Mr. Al, the Social Media Algorithm is everything and a mystery all at the same time.
And that can be super confusing for founders who need to get in Mr. Al’s good graces in order to grow on social media. Some days Mr. Al will be your best friend, driving traffic to your feed and seeing increased engagement. On other days he seems like an overzealous bouncer blocking anyone and everyone from seeing the content you work so hard on.
So what can you do as a business owner?
Listen in to today’s episode, and let’s talk about the struggles of founders and social media strategists in navigating Mr. Al, The Algorithm’s identity crisis so you can know what you’re up against as you continue to grow your biz in the finicky world of social media marketing.
In this episode of the podcast, I talk about:
- The hero/villain algorithm dynamic
- A time before social media algorithms
- The many jobs of Mr. Al, the Algorithm
- The toxic friend side of Mr. Al
- Mr. Al’s role in your organic growth
- The platform where Mr. Al really shines for your business
- The areas where Mr. Al thrives as a villain
- The lack of transparency on what makes Mr. Al work
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- “Well, as social media matured and as more people started using social media, social media companies like Facebook created algorithms, the little machines behind the scenes, all you know, Wizard of Oz, the guy behind the curtain who's pulling all of the strings. So the algorithm, instead of showing you everything, is just gonna try to determine what you wanna see and show you that instead.” – Andréa Jones
- “Mr. Al likes to make sure your feed stays irrelevant and spam free. So he's trying to almost gatekeep and weed out some of the low-quality stuff, irrelevant stuff, spam, and even things that may be misinformation. But Mr. Al is like the most imperfect bouncer I've ever seen because some of the stuff he tries to remove, I'm like, really? That person can't come into the party?” – Andréa Jones
- “When I see a post that has comments on it, on Instagram, for instance, when Instagram truncates those comments, it really shows me the comments from people I follow as well. So not only am I seeing a post from someone I follow, I'm seeing comments underneath that post from other people I follow. So Mr. Al has decided that this is my network, and he wants to show me, Hey look, not only is this post great, look at all the people who you also follow under this post.” – Andréa Jones
- “It [the algorithm] really can be a struggle because he's playing games and tricks and not really paying attention. And so when we think about it as a business owner, we're trying to play the game with a trickster, a person who's finicky, changing their mind all the time.” – Andréa Jones
- “When we think about the over-emphasis on engagement as a business owner, it can be challenging because we're trying to follow the cult leader and play his little game. But also like we have a business here, and we wanna move people towards becoming a client and customer and having meaningful connections instead of the surface levelness that this cult leader wants us to do, right?” – Andréa Jones
- “I struggle as a social media marketer because I can tell you today, oh, the algorithm loves this, and then you go try it, and you go, that did not work for me, ma'am. And that's because there is a lack of transparency in how algorithms work. I have a ton of educated guesses. I obviously do a bunch of research, and I'm gonna give you the tips and tricks, but I also want you to know that it changes on the daily.” – Andréa Jones
- “Back in the day on Facebook, you could really trick Mr. Al by asking people to comment. And so the more you could get people to comment, the more that Mr. Al liked your page. So what people would say is comment below, you know, A for this, B for that. And pages were like, you know, blowing up with all of this engagement. And so Mr. Al said, you can't say comment below anymore. And so suddenly, even if you were genuinely saying, comment below, Mr. Al went you are one of them, we're not showing your post.” – Andréa Jones
Watch the Episode Below:
Andréa Jones (00:00):
Is the social media algorithm a friend or a foe? In this episode, I'm gonna dive into the job of the social media algorithm and the impacts it has on your business growth. Let's get into it.
Welcome to The Savvy Social Podcast, the show that blends stories and strategies to help businesses create engaged and profitable online communities using the unique power of social media. And now, your host, Andréa Jones.
