Social Media Marketing
5 min

Are You a Slave to the Algorithm? (Part 1)

Written by
Melissa Matson
Published on
22 January 2021

Let me guess…you started your business with a head full of ideas and a heart full of passion and absolutely nothing was going to stand in your way.

Until it did.

Until you realised that putting yourself out there as an expert in your field, wasn’t enough on its own to actually get you noticed in the world of social media. You’ve got to understand how to play the algorithm game. But the question is, have you become a slave to it?

So let’s just take a step back and think about what the algorithm actually is.

The algorithm is a sophisticated computer programme used to scan and search out the most high-value and engaging content on the platform, which it then boosts up into people’s feeds with the ultimate aim of keeping its users on the platform for longer.

The longer a user stays on the platform, the more money the platform makes.

So to put it simply, you could spend two hours creating an incredibly powerful and beautiful post on Instagram, but if the algorithm doesn’t like it….you might be looking at a tumbleweed response. Heartbreaking I know!

However on the flip side, if you know how to play the game and create content that is aligned to your brand, your business AND the algorithm, then you really can make it work to your advantage. You’ve just gotta know how to play the game without becoming a slave to it.

RULES OF THE GAME

Depending upon which social media platform you use, the rules of the game may differ slightly. However, there are some common themes that apply no matter which pitch you decide to play on.

  1. Content is King - if you’re trying to beat the algorithm with cookie-cutter, boring content then you’re going to lose the game before you’ve even begun. Remember, the algorithm wants people to stay on their platform, so killer original content is the foundation for social media success.
  2. Consistency - the algorithm likes to support consistent content creators as it recognises this as a trait of being trusted authority (notice I said consistency and not frequency here).
  3. Engagement - the more engagement that a post gets, the more likely it will be boosted by the algorithm into the social feeds of others. Therefore make your content entertaining, informative or both!
  4. Short form video - the algorithm also loves short form video as it’s the most engaging way to consume information. It’s more interesting than a static post but still short enough enough to keep our attention. TikTok & reels anyone?

WORD TO THE WISE

Now there’s a danger that when you start playing the algorithm game, you may find yourself swept up in the ‘musts’ and the ‘shoulds’ of content creation. Doing all the ‘right things’ according to someone else’s rule book.  

For example, have you ever found yourself dancing around your kitchen to a trending audio with a crazy pointing finger, just because you think it’ll give you visibility? Come on, be honest! I know I have once upon a time (NB. this serious cringe moment has now been permanently removed from the internet).

Well, if this type of trending content is aligned to the brand that you’re trying to build, then by all means go for it. But if it’s not and you’re just doing it to get visible, just know that it might not be as beneficial as at first you may think.

GOING VIRAL - DOES IT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD?

A super trend at the moment with content creators is the desire to go viral. The more eyes on you, the more sales you’ll make right? Well, not necessarily.

If your viral content reaches your specific target audience then of course, you may make more sales if you’re able to convert them into followers, fans and ultimately paying customers and clients. However, there are also times when viral content can do more harm than good.

For example, you might create a viral reel or TikTok which gets you thousands, even millions of views because the algorithm picked it up. But those views and likes do not necessarily translate into an engaged ideal audience. It simply means that the algorithm liked it.  

If your viral content is created to simply play the numbers game and it is not truly aligned to your brand, your message and your positioning in the market, then you may find that it dilutes your brand potency and your control over its interpretation.

Viral content on its own is simply a vanity metric.

Without a clear sales conversion, viral content at best can dilute your brand potency and at worst, it can be extremely damaging to your brand’s reputation.

Prioritise human connection

Another red flag of playing the algorithm game is the belief that business success is determined by a computer programme. That’s simply not true!

Whilst social media is an essential part of any marketing strategy, we need to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on the real business builder here….human connection.

Whether that is connecting in person, in the DMs, through your mission, through your messaging, through your experiences, through your communities, through your stories or through your beliefs. Business success is ultimately built off real relationships, not a computer programme.

So whilst social media is an incredible tool to use, it should always be seen as a facilitator of human connections, not as a dictator of behaviour or a straight-jacket of success.

SUSTAINABILITY

Most of the entrepreneurs that I speak to who use social media have a love-hate relationship with it. Whilst acknowledging its power and ability to connect them to their audiences, it can often feel like they need a pocket full of tricks just to keep up with the new trends and algorithm requirements. Relatable?

But the truth is this.

If you’re in business for the long game, ie. you’re here to build a legacy brand, then you’ve got to find a way to build your business sustainably.

Sure, you might be able to dance around on reels for the moment because it’s trendy and it’s what everyone seems to be doing right now…..but if it doesn’t feel good to you to do it, then it’s not going to be the right strategy for you in the long term.

Plus, if you’re doing something that looks disingenuous, then it’s going to be really obvious to your audience and my worst fear for you would be that you would be put in the same ‘boring’ bracket as everyone else. Your audience will have been there, seen it, so why should they care?

IT’S TIME TO DO BETTER

So as creatives in the world of social media, it’s up to us to do better.

Forget blaming the algorithm for a lack of engagement and results. We need to be thinking about more innovative ways to create captivating content that galvanises people into action.

Remember, the algorithm supports consistent high-value engaging creators. So let’s rise to the challenge.

Instead of looking to others for the latest trend to hop onto, how about you look to yourself for an original way to create that feels aligned and exciting to you? Sure short-form video is the way to go, but how can you create more original brand-aligned videos that feel good and that also puts the right message out there. Remember, it’s about building your legacy brand sustainably whilst developing brand trust, respect and loyalty.

TOP TIPS FOR TAKING BACK CONTROL

If you’ve been reading this and you feel like you’ve been called out, inadvertentantly becoming a slave to the algorithm, then don’t stress. The main thing is that you now start to reconnect to yourself and the business that you’re building. Here a few tips to get you started:

  1. Reconnect to why you started. Chances are it wasn’t to become a social media guru (unless you are a Social Media Manager!) and lean into that.
  2. If the algorithm didn’t exist, what would you be doing differently? Is there a way to incorporate some of that into your content strategy?
  3. Do you have all your eggs in one basket? If you’re still focusing on just one social media channel and you’re not seeing the results, try diversifying into other platforms and see how that feels. Sometimes you’ve got to change things up to spark some new creativity. Plus, if you’re looking to build a strong brand presence on social media, then you ideally want to be on at least three platforms with high-value consistency. And remember, a lot of the content can simply be repurposed so it’s not always double the work!
  4. Create more than you consume. If you find yourself falling into the cookie-cutter trap of content creation, get in the habit of creating your own original content before you start the scroll. It’s a game changer!

So as we reflect on the game, it’s important to remember that you should always build your business according to your own rulebook. Your dream wasn’t to become a slave to an algorithim. However, if we know how to use it correctly and in a way that builds brand awareness and loyalty, social media really can be the most powerful tool for growth. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves and our brand along the way.

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