Learn How Social Network News Feed Algorithms Work

When you use social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram you develop connections with hundreds or even thousands of people. What this means is that you have the potential of being inundated with updates from everyone you are connected to. That would be a lot of updates everyday and that is where algorithms come into the picture. Algorithms determine what feeds you see each day. It is a way of controlling the volume of information you are bombarded with every day on social sites.

How Social Network News Feed Algorithms Work

Algorithms make life tough for marketers because no two algorithms work exactly the same way and that means the results of your marketing efforts can be very different from platform to platform.  The following guide will help you understand how algorithms work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

User research on these top social sites clearly shows that people do not want to be bombarded with information overload every day.  This user research led to the development of algorithms and news feeds as away to improve the user experience on these social platforms.

All of the most popular social networking sites have moved towards an algorithm based feed system in order to create a better experience for users. Facebook was the first platform to migrate from a chronologically based feed to an algorithm based feed. Twitter adopted the algorithm methodology in 2015 and now Instagram is following suit.

Facebook Algorithm:

In a public Q & A session with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg back in 2014 he stated that “Our goal is to build the perfect personalized newspaper for everyone in the world.  We’re trying to personalize it and show you the stuff that’s going to be the most interesting to you.”Zuckerberg went on to explain that each person is exposed to more than 1500 different stories on a daily basis, but an average user only sees about a 100 of these stories on their news feed each day.

How Social Network News Feed Algorithms Work Facebook

Creating the best user experience on a site depends on learning and understanding used behaviors and picking up on signs and signals that show what type of content each user is interested in. In the case of Facebook the Like button lies at the center of Facebook’s user experience and its earliest algorithms.  When you click the Like button you are not only personalizing your own experience and giving a signal to Facebook’s engineers about what you like you are also influencing other users. The Like button provides strong hints about what types of content you are interested in and what bores you.

The algorithm Facebook uses today is considerably more complex and sophisticated than earlier algorithms. It incorporates hundreds of different variable factors. We will focus on the most important elements of Facebook’s algorithm.

  • Relevancy Score

The Facebook news feed algorithm predicts with a certain degree of confidence and accuracy what posts a user will Like, click, comment, share, hide or mark as spam.  The algorithm prediction is quantified into a single number that is referred to as the “relevancy score.”   The relevancy score is specific to the user and to the post itself.

Every post that could show up on your news feed is assigned a relevancy score.  The Facebook sorting algorithm ranks them and then puts them in the order they appear on your news feed.  When you log in the post you see at the top of your news feed is the post the algorithm predicts is the post most likely to engage you and make you react.  Even ads are given a relevancy score. This is important for marketers because only the ads Facebook deems matter most to a specific individual are shown.  Theoretically this results in a better experience for the user and a better result for the advertiser because advertiser’s pay per view and if the viewer is more highly qualified and likely to buy the advertiser is only paying for interested audiences rather than paying money to get broader coverage with lower interest and relevancy.

  • Friends

We live in an age where relationships are highly valued. Facebook surveys revealed that users worried that they might be missing important updates about friends they really care about. In response to this concern Facebook changed their algorithm to give more control to users in determining what they see.  Posts from friends were given higher relevancy ratings and Facebook also introduced a new functionality in April of 2015 called “See First” which allows the user to manually pick accounts he or she wants to see first at the beginning of their news feed.

  • Post Engagement Time

Another important piece of information Facebook monitors and uses as part of its algorithm is the amount of time a persons spends reading or engaging with a specific post because longer engagement times generally indicates that the content is relevant to the viewer.   If you are spending more time on a certain post that post is also more likely to appear on your friends’ news feed too.

  • Video Engagement

A lot of people who look at video posts on Facebook do not hare , like or comment on videos so Facebook came up with some other criteria to add to the algorithm such as turning up the volume and entering full screen mode as signals that a user likes that video. It will also prioritize similar videos to show up in your feed.

Although there are many more criteria that are a part of the Facebook algorithm these are some of the most important for users and marketers to understand.

The Twitter Timeline Algorithm:

Historically, Twitter’s approach to their timeline has always been a stream of tweets from all the other twitter users you follow in chronological order but surveys revealed that Twitter users were also worrying about missing the best tweets from people that are most important to them so twitter set out  to change that feeling by making some changes to their algorithm.

How Social Network News Feed Algorithms Work Twitter

These changes are not as dramatic or far-reaching as Facebook’s but it has changed the real-time element that has always defined Twitter.

  • How the Algorithm Works

Again, user engagement is a key feature of the algorithm which determines the best tweets you may not have seen. These tweets can be accessed using one of two methods. You can use the “while you were away function” which provides a recap of some of the best tweets you may have missed.  This recap feature shows up for users that only check the Twitter app occasionally. The concept is simply to help you catch up to what’s happening in the world.

The Twitter algorithm is designed to put the most recent tweets it believes are most interesting to the individual at the top in reverse chronological order.  These tweets are identified by the algorithm which looks at the accounts you engage with most as well as the tweets you engage with most along with other criteria such as who you follow and who follows you.

Real-time timelines are still a crucial focus for Twitter and although it is possible they may change over to a completely algorithmic timeline that is not currently the situation. They have however attempted to solve the problem of missing vital tweets from a user’s most valued people by providing enhanced functionalities based on algorithms to determine available content.

Instagram’s Algorithm:

Instagram is a late entry into the world of algorithm run news feeds. The Instagram “explore” tab has traditionally only shown the most popular posts of all Instagram users but when Facebook acquired Instagram they began to customize content for specific users in spring of 2014 in an effort to improve the user experience when using the explore tab.

How Social Network News Feed Algorithms Work Instagram

The new Instagram algorithm will prioritize content that appears on your feed according to the following criteria:

  • Likes and Comments

According to an Instagram spokesperson the number of likes and comments a post receives is given a heavier weight within the algorithm.

  • Your relationship to the person posting

When you like specific photos from certain accounts, or you leave comments on pictures from those specific accounts the instagram algorithm will most likely show you more posts from that specific user account.

  • Time of the Post

Instagram does maintain a focus on chronology so the time a picture is posted will have some weight in the algorithm and consequently on where in your timeline the post shows up. This ensures users are seeing timely posts.

  • Sharing with Other Users

Posts that you share directly with others users and that other users share directly with you are weighted more heavily and are more likely to appear in your feed.


 Why all the algorithms to determine what content you see?  For both individuals and marketers the main point of using algorithms to help determine what viewers see is to filter out irrelevant or poor quality content.  All of these social platforms want to make certain that only the highest-quality content gets through to users. Marketers need to remember that their primary job is to post well-written content that is interesting, entertaining, helpful and above all relevant to their audience so that your posts have a higher chance of being shown to users.

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