Andréa Jones (00:43):
Hi friends. This episode is coming directly to you from a conversation I recently had inside of the Savvy Social School, all about algorithms and what they mean for us and our business and how we can navigate these murky waters. Because let me tell you, the algorithm or Mr. Al as I like to call him can be friendly, but also can be in his villain era <laugh>. So I wanna talk about what that actually means for social media at large and then specifically for you as a business owner, because you can do things to like get him on your side, you know, but you kind of have to understand how he works. Now, when I'm talking about the algorithm, I am talking about the machine behind social media. So when you log onto Facebook or Instagram or TikTok or Twitter, you're not seeing your posts chronologically.
So historically with platforms like Facebook, when you logged on, you saw posts as they were being posted. That means everything from the people that you were friends with would be in your feed in chronological order or reverse chronological order. So you're seeing the newest posts at the top, and then if you scroll down, you're going back through the archives essentially of all of those posts, almost like being in a massive group text conversation. So you're seeing everyone's texts all at once, right? Well, as social media matured and as more people started using social media, social media companies like Facebook created algorithms, the little machines behind the scenes, all you know, wizard of Oz, the guy behind the curtain who's pulling all of the strings. So the algorithm, instead of showing you everything, is just gonna try to determine what you wanna see and show you that instead.
So that can either hurt you or help you. Let's dive into what that looks like today. All right, let's talk about Mr. Al and the job that he actually has. So Mr. Al, the algorithm has several many job titles. The first one is detective. So Detective Al likes to search and hunt for clues, things like likes, comments, shares, time of day, even how long you watch a post, Mr. Al is watching and Mr. Al is trying to understand what type of posts keep you the individual and us as a collective engaged. So Mr. Al, detective Al is looking through all of our engagements, our clues, and going, Hmm, how do I put all of this information together and make sure people are staying on the app? Now, Mr. Al is also a librarian. So he categorizes and goes through all of the posts and tries to put them in different categories.
So things like keywords and hashtags help Mr. Al understand the category of post that your content can go into. And that librarian works very well with the detective because the librarian is giving information to the detective side of Mr. Al. So collecting, sorting through categorizing labeling, using the Dewey Decimal system to put everything together. Y'all, it's totally random. I wanted to be a librarian at one point and then I realized how much school I would need to go through and I was like, <laugh>, I'll just take my Bachelor's of English Literature. Thank you very much, <laugh>. All right. Mr. Al is also a TMZ reporter. So Mr. Al is looking at trends. He is looking for preferences. He's trying to determine what will capture your attention next. Is it gonna be a fight? Is it gonna be a celebrity sighting? Is it gonna be some drama?
And Mr. Al as the TMZ side of him is trying to create buzz as well. He's trying to get more clicks. He's trying to be popular amongst everybody. Be the go-to it gal, right? So Mr. Al is trying to stay ahead of the curve as TMZ. Mr. Al is also a bouncer, okay? Mr. Al likes to make sure your feed stays irrelevant and spam free. So he's trying to almost gate keep and weed out some of the low quality stuff, irrelevant stuff, spam even things that may be misinformation. But Mr. Al is like the most imperfect bouncer I've ever seen because some of the stuff he tries to remove, I'm like, really? That person can't come into the party. Okay? Mr. Al is like an exclusive club and every single social media platform kind of has their own Mr. Al and Mr.
Al's bouncer side is different on all of them. Mr. Al also has a toxic friend side where he likes to validate you no matter what, especially if other people are validating you. So what I mean by that is if you share a post and people start saying, congrats, Mr. Al will suddenly take that post and put it in front of more people. Cuz they want you to feel good about posting and if they see, if Mr. Al sees your post and he's like, oh, they need more likes and comments on this post particularly, let's show it to more people. Thumbs up from me because I've decided that this post needs to be seen by everyone. So a little bit of a toxic friend because then you post something that is maybe more in depth or something that you actually care about a little bit more rather than, you know, maybe like a job announcement or something like that.
