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Mastering Social Media Algorithms for Effective Social Media Marketing

Social media icons float against a digital blue backdrop and the words 'social' and 'like' can be seen.

Social media algorithms are the powerful programs behind social media and play a major part in effective social media marketing. These rules and signals control the way that users’ interests are carved out to serve them their ideal content.

Social channels are all made up of a vast network of people, businesses, and influencers. Algorithms somewhat drown out the ‘noise’ and help to keep what we see relevant. If you were too bombarded by content you didn’t want to see, you would be less likely to use the platform.

This is why understanding the other side, how the algorithms work, can be helpful for businesses. With 77% of small businesses using social media to connect with their customers in 2023, it’s more important than ever to reach your target audience there.

Can we ever truly know how social media algorithms work to benefit our social media marketing?


What do algorithms do?

The user is at the centre of their social network. One person’s experience of an Instagram feed will be entirely different to that of their friends, for example. Feeds are entirely fine-tuned and personalised to each person’s interests and behaviours online.

Who you follow, the posts you like, the videos you watch and how long for—all of these actions and more signal your interests. You’re served the content you like to see and the products you might want to buy. To keep businesses, influencers and personal users posting on the platform, algorithms work to maximise organic reach by suggesting your content to users who match a specific criteria. In return, the social media platforms keep their users online for longer and keep them coming back too.

As a business, if you can maintain a level of understanding of social media algorithms, it can benefit your social media marketing. If you can get on the right side of an algorithm, your content will be pushed further and wider boosting your business’s brand awareness.


The history of social media algorithms

Algorithms have always been the engines that power our social media. It’s only within the last decade or so that they’ve become so specific. Understandably, businesses and content creators alike have been trying to get ahead of the algorithm for quite some time. There is an interesting trend to note when we examine the search interests of users from around the 2016 point. 

In 2016, Instagram introduced a ‘ranked feed’ for the first time. The idea behind this feed was to let users see the posts they cared about first. The chronological ordering of posts was no longer, and personalised feeds were born. In examining the search interests around this time, the term ‘Instagram algorithm’ shot up from 0 to 69. 100 is considered ‘peak popularity’ in this context. Users wanted to understand this change to their feeds and businesses relying on social media for sales or brand awareness did too.

If we fast forward to 2021, when Instagram launched a dashboard for professional users to track performance and insights, the search popularity for ‘Instagram algorithm’ reached maximum interest (100). Now more than ever, armed with the power of insights, businesses wanted to understand how to feed the algorithm and improve performance.

This trend correlates across the other platforms too. The search interest for ‘Facebook algorithm’ spiked in 2018 when they announced that the ranking of the news feed would change to allow for increased connection with people and less consumption of media in isolation.  

For Twitter (X), we see algorithm search spikes in 2010 when the platform grew by 100 million users meaning users were competing for visibility. We saw a spike again in 2016 when Twitter announced changes to how their timeline was ordered.

The latest network on the scene, TikTok, continues to confound as users try to work out just how they can generate such personalised content. The search interest for TikTok’s algorithm continues to go up and up as people attempt to uncover its inner workings. As of 2024, the search interest sits at a peak of 100 as businesses try to understand and benefit from this popular application.


Can you master a social media algorithm?

So, the question remains, can you ever completely understand the inner workings of a social media algorithm? The answer is not entirely.

Understandably, social media channels have been fairly secretive about how their algorithms work. The secret ingredient to their success, it keeps them safe from competing platforms. Not to mention that each channel operates differently.

X, formerly known as Twitter, is an anomaly in that it’s the only social media platform to open-source its algorithm. This means that anybody can view what makes posts go viral on the platform. It allows businesses to understand how to push their content even further.

In terms of other social networks, they might release a news update to users or a blog post detailing the most recent updates. Users are given hints and tips as to what they can do to boost the organic reach of their content.

Unfortunately, in some users’ experiences, social media algorithms make it harder to achieve greater organic reach. The endless search to discover and then tick all of the boxes only for another update to change everything again. This sometimes sees businesses having to rely on paid ads to achieve the reach they used to acquire organically.

These frequent updates mean that our feeds are more personalised than ever. As a result, while we can’t understand algorithms in their entirety, it can be beneficial to understand aspects of them.


Understanding what makes up an algorithm

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts doesn’t have to apply when it comes to algorithms. There is value in possessing a broad understanding of how they operate too.

While they work differently on each platform, it is useful to read any updates released by the platforms you use. This will give you some direction as to how to post, when to post and what to post. Industry experts and influencers will often provide insights on their social channels too.

Some general rules you can follow are…

Encourage engagement

Typically, if the algorithm picks up that a post is receiving lots of engagement, it knows your post is popular. Popular posts will be pushed further to a wider pool of users. Include a call to action on your content that asks users to like, comment or share. The timing of the engagement may also play a role in how effective this strategy is. You will need to do your research for different platforms in this case.

Optimal post timings

Knowing which days and what time to post to different platforms can be effective for your social media marketing. However, this will also depend on your location as a business and the audiences you’re trying to reach. You can experiment with this and make a note of your findings. Alternatively, if you use a content management system to post on social media, they can use their algorithms to determine when the optimal posting time is for you.

Push for video

With the quick growth in popularity of TikTok, Instagram trialled IGTV which evolved into Reels and YouTube developed a Shorts feature. While Instagram has explained that Reels run off of their own algorithm, overall video has proven to be the most engaging type of social media content.  Generally, if you’re trying to get on an algorithm’s good side, posting professional, engaging video content is the way to go.

Keep experimenting

While some claim to have mastered the complex world of social media algorithms, the majority of us will never know all of their secrets. Time and resources would be better spent on gaining a broader understanding of how they work, conducting your own posting experiments and keeping up to date with news and updates. Get confident with best posting practices and ranking signals but most importantly continue to do what is working for you. Ultimately, you know your audience and consumer base better than anybody.


Social media marketing and algorithms

At DCA PR, we are well versed in the world of social media. We provide a multi-channel management service for many of our clients and specialise in social media strategy, organic social media, social media marketing, analysis & reporting.

If you would like to make the most of your online offering, get in touch and see how we can help.


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