How algorithms work
This is what happens when you post something on a social media timeline
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Let’s dive into to today’s topic:
How algorithms work
Algorithms are one of the best-kept secrets in the digital world. So how do they work in general? And how can you “hack” an algorithm?
Why it matters
Big tech applications like Instagram, YouTube, Spotify and TikTok run algorithms to determine what fans see on their timeline or listen to in algorithmically generated playlists. A lot of marketing effort is invested in “hacking” these recommendation algorithms with the purpose of going viral.
But nobody knows exactly how they work. It is valuable to obtain some basic knowledge of the workings of algorithms.
How it works
In its essence, a recommendation algorithm is a repetitive test. This is what happens when you post something on a social media timeline:
First, your content is shown to some of your followers, let's say 10%. When they engage with the content, the algorithms favour this over others.
Next, your content gets show on the timelines of another cohort - for example 20% of your followers. Algorithms are programmed to examine metrics such as time spent on screen (did they stop scrolling?), video watch time, likes, comments, etc.
These tests repeat themselves. If the test remains good, the post is distributed to new cohorts. Ultimately, your content is shown to people outside your own network, maybe even on the discovery page or #fyp.
Of course we’re taking some shortcuts here. For example: When you open up Instagram, there are many algorithms at work that construct your timeline. Still, I believe that the explanation above is a good general overview.
Take action now
Make longer videos, or create other content to “hack” the time spent on screen metric.
Focus on the first second. Optimise content to get people to stop scrolling.
Don’t try to hack the algorithm with hashtags, advertising, perfect publication hours, etc. It’s not worth the time and money. Just create great content and you’ll be fine.