And Mr. Al goes, huh, nobody liked or commented on that. I'm not gonna show it to anybody else. Mr. Al is also a tailor in that everyone's experience is custom fit, indifferent. So high end luxe tailor suit fitted to your body. Mr. Al makes sure that everyone's feed is customized to their preferences, their browsing habits, and having that tailor made experience is part of what he does. It's, it's how he keeps people on the app for longer. My experience on an app is gonna look different from your experience even if we follow all of the same people. Now that's Mr. Al, he's a detective, he's a librarian, he works at TMZ, bouncer, little bit of that toxic friend and a custom tailor. So when we think about this as a business, I wanna talk about how Mr. Al can actually help your brand and business.
So Mr. Al is really like a promotional manager of your business, okay? So he is working overtime 24 7, never takes a break trying to put your content in front of the right people. So Mr. Al is actively on the daily with every single post trying to put your post in front of the people who would most likely engage with it. Now we're gonna talk about how Mr. Al can hurt you in a minute, but this helps you because if people are engaging with your post, then it gives that signal to Mr. Al, that toxic friend signal where he's like, oh, I see other people are liking this, so now I'm going to show it to more people. And so that can help your business when people engage. This is also why I use strategies like the five pillars of content or the SAQ method when it comes to creating content.
Because we don't want every post to be promotional. We don't want every post to take people somewhere else, cuz Mr. Al may get confused. If you have posts that constantly lead to your website, Mr. Al may go, people leave every time this business posts. Well, let me show them something else that will actually keep them here. So Mr. Al is your promotional manager. When you have posts Mr. Al searching around, finding the people who will like the post and putting that post in front of them and then sending back and seeing if they engage with it. Now, Mr. Al is also like your networking guru because he's trying to connect you with other business owners. So while he's trying to put your post in front of other people, he's also trying to help you find more accounts to engage with, to network with. Different platforms do this differently.
So if I think of something like TikTok's algorithm, Mr. Al is like constantly putting new people in front of you. But when you think of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, you will occasionally see posts in your feed of people you don't follow. So Mr. Al is trying to, you know, give you the hookup, connect you with other businesses, other people, other accounts that are maybe of interest to you based on his detective side. He’s done his little analytical ish and he has decided, oh, this post may be of interest to you. Mr. Al can also sometimes be a growth consultant. I see this especially on platforms like Instagram or YouTube where the algorithm will give you a little hint, Hey, this post is doing well, you should post more things like this <laugh>. So he's trying to look at metrics like likes and comments and shares and then give you little hints on how to improve that content piece.
I also see this on some platforms where if you have a comment and it's not responded to, Mr. Al will say, Hey, respond to this comment to, you know, help improve your ranking. Here with my like detective side, Mr. Al can also be a customer relationship manager. I see this happen a lot with people in your network who follow each other. So for instance, when I see a post that has comments on it, on Instagram, for instance, when Instagram truncates those comments, it really shows me the comments from people I follow as well. So not only am I seeing a post from someone I follow, I'm seeing comments underneath that post from other people I follow. So Mr. Al has decided that this is my network and he wants to show me, Hey look, not only is this post great, look at all the people who you also follow under this post.
So as a business owner, when you're starting to build your community, when your community members are participating with each other, Mr. Al will actually help your post get seen by more people. So it's not just likes and comments for the sake of likes and comments, it really is a way to encourage other people to connect with each other. I see the challenge with this sometimes with business owners when they get into these collaboration groups where you like and comment on each other's posts. But what happens is now you're in a little bit of a bubble. So we want this to happen a little bit more organically, which unfortunately does take a little bit of time, but know that Mr. Al is trying to help your community when it is functioning appropriately. All right, so those are some of the ways that the algorithm can help you. We're gonna take a quick break and when we come back, I'm gonna talk about Mr. Al's villain era. We'll be right back.
