Whether we know it or not, like it or not, our lives have been taken over by algorithms. And while we can’t physically see them working in the world around us, you better believe they are out there. 

The scary thing is; most of us have no idea to what degree we are being influenced, guided, or manipulated into making one decision over another and to what extent these invisible pieces of code affect how we do business and interact with each other. 

But don’t worry, this isn’t some fear-mongering blog post warning you of the digital dystopia that beckons on our doorstep. Instead, we are going to discuss how you can turn the tide against the social media algorithms and let the manipulator become the “manipulated,” if you will.

In other words - we’re going to share everything you need to know in order to outsmart the algorithms so you can get your content in front of as many eyes as possible. Sound good? Let’s dive into it.

What are algorithms, exactly?

As the Urban Dictionary puts it, “an algorithm is a word that programmers use when they don’t want to explain the code they are working on.” Sounds fair enough.

With that said, a more apt description of an algorithm would be a “finite sequence of instructions for a computer to follow to solve a set of problems.” 

A good analogy of this would be a food recipe. You have the inputs (the ingredients), you follow the step-by-step instructions, and then you end up with the output (the delicious cooked food). Algorithms are at the heart of pretty much every single computer function you carry out, and of course, some are more complex than others.

How do algorithms work on social media?

With social media, algorithms are used to create and maintain order from the massive amounts of content that is posted on the platforms. Every time you log onto Facebook, there will be an algorithm at work that decides what content should be displayed to you, what adverts you will see, and in what order you will be updated with events.

As you might have noticed, Facebook, Instagram, and most of the other social media giants do not display their content in reverse chronological order (newest first). Instead of seeing the most recent posts, you are usually greeted with the “most relevant” or “most liked” posts instead. 

As a matter of fact, most social media platforms use algorithms to predict what you will want to see and then organize your feed accordingly. The main reasoning for this is so that you will spend more time on the site (due to being more engaged in the content), which means that you will be more likely to view and click on advertisements. That way, the social media platform can sell your screen time for a high price to ad networks. 

Remember, for social media platforms; the users are the product, not the consumer.

The controversy

A whopping 53% of the world’s population now uses social media, and the average daily usage is up to a staggering 2 hours and 25 minutes. Pretty insane, right?  

With over 4.66 billion people using social media every day, you can see why algorithms are crucial for determining the validity and placement of content for its users. If they didn’t, it would be something of a jumble of incoherent chaos - although some people may argue it’s chaos either way.

But here’s the thing; algorithms are unable to understand context or tone. Not yet anyway.  They still don’t fully understand nuance, and for the most part, they are largely flawed. This means that much of the content is ranked in a bizarre fashion, and that’s bad news for people who need to engage with their audience.

Unfortunately, most social media networks are not very transparent about their ‘algos’ and the reasoning behind why some content ranks over another. This leaves content creators in a constant game of trial and error to try and get their content seen by their audience. 

With that said, marketers are like a dog with a bone when it comes to deciphering the algorithms, and thankfully, we can now break down what works for each of the main sites. So if you have content that you want to rank and increase engagement with your followers, here’s how the algorithm functions on each of the main platforms:


  • Relevancy of the subject matter
  • Customer engagement
  • Average time spent on similar content
  • When the content is posted
  • How informative the post is


  • Average time spent on similar content
  • When the content is posted 
  • Relationship of the user to your profile (how much engagement)
  • Content popularity


  • Date and time posted (Twitter is one of the only sites that does this)
  • Fresh and updated content ranks highest
  • Number of comments and interactions
  • Relationship of the user to your profile (how much engagement)
  • Your overall presence on Twitter

Five tips to optimise your content and outsmart the algorithm

While the above information is useful to bear in mind, you still might be wondering how you can apply that information to yield actual results the next time you make a post. Fear not! Here are five tips on how to create content that is algorithm-friendly and should see you flying up the ranks in no time:

1 - Create short videos

According to Oberlo, internet users spend 6 hours 48 mins watching video content online each week. In other words, video is king right now, and it doesn’t look like anything will be coming to claim that mantle any time soon. 

As a general rule of thumb, the more video content you create, the better. A great way to do this is by posting short, easy-to-digest videos regularly. Not only are they more likely to be seen and viewed by your followers, but they are much easier to create and take far less time to edit and publish.

2 - Engage with people

Social media platforms love engagement. They won’t be inclined to show your content to people if there is zero engagement on your content every time you post. As such, the more interaction you get on your social media posts, the higher the chance you will rank in the future. 

With this in mind, try and publish content that encourages engagement, such as a live Q&A, polls, quizzes, and contests requiring people to comment, like, and share.

3 - Be controversial (or at least be interesting)

Now you have to tread this line carefully, but adding a bit of controversy into your posts is a great way to gain some publicity. People love a good contentious topic, don’t they? So why not take advantage of this and set the bait out for your audience.

Of course, you should do this tastefully, and preferably with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour, but as you may soon find out, this is easier said than done. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to make a shockingly outlandish statement that offends millions of people. Instead, come up with an interesting debate or a controversial topic. You could even release a contrary opinion or statement that gets people talking. Good luck! 

No matter what, always be adding value and stimulating conversation. In a recent Human Hackers podcast about Storytelling Violeta Balhas advised to have this question in your head when you're creating content “so what, who cares?” Good advice, just because you think it's interesting or relevant doesn't mean others will.

4 - Remember to #hashtag

Using the right hashtags means that your content has a better chance of being labelled correctly by the algorithm. If you just upload a picture without any context, caption, or hashtag, the algorithm will have to try and figure out what the subject matter is before it puts it in front of the “right eyes.”

Instead, you might as well include some relevant hashtags on your posts to more accurately categorise what your content is about. Hashtags also make your content more searchable on the platforms, which can’t hurt. Just, don’t overdo it. Sometimes you can blind people with hashtags and they miss the key message. In the end, although this article is about algos, the main game is to actually reach the humans.

5 - Take advantage of events in your industry 

Last but not least, it’s a good idea to stay on top of the news in your industry and keep your followers up to date with everything that’s going on. After all, almost every social media algorithm loves relevancy, and there is nothing more relevant than up-to-date news.

This is also a great way to establish authority in your field and to set yourself apart as an industry expert, which may help you rank better for content in the future. Remember, the goal here is to increase user engagement and interaction, so try and develop unique ideas to get your followers involved.

Final word

While it seems like the robots are well on their way to taking over, there are still ways to gain the upper hand and outsmart the machines (for now, at least). The good news is that the social media algorithms are easy enough to work around as they usually reward high-quality content and generally rank content that comes from accounts that engage with their followers.

So whether or not you are using social media for your business or your own personal needs, remember to optimise your content with the user in mind, and you’re on to a winner.