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The Secret to Reaching Your Audience on Social Media: Cracking The Algorithm


We have social media to thank for introducing the word ‘algorithm’ into our daily vocabulary -- once a term reserved for mathematicians and computer scientists. More often than not, we can blame low viewership numbers and engagement rates on changes to feed algorithms. Why? Our favorite social media platforms are built on the promise of delivering relevant, timely, and quality content to members so they’re constantly tweaking their backends to make their platforms ‘smarter.’

In the early days of social marketing, all brand followers on social media networks would be able to see updates chronologically, and in real time. But social media networks started paying close attention to users’ preferences and became sensitive to their feeds being dominated by branded content vs. their friends’ baby pics. So they got smart about which content would be visible to audiences. In turn, brands got smarter, too: they started creating higher quality content (as opposed to just ads) and figured out ways to break through the noise.

Increasingly, though, cutting through the noise is becoming harder and harder, and you’re bound to fail if you’re not paying very close attention to algorithm changes. But even if you’ve lost your way a bit, we’ve collected all the most important algorithm updates across social media channels for you in this one post. Here’s everything you need to know to reach your followers, now.


Facebook is notorious for pulling the rug out from under brands’ feet, so to speak, when it comes to algorithm changes. The company is highly sensitive to presenting users relevant updates from the people and brands they care about. But the biggest social network is also committed to helping brands establish best practices to reach audiences that want to hear from them.

News Feed to show posts with higher engagement first

The News Feed is core to Facebook, and the company is continually tweaking it for users. On February 1, 2016, Facebook announced that “News Feed will begin to look at both the probability that you would want to see the story at the top of your feed and the probability that you will like, comment on, click or share a story.”

What does this mean to me? Some pages may see decreases in referral traffic while others may see increases. Posts with the most engagement will be pushed higher in users’ News Feeds. Keeping this info in mind, Facebook does not recommend encouraging users to comment or Like posts, as this could cause “temporary spikes in metrics that might then be rebalanced by feed’s ranking over time.”

Higher time spent reading = higher ranking in the News Feed

In addition to elevating posts with the highest engagement to the top, Facebook is also analyzing how long people spend reading certain posts after they’ve clicked away from their News Feed. Facebook writes that they can “now predict how long you spend looking at an article in the Facebook mobile browser or an Instant Article after you have clicked through from News Feed.

What does this mean to me? Just because you’re sharing sad updates about celebrity deaths that don’t get many Likes, doesn’t mean your audience isn’t paying attention. This added layer allows Facebook to further tweak the News Feed to bubble up stories it believes your audience wants to see in their feed.

Video killed the radio star

Live videos are viewed 3x longer than those that have been previously recorded and uploaded later. Now, Facebook is prioritizing live video in News Feeds, rather than videos it had previously deemed “the best.” Facebook Live is the company’s answer to Periscope, Snapchat, and others in the video space.

What does this mean to me? Start getting comfortable with live video because these are those early days when you can propel yourself to the top of your audience’s News Feed by maybe getting a little uncomfortable in front of the camera. Here are some ideas from Facebook itself on how to do more with video


Back in February (a lifetime ago in social media years!), Twitter announced a major update to its algorithm, allowing users to opt in to see tweets they are “likely to care about most”  first in their timeline. By March, the feature was universal, though users can choose to opt out of it, if they like. It’s really just an expanded version of Twitter’s old ‘while you were away’ feature.

What does this mean to me? Users that have opted out of the feature will continue to see your updates in the mix of others, in chronological order. Those who haven’t will likely see your updates if they’ve interacted with your brand at some point. Otherwise, you should continue to implement your existing Twitter strategy, while keeping these best practices in mind.


You may just have been living under a rock if you didn’t catch wind of the uproar some sectors of Instagram’s community rose when they heard about Instagram’s latest algorithm update. While the changes have only just been announced and -- according to Instagram -- have yet to be implemented broadly, your feed was likely flooded with pleas to opt in to notifications. So what’s the big deal? Instagram announced that it wants the “order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”

What does this mean to me? While it’s impossible to predict just how this change will affect your brand’s Instagram presence, it’s important to remember that you should always strive to post the best quality content you can for your audience.


In January, LinkedIn made some significant changes to its algorithm changing both the experience users have with search, as well as publisher reach via its news aggregation platform, Pulse, though there aren’t a lot of details about how either one of them work. LinkedIn’s algorithm is surprisingly difficult to track, compared to other social networks. 

What does this mean to me? Like any social network (in this case, a professional one), LinkedIn is building a business based on usefulness so your focus should be on creating quality content and distributing it via other social channels you have available to you. Creating a robust and complete profile -- and updating it regularly -- should also help both your employees and your company increase your chances of appearing in search. 


If your brand values visual content, you’ve likely spent years honing your strategy and meticulously cleaning and updating your Pinterest boards. In early February, some users began reporting that referral traffic from Pinterest took a nosedive. Group boards with little engagement were affected the most.

What does this mean to me? Pinterest, like Facebook, values creating a great user experience, so it rewards brands who share diverse content and aren’t just “me-formers.” Focus on doing a little spring cleaning of your Pinterest boards: delete old pins that aren’t reflective of your brand, pin and re-pin content from other users, brands, and publishers more than your own, and be sure to share your content to all relevant boards (source: Pinterest algorithm change February 1, 2016: What You Need to Know). Check out Pinterest’s own tips for cultivating a great community.

While social networks will continually be tweaking their algorithms to better serve their users (consumers), as a business, you’ll want to stay flexible and open-minded when it comes to interacting with your audience on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Sure, there are tricks of the trade and ways to game the system but at the end of the day, you should remember that the best way to reach your audience online is to consistently share relevant and timely content. For this, you will almost always be rewarded.

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