By Carly Ward

Your most recent social media data report comes in and you want to scream, “Why isn’t my content reaching my target audience?  It was beautiful. It had a compelling message. But no one saw it…” 

If this sounds familiar, the answer might be an algorithm. Well, I’m here to help explain it and then offer an example of how to make it your friend. 

So, what is an algorithm anyway?  

 The algorithm aims to deliver content based on past behavior and interactions on social media platforms. It achieves this with a sequence of programmed instructions that takes a professional to understand completely. Some of the important factors that algorithms consider by social media platforms are: 

When we throw advertisements in the mix, it gets a little more complicated.

Advertisers have the challenge of working against algorithms. They must create ads in hopes of persuading their target audience into doing whatever it is they want you to do. 

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and all other social media platforms show sponsored content that reflects personal taste and interest. You can never actually predict all of these ranking signals, but you can construct your content strategies to achieve your goal of people reached on social media. Let’s look at an example of how this might work using my favorite brand as an example.

America’s Endangered Gems

The NPS Mission: The National Park Service (NPS) preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

The National Park Service (NPS) is a fabulous part of the U.S. There are 423 national park sites in the U.S., and all of them are unique gems. National Parks were created to protect special places for people from the past, present and future to enjoy the experience and beauty. 

There are no direct studies that determine the most common age group; however, popular news outlets and others do believe baby boomers are the typical age group

Let’s say the goal is to reach younger generations who are not engaging with nature as much as they could be. A new, healthy love for the outdoors could be brought to light if the algorithm started pushing out the content of parks to younger generations. So, what are the ways to make sure your content is reaching the right target audience?

Understanding the Platforms 

Reminder:You can never predict all the ranking signals, but you can construct your content strategies to achieve your share of people reached on social media. Of course, creating content that encourages engagement is key to attracting more likes, shares, and comments. 

A simple and effective approach to increase engagement is to… request it! This can be achieved through asking questions, making challenges, asking for photos, etc.  

The National Park Service’s case: one example is they could make a post promoting safe traveling by asking hikers to send photos showing how they stay safe. Hikers could post their hiking boots, water bottles, and anything else they use for their safety. Ultimately, NPS would grow in engagement because their followers would post for them! This would get followers’ friends to see posts about the NPS and spread engagement. 

 Social media platforms also prioritize trending topics because trends motivate users’ engagement. While it is unnecessary to hop on every trend, it can be of value to an advertiser to explore the trends that align with your brand messaging. The NPS does try to post relevant content; however, they could dig deeper into relevancy and the present. 

Generally, the most recent posts are given priority for almost all platforms. So, it is important to know when to post. There are many resources an advertiser can use to predict when would be the best time to post. Looking at the Facebook engagement graph, it would be most strategic to post on Thursday through Monday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Relevance is key. 

Continuing with the National Park Services as an example: Look at popular social media platforms to see where you have the most and least engagement. Create a graph like the one below to show where the strengths and weaknesses are. The graph below shows that the NPS has the most followers (5.2M) on Instagram and the least followers (2,704) on TikTok. 

Following Count: 

IG: (National Park Service)   5,200,000 followers
X: (National Park Service)    1,200,000 followers
FB: (National Park Service)  1,800,000 followers
TT: (                               2,704 followers 

Next, look at the number of users each platform has to see which platform is the most popular. The graph below shows that Facebook has the most users (2.99B) and TikTok has the least users (1.08B) right now. 

Most Popular Social Media Platforms:

IG: 2B users

X: 450M users

FB: 2.99B users

TT: 1.08B users

 The user comparison graphs show that Instagram is the NPS’s strength because they can reach the most people naturally with their large following. Now, we need to capitalize on a strength after it is identified. As previously explained, if you understand your platforms, you will know what types of posts to make and when. 

Still looking at the user comparison graphs, we can see that the NPS has a huge weakness – TikTok. Although it has the fewest users, TikTok is a new and trendy platform with 1.08B active users every month. TikTok is the youth app, with different trends being created weekly. It isn’t easy to keep up with trends, but it can be life-changing for a business. 

 For example, Dr. Miami’s TikTok account posts daily on TikTok using trending sounds. This simple change to the platform gave Dr. Miami thousands of new followers every month. The posts are not always direct advertisements for the business’s work, it is just effective trend following that reaches as many people as possible. 

If the NPS started being active on their TikTok account, they could reach a new spectrum of young users (the selected target audience). They only have three posts and do not implement trends, quality, relevance or timing into their TikTok posts. They have not made a post in over a year and seem to have given up on the app before they started. 

The NPS could make business-altering posts starting with using trending sounds. Additionally, learned what communicative style to use. For example, large paragraphs are not the best way to share information if you’re using TikTok. Instead, you would want to communicate through videos and visuals.

Back to the NPS example: A current trend on TikTok is a sound that says, “Ricky, when I catch you Ricky…” and people use the sound to make a post related to a time in their life when they wanted to get to something or somebody. The NPS could use a sound like this and post a time-lapse of hikers walking on a trail hoping to get to a waterfall. Make the caption, “When I keep hearing the waterfall but still can’t see it.” This way, you have created a relatable post while using a trending sound and not using too many words. 

Social media is a fast-changing network that is becoming more complex and intelligent as the years go on. Advertisers must understand algorithms, what they mean, what they can do, and most importantly, how to use them to their advantage. Although it takes being an expert to understand algorithms completely, it takes just some research to understand platforms, strengths, and weaknesses better. After analyzing the NPS’s social media presence, it was possible to pick out a few things they could do differently. 

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