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Mr. Al can be a villain. The algorithm can be very villainist sometimes, and I think this is where we tend to lean as business owners thinking that the algorithm is against us. And in some part of this we're not wrong. Like when Mr. Hell is that bouncer, he also is a gatekeeper. Like the algorithm can be this elusive gatekeeper that makes it really difficult for businesses to get the visibility that we wanna get. It's prioritizing some content from brands who are already big brands. They already have the followers, they already have, you know, the communities. And so when newer businesses just start up, a lot of platforms have this villainous Mr. Al, that's like, you haven't proved yourself yet. So we're not showing your posts to anybody. And it can be very disheartening as a business owner when, you know, larger companies continue to see success in momentum and smaller companies don't see the light.
And I'll talk about this later, but this is why I like TikTok because everyone gets a chance at bat. You know, step up to the plate, see what you can do. Some of the other platforms, you have to build an audience first before you can start seeing traction. Now, Mr. Al can also be a trickster, okay? It's constantly changing. He's changing his mind all the time. All of the platforms are always always changing their mind. One day they'll be like, yeah, yeah, that's fine, go ahead and post that. And then the next day it'll be like no, you used the wrong word, you used the wrong hashtag, you posted the wrong time. But we're not showing this to nail. So it can be very challenging sometimes, especially when Mr. Al gets it wrong, right? Like, you say something in a video that he misheard and now he's labeling your video as inappropriate and he just didn't hear you.
Right? So sometimes that can happen too, and it really can be a struggle because he's playing games and tricks and not really paying attention. And so when we think about it as a business owner, we're trying to play the game with a trickster, a person who's finicky, changing their mind all the time. Mr. Al also loves an echo chamber. Like he loves <laugh>, an echo chamber, very villainous. If people are all talking about the same thing at the same time, he'll start like separating people and putting them into their own echo chambers. So when we as a business come in to create our content, if Mr l thinks we're on a certain side of a particular issue, he'll put us in that echo chamber. And it can really limit your audience if you're trying to branch out of a certain demographic or group because Mr.
Al has already decided that you're in a certain group, okay? It can happen to any sort of audience, any sort of preferences, any sort of identities, things like that. Mr. Al is also a little bit like a cult leader in that you gotta pay your tithe every single week, every day <laugh>, he's collecting his monies and his monies is likes and comments. And so if you haven't paid your tithe a k a, if you haven't shared a post that he has deemed worthy, he may start to deprioritize your entire account until you pony up. And so when we think about the over-emphasis on engagement as a business owner, it can be challenging because we're trying to follow the cult leader and play his little game. But also like we have a business here and, and we wanna move people towards like becoming a client and customer and having meaningful connections instead of the surface levelness that this cult leader wants us to do, right?
He's chasing after basically popularity. So the more popular you are, the more the cult leader gives you a little pat on the head and says, good job. Also last point under the Mr. Al's villain era, Mr. Al is a villain. He's like the biased baddie villain. So the challenge <laugh> with the algorithm being a robot basically or artificial intelligence is that he can be racist, he can be discriminatory. He's definitely biased in excluding certain groups, giving certain people advantages. And there isn't an even playing field, especially for underrepresented communities. So, you know, certain people of certain skin colors or people of certain backgrounds tend to not be highly favored by Mr. Villain when he's being biased. So it can be very challenging as a business owner. All right? Now is Mr. Al ethical? I have so many mixed feelings about the algorithm.
There's a complete lack of transparency with how algorithms work, right? So Mr. Al keeps his secret recipe under lock and key and every single platform has their own Mr. Al and every single Mr. Al has his own secret recipe that they're not sharing. And so we don't really know how content's being ranked. We don't know how it's being promoted or demoted, right? And since everyone's experience is different, it can be hard to pinpoint and nail down. So this is why I struggle as a social media marketer because I can tell you today, oh, the algorithm loves this, and then you go try it and you go, that did not work for me, ma'am. And that's because there is a lack of transparency in how algorithms work. I have a ton of educated guesses. I obviously do a bunch of research and I'm gonna give you the tips and tricks, but I also want you to know that it changes on the daily.
