How Do Social Media Algorithms Work? [Infographic]

Do you ever wonder why your social media posts never seem to get shown to all of your followers? You spend time building your connections hoping that your organic reach will improve, and yet when you post only a small fraction of the people you hope to reach actually see your content.

The short answer to this conundrum is: engagement rate. If your post performs well then it will be shown to more people. If it performs badly then it won’t get shown to anyone. But how can social networks tell if your posts are going to perform well if they don’t show them to anyone?

Time for another short answer: testing. Social media platforms will generally show your post to a small test audience to see how it will perform before letting it out into the wild. If it does well, then it will be shown to more and more people… until it stops doing well.

But….(exasperated)… how does it decide if your post is “doing well”? A third and final short answer: benchmarking. Any social network you are on will know roughly how interesting you are (via your engagement rate), and so if your post is more interesting than usual (for you) then it will be shown to more people who are connected to you. If your post is more interesting than posts from people similar to you, then it will be shown to even more people. If your post is more interesting than their general users of the site… it will be shown to as many people as possible.


How Do Social Media Algorithms Work?


The reason for this hierarchy of testing is that you and your posts are not the point of social networks. Social networks are a business that thrive based on how interesting their users are, and sharing (or not sharing) your content is how they make sure people are interested.

Basically – they want to keep their users engaged, so they can’t just push out any old nonsense to everyone. People would get bored and leave if they did. So social networks test out your content before letting too many see it to make sure that people will care about it. This process is similar to how ad platforms work, and unsurprisingly so – in both cases, the platform is looking to maximise performance and minimise waste.

While it is odd to think of the organic side of social networks as essentially being ad platforms, it makes a lot of sense if you are just considering their algorithms. The only difference between ad platforms and social media platforms is that all the “ads” on a social network are user-generated. And while social posts can have external links in them the main thing that posts are advertising is for people to keep using that social network.

But I digress. While there are definitely nuances for different social networks algorithms, this is how they *generally* work when deciding who gets to see your posts.

Note: I expect that each social network also has its own way of pre-judging the quality of posts before they start showing them to anyone. The way in which they choose their test audiences probably also varies greatly.



Check out the below infographic to pull back the curtain and understand how social media algorithms (generally) work – and why most of your posts won’t be seen by all of your followers.



How Social Media Algorithms (Generally) WorkClick to enlarge