation by making it impossible to post anything without a photo or a graphic.
More recently, as many of you likely recall, the addition of stories and reels across Meta have added another element to the algorithm. Users can be entertained and discover new content for hours without even looking at the feed. Many of these changes are attributed to being inspired by TikTok, which essentially started as an app that favored content creators versus connectors and conversationalists. Finally, about five years ago Twitter also made changes to add complexity to its content by doubling the length of its Tweets.
If you step back and look at all of this holistically, you can see that social media platforms are becoming more like what search engines used to be—a passive discovery and entertainment tool.
Why is Passive Entertainment a Problem?
Social media caught on largely because it offered an alternative to passive discovery. Instead of one-way communication, social media offered both users and marketers the chance to have a two-way dialogue with friends, family, colleagues, and consumers. Passive entertainment favoring content creators and influencers arguably takes the “social” out of social media by reducing the two-way communication that made the industry so valuable. After all, if you’re not interacting and having a conversation, you’re more likely to leave the platform. Think of this in real life—when the party gets boring, you leave. When the movie gets too long, you finish it later. Social media platforms know this and do not want consumers leaving their platforms. So—what is a social media platform to do?
Unsurprisingly, Algorithm Updates are Favoring a Deeper Level of Engagement
While all individual social media platforms have their own unique algorithms, the main commonality that many have updated (Meta, LinkedIn) or already have (TikTok) is favor toward complex engagement. What is complex engagement? In the past, views and clicks went a long way. Now, more complex actions like shares and comments go further—and the comments need to be quality, substantive comments. “Great idea” or “So true” doesn’t count as substantive. In fact, hired bots can and do make those types of comments these days.
While there are a number of other aspects to the algorithm updates on these platforms, unsurprisingly, higher engagement drives many of them. For example, “click bait” content (content that is off topic and designed just to get views and clicks) is discouraged by the algorithms, but if you are creating content meant to get meaningful engagement and shares, you’re automatically not creating click bait anyway.
How to get Meaningful Engagement on Social Media
Now that you know the nuance of the engagement updates, here are some strategies that you can use to drive more complex engagement on your own social media.
Ask a question. Asking a question is a powerful way to get comments (versus simply likes) on a post. However, asking simple questions like, “do you agree?” will get you the kind of “yes, good idea” comments that are not rewarded. Instead, it’s important to ask specific questions in your post.
Let’s say that a grocery store posts a promotion about a food item that is on sale. That store could ask, “What do you plan to make with the strawberries that you buy and who gets to share it with you? Bonus points for sharing a picture of it.” This is a much different question than, “Will you be purchasing the strawberries this week?”
When I post this blog on social media, I will likely ask my followers, “What is an example of a meaningful question that you’ve used or will use on social media to drive engagement?” versus “Do you agree?”
Reciprocity. You are not the only social media user who wants increased engagement. Everyone does. Excel is my friend when it comes to social media. I keep a list and follow, share, and give (quality) comments to content creators in complimentary industries and spaces regularly. That, in turn, drives their willingness to comment on my social media. Reciprocity is one of the most powerful forms of persuasion. Many cultures have strict norms about giving and receiving because as humans, we have an innate sense that when we are given something, we need to return the favor. On social media, reciprocity can be your best friend if you use it right. And by using it right, I mean not forgetting that an “I agree” post is unhelpful compared to a descriptive one with original thought. It is actually a lot easier than you’d think to fall back into “I agree” mode when using this strategy. To avoid it, pick three to five content creators to focus on at a time versus trying to do this with twenty of them.
Best Practices. Speaking of complimentary businesses, don’t forget to get good ideas from them as well. If they make a post that gets high engagement and/or shared/widely, what did they say? What strategy did they use? Follow key competitors to figure this out as well.
Consistency. Most answers to social media lie in what makes us tick as humans in real life and this one is no exception. Those family members, colleagues, friends and important others that we see more, mean more to us. It’s imperative to be consistent on social media. I recommend batching content each month or more so that the daily task becomes mechanical and the creative task (the hard part) is concentrated into several hours a month. I am also a fan of creating a consistent thing you do each week, whether it be a video, blog, a mini talk show on the live feed, a weekly product showcase, or something similar so that a schedule is easier to stick with. The possibilities are endless. The key is to keep doing it.
Expertise. If you can position yourself as an expert by a new way of looking at something, approaching something, or doing something, your content becomes immediately sharable. I’ve written often on this topic—here’s a good place to start.