And this is why as my company, we focus on strategies over tactics. So the algorithm loves a tactic. Like I can tell you right now, if you celebrate something that people can write, congrats on. I kind of alluded to this before. If someone writes congrats or congratulations, Mr. Al goes, oh, this is important, let's show it to everyone. So whether that be you are announcing a pregnancy, you started a business, you're celebrating 10 years in business, you got a new job, you're launching a new product. Like anything that people can celebrate, Mr. Al freaking loves it and will share it out to more people when they, when he starts seeing the word congrats. It's a tactic though. I feel like if we all started celebrating something every day, it just wouldn't work, right? So they kinda have to use it sparingly. But it is one of those tactics that can, you know, trick Mr. Al.
Now this tactic may go away. Certain ones like back in the day on Facebook, you could really trick Mr. Al by asking people to comment. And so the more you could get people to comment, the more that Mr. Al liked your your page. So what people would say is comment below, you know, A for this, B for that. And pages were like, you know, blowing up with all of this engagement. And so Mr. Al said, you can't say comment below anymore <laugh>. And so suddenly, even if you were genuinely saying, comment below Mr. Al went you are one of them, we're not showing your post. So we don't really know how all the algorithms work. We can make educated guesses based on what we see. And since I work with so many brands, I can see trends and patterns across the board.
But you may not see all of that based on your experience in the app. And so that lack of transparency can be very challenging as a business owner. The other thing that makes Mr. Al, to me questionably ethical is the mass amounts of misinformation. Now, Mr. Al is trying to label posts as misinformation, but one of my clients posts in the past month got caught up with a label that said, this is misinformation. And it wasn't, it was just a quote. So I don't know how ethical that is. I mean, I guess I can try to appreciate Mr. Al like trying not to spread fake news, but it still happens. And I think with the evolution of like deep fakes and these videos that look like actual politicians are having conversations and they're not, can be very, we're getting into sticky waters. I don't know if Mr.
Al can detect that misinformation. I also talked about how Mr. Al has algorithm biased. And I personally see this with my ads. I don't know what it is, but when I run ads, sometimes when I look at the likes coming in it's almost as if Mr. Al is only showing my ads to black people. And I don't have any, I don't have any problem with that. It's just like an odd choice, obviously I don't, I don't have a problem with that. Come on in. I love y'all. I love us. Oh, we're so great. Anyways, I don't have a problem with it, right? But also if it's making that decision, I'm like, what other decisions are you making that I can't see? Right? Like, why not just show the ad to the people based on the preferences that I put in, like business owners, right?
Not just black people. Just a very odd choice. And so the flip side is, is it doing that for other brands, brands who have photos in the picture that are, you know, white people? Is it only showing those ads to white people? It's just a very, it's like a racist thing that f it feels racist to me anyways. I also think the danger of Mr. Al is a confirmation bias. Like if as a user you're, you're experiencing the app and Mr. Al is showing you all the same content, it can feel like, oh, everyone's talking about this. Everyone's talking about the same thing. And I don't know if that's ethical, but I also think that it can be a double edged sword because we definitely want to get into certain circles that appreciate our work. And also if we're all thinking the same way, are we actually being challenged?
Big question. The algorithm also tends to push controversial topics. So as a business owner, this gets a little bit into like a sticky ethical scenario where when we think about what people engage with, we know Mr. Al wants them to engage. We can lean into topics that are just for engagement, just to appease Mr. Al. And this tends to be things that are hot button issues. And while peppering in and layering in hot button button issues is great, unless you're like a news site, it can be challenging to approach that as a brand, as a business and kind of have a layered strategy so we can tow an ethical line as business owners. Are we posting this because we truly believe that it's something that stands up to our business values? Or are we posting this to satisfy Mr. Al? I struggle with this personally when it comes to social media news and updates.
