Why social media algorithms are not an author’s friend
People are predictable. You might not think that’s not true. After all, people do weird things all the time. But they are only weird to you. They are not weird to the person doing them, at that time, in that place. It’s all about variables.
On the whole, if you know all the variables, people are predictable. That’s why algorithms are used so extensively in social media.
The trouble with variables
The thing is we rarely know all the variables. That’s why when it comes to social media, algorithms are the quickest way to get in a rut, and the hardest rut to get out of.
Last week, I was tired, stressed and frustrated. I wanted funny memes and inspirational quotes. This week is the school half term break. No live classes, no technology failures to deal with. My husband has taken time off from his incessant calls and the house is oh so quiet. This week, I want in-depth articles and thought-provoking blogs.
But social media algorithms don’t know that. They are still ordering my feed the same way they did last week. While I am mostly viewing posts I bookmarked earlier.
It’s the same for readers. You can see what a book link is about without clicking it. So you may scroll past – but that doesn’t mean that you will not at any point in the future want to see another one. Like when there is a new book available or you want to buy a gift.
The trouble with assumptions
Scrolling past a post with a link does not mean you don’t want to see any posts with links from that author. You may not want to buy a book right now but you may want to read their blog or a free short story. Or vote in a cover contest. Or just wait and see what the next post is about.
People don’t usually make decisions as quickly as software does.
The trouble with categories
To an algorithm, an image is an image. A photo of an up-and-coming author on a research trip is the same as an inspirational quote from a successful author. But it isn’t the same to us humans, is it? We can enjoy one but skip the other.
I rarely make videos so my posts aren’t usually shown in the feeds of readers who like lots of videos. So when I do post videos, they don’t tend to do so well. This is because the algorithm has decided the followers who might actually want to see that type of post, don’t want to see any posts from me.
The trouble with not knowing our limits
Yet how much of our time on social media is wasted? By ads from companies selling things we don’t need. By suggestions of accounts we don’t want to follow. We know that once we have purchased an item, we don’t need another one. We know that one picture of a tropical island each week is enough. If we see one every day, it’s not exciting and special anymore, is it?
But social media algorithms don’t know that. Because they don’t know all the variables. They don’t know that you have already bought that book or jumper or pair of shoes. They don’t know whether you prefer quotes to photos, or photos to quotes. They don’t know how you feel on a particular day. Or what’s going on in your life. They don’t know you.
The trouble with measuring behaviour at group level
Algorithms don’t understand that some people click like and drop comments without a second thought. While others only click the like button twice a year and haven’t quite worked up to leaving a comment yet. If they read one of my posts, they will probably want to read another one.
But if they didn’t click the like button, they may not get the chance. While someone who did click like, maybe just because they enjoyed the photo or the title, now sees similar posts every week, whether they read any of them or not.
The trouble with labels
Once you’ve been given a label, it can be difficult to shake it off and prove you are something else. It’s even harder to be recognised as what you actually are – lots of things. Because that’s the point of algorithms. They simplify complex decisions.
I was slow to build up my follower base on Twitter and now the algorithm has labelled me a follower, not an influencer. Despite the fact that I have thousands of followers of my own now. That’s thousands of people who don’t actually see most of my posts.
They do see my replies to other people’s posts though. I actually get more responses to my blog through other bloggers’ posts than through my own. I also see more responses to other people mentioning my book, than to my own book posts.
In December I ran a Christmas related ‘guess the destination’ series on Instagram. Since then, I have settled back into a two or three posts a week routine with a story on the weekend. I’m fairly consistent. But does the Instagram algorithm know I’m consistent? And therefore a safe bet for potential followers? No, it does not.
Facebook is even more complicated. It doesn’t just consider post engagement, it also looks at page likes and follows. If you like a business page on Facebook, its algorithm will check the kinds of posts your friends engage with, and will suggest following that page to any of them it thinks might be interested.
It also checks how many other people have liked or followed that page, which is why you’re more likely to see suggestions for supermarkets than small businesses.
The trouble with humans
We’re tenacious creatures, aren’t we? We may not be able to beat the algorithms but we can encourage the sort of behaviour that will work in our favour. If you would like to support an author, or any small business, there are things you can do.
Like, comment, or share their posts. If you haven’t already, find their Facebook page and click the like button at the top. You can also follow them on multiple social media platforms. That way you are bound to see something from them!
If you follow someone but haven’t seen a post from them in a while, you can check their profile. They may have posted something you just haven’t been shown. Liking that post will increase the probability you will see the next one.
Thanks for reading my blog!
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And if you have had success with social media algorithms, please share your learning points in the comments!