Now, for part 3, lets go for some myth busting! Lets get our facts straight by going over a few common questions, so we are all on the same page...
1. Does Instagram (or other social media platforms) have an algorithm?
Yes! So, up until around 2016, most of our social media platforms displayed the posts of those we followed in chronological order. However now, Instagram (and most other platforms) uses what it calls a "ranked feed". A ranked feed shows you a personalised feed of content, based on the content you are most likely to want to see. This is based on your past behaviours and interactions on the platform. According to Instagram, posts are now seen by 50% more of your followers than they were under the chronological. What decides the ranking? An algorithm.
2. So, what actually is an algorithm?
"A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer" - so an algorithm is basically a set of rules that we tell a computer to use to make decisions. A common phrase in computer science is "if this, then that" and an algorithm is basically a set of that phrase, over and over. For example "if user engages in this, then show more of that" is probably the most basic way one can describe the Instagram algorithm. Obviously it is more complex than that, there are lots of people with deep knowledge of human psychology who work on telling the computer how it should react to each of your actions, but basically it is all based on each individuals human behaviour. If you want to find out more, watch "The Social Dilemma" and "The Great Hack" on Netflix, they both give real world examples of how this works, from industry insiders.
3. Why did they start using an algorithm? What is it trying to do?
Fundamentally, all social media platforms are businesses. If you have (or haven't) ever watched "The Social Network" there is the famous dinner scene with the founders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg and Eduardo Saverin, talking to Sean Parker who was the founder of Napster (lol, throwback.). In the scene, Eduardo wants to start letting people advertise on Facebook and Sean advises Mark against it, saying Mark is creating the coolest party in town and bringing in advertisers would be like calling the cops. Much to Eduardo's disgust, Sean was right. By not having advertising on the platform, Facebook (and all following social media platforms) became seamlessly integrated into our lives and we became addicted to them. Then, once social media became a thing we couldn't live without, they monetized it. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc are now all massive, billion dollar businesses. They have made these platforms one of the biggest marketing spends of most companies, and those companies pay billions a year to get their products, messages etc in front of you. So what is the point of the algorithm? To keep you coming back and spending more time on the app, more eye time = more money.
4. So why does this effect me personally, with my horsey page?!
Well... because you all said you cared about it! If you just want to post pictures of your horse, then it doesn't. Enjoy doing that freely and don't worry about any of this! Please, do not worry about it. That is my big issue, people worry about this too much! However, if you want to utilise your social media for either business uses (as a business or an influencer) or to spread a message then you will need to build a good, engaged audience to do so... and so utilising the algorithm effectively will help you do that.
5. So what does the algorithm care about?
A key thing to remember here is that an algorithm is just a computer and doesn't have human judgement. If it starts showing you stuff, its because its rules dictated you might like it, its not Susan at insta sat there going "Oh gosh, I'm sure Lucy always wanted a chestnut, lets show her some!"... its your previous behaviour dictating what you see. Like I said, all it is is a set of rules. There are 3 key things that those rules are built around and therefore that the Instagram algorithm cares about:
- Relationships; this is the one most people know. The more engagement you get, the more your posts get bumped. Engagement is anything that shows relationship between you and that account, for example likes, comments, reshares, DM interactions, views, saves etc
- Interests; the things you have shown interest in in the past will be shown more to you in the future. Like watching videos? They will get bumped in your feed. It is literally built to give people more of what they want, and it only knows what you want by what you have wanted before. The computer learns.
- Timing; although the feed is no longer purely chronological, timing still plays a role. Posts that are more recent are likely to be pushed to the top of a feed, so posting when your followers are online is key.
6. And what doesn't it care about?
A lot more than people think. Instagram doesn't care if you have a business account or a personal account. It doesn't care if your content is totally organic or pre-prepared and branded. It most definitely doesn't care if you own a warmblood or a cob! And it doesn't care how high you jump. All it cares about showing people is more of what they want, when they are online. Do you know who does care about all those other things? Your audience (or potential audience, if you're trying to grow)! So what do you need to consider and care about WAY more than the algorithm? YOUR AUDIENCE.
7. So how do I use the algorithm to grow my page and achieve these things?
Now this is where we learn about effective social media strategy! Strategy is a huge part of marketing and it is effectively working out how to chose and activate your marketing activity to best relate to your audience and get them to do what you want them to (buy your product, follow your page, watch your videos etc). So, if we take all of the above, we know that Instagram pretty much only cares about showing people what they want to see... so how do we build a social media strategy? We decide who we want to reach, we get to know the behaviour and preferences of the people we want to reach, what they want to see, what they like... and we do more of that, at the right times, in a way that encourages them to engage with it, so they see more of it... and repeat exponentially.
So yes, that was a very brief and overly simple overview, but I wanted to give a simple overview to change the way you look at your socials.
You need to focus on catering to your audience in a genuine way.
You do not need to focus on catering to the computer, because the computer responds to your audience. Apart from the 3 things I have listed above, there are very few set rules in the algorithm. Everyone's own algorithm rules will be different, based on their own personal likes and dislikes, what their algorithm has learnt about them. This is what the algorithm does, creates your own individual feed! So as content creators/marketers/influencers etc... we need to cater to the likes and dislikes of our audiences. Yes, consider the algorithm and how you could best use it to reach your audience, but don't confuse those two things as being one and the same... they are not.
Part 4 will be the final part. I'll give you my recommendations, based on my professional experience in social media and my experience of the equestrian community, of what social media strategy could best help you achieve your aims. Obviously, it is my opinion. Yes, its an educated opinion, based on knowledge learnt in this field from various different industries but you are welcome to disagree with it... As you might know your audience better than I do, and therefore you might be able to make a better strategy for your personal situation!
... And that is fine, as my main aim is only to give you clarity and understanding of this space to remove the need for people to worry about it. It effects your mental health. It shouldn't. That is all I care about... I don't want someone to pat me on the back and tell me I'm the most cleverest social media person ever... I just don't want misinformation to negatively effect your hopes, dreams or mental health... that's all :-)