Whenever I post something topical in the social media world, those posts tend to get more engagement, and it really is because I'm posting about something like Instagram on Instagram. So obviously the Instagram users are going to be into it, and it, they're just gonna pay more attention. But I do not position myself as like, come to me for all of the social media news and updates for free on my feed. That's what my paid community is for, because I take the time to explain what these news and updates mean to you as a business owner. So that's what we do in the Savvy Social School. So I struggle with this because I know if I post that Instagram update on Instagram, it's gonna get a lot of traction, but so much context is missing in a social media post about an update. And I personally think a lot of these updates cause panic for business owners.
So the way that I approach sharing updates in my community is mostly like, Hey, here's the update, but don't worry about it <laugh>, you know, kind of thing. So yeah, I really struggle with that as well. On the flip side, because, so the Mr. Al is so into like hot button controversial topics, it kind of varies. These topics that are a little more cerebral, a little more thoughtful, a little more nuanced or complex, there's almost no place for nuanced conversations and complexity on social media. It could be very challenging. I do think my client, Kara Loewenthail, we do this very well on her account, her audience likes the complex, like meaty in-depth topics. But they're harder to put together into a post. To take something that, you know, she talked about for 20 minutes on the podcast and boil it down into a little snippet on social media can be very challenging.
And Mr. Al sometimes doesn't like that. I also think Mr. Al is an inaccurate reflection on society. This is just like my final thoughts here on Mr. Al, because he favors the people who are shouting the loudest. And sometimes we think that's what everyone's thinking, but if you actually get outside of the internet and outside of social media, you'll see that like normal people, everyday people aren't quite as impassioned as what the algorithm is showing us. So I actually think as business owners, our experience on social media sometimes feels like a reflection of what society is thinking and what society is, is how society is behaving. But it's not accurate. It's not an accurate representation of all of your clients. It's not an accurate representation of how all people think. And so I think some people get scared to post, we get scared to create content because we don't wanna be shouty or we don't wanna be aligned one way or the other.
And it can be, it's just challenging. And I just wanna admit that challenge as a business owner. All right, as we wrap up today, I do also wanna say that I'm a fan of making Mr. Al work for me. So like, I know he's a trickster. I know that he's a detective. I know that he's trying to be my promotions manager while also being an elusive gatekeeper and an echo chamber enforcer. So when I'm creating content, I'm thinking about all of Mr. Al's job titles, what his ultimate goal is and how I can make him work for me. Because ultimately, Mr. Al doesn't work for me. He works for the big man and the big man's ultimate goal is money. And to get money, he needs attention. So Mr. Al's boss is like a mafia boss and Mr. Al is just trying to keep his coffers filled with money.
And how most social media platforms work is, that's all based on advertisements within the platform, or mostly based on advertisements. So as a user, either we're, we're consuming ads or as a business, we're paying for ads. So I know that about Mr. Al, I know that he's trying to keep people on the app so that he can sell them ads. And I know he's trying to sell me ads, like he's trying to get me to buy ads. I know that about him, and I'm gonna play his game and still have my content be seen, still have people find me and quickly take them to other means to communicate with them, like email marketing, which I love. So that's my goal. Like my social media sales funnel is built on the fact that I want people to find me on social media and get to know and like me, and then I want to move them somewhere else.
Like, I like social media, we can hang out here, but Mr. Al is finicky. Like, I don't wanna be reliant on him. Let's also move this party somewhere else, right? So that's my ultimate goal. That's why I build my communities. Like I moved away from Facebook groups and built it on Circle and have our own community space because Mr. Al, he is unreliable at best, <laugh>.
So if you feel the same way as me, know that you're not alone. And I'm, I'm glad that you hung out with me in this entire episode. Send me a DM if you found this helpful. I really enjoy that feedback as well. Instagram's where I spend the most time right now at onlinedrea. And we'll be back soon with a new episode to further support you and your business growth. Thank you so much. Bye for now.