How Social Media Algorithms Work

Jul 08, 2021

Photo Credit: Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

How Social Media Algorithms Work

5 tips to build your following

Algorithms. For the tech-challenged, they may seem like one of the mysteries of modern life. And we can’t blame you if you’re a creative soul who just wants to make awesome stuff and not have to think about navigating the ins and outs of machine learning and artificial intelligence. But as confusing as social media algorithms may be, they are necessary: with billions of people posting on various platforms every day, they provide some semblance of order to a vast and chaotic world.

An algorithm is a set of rules that determines how data behaves. Sounds pretty cold and emotionless when described that way, but to put it in human terms, algorithms make sure that if you’re interested in banana bread you’re not being served videos of NBA game highlights (and vice versa).  

Basically, social media algorithms are systems designed to show you content that artificial intelligence thinks will be of maximum interest to you. Each social media platform has its own way of figuring that out, but in general whatever pops up in your feed has been curated for you, based on your preferences and activity history. The behavior that determines what kind of content you are served includes which videos you have liked and shared, which accounts you follow, comments you have posted, and of course, the videos you create.

Social media algorithms can get pretty detailed in the way they calculate your behavior. For example, they will not only take into account which videos you watch, but whether you watch an entire video or click away after a few seconds.  Not surprisingly, if you frequently engage with content from another creator, the algorithm is going to serve you more from that person. The content you share will also determine what you get served. This includes the kind of captions you write, how long your videos are, the music you use, as well as hashtags.

You might assume that algorithms always favor the more popular accounts, but on TikTok, the number of followers an account has doesn’t automatically mean their posts will show up in your feed more often. According to TikTok’s blog, “While a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers, by virtue of that account having built up a larger follower base, neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system.” 

Now that you know the basics of how social media algorithms work, the question is, what can you do as a creator to take advantage of the system? Here are five simple ways to make sure algorithms are working for you.


The first thing and simplest rule is to create shorter videos. This is a good idea, and not just because you’re competing in an attention economy, but because social media algorithms reward videos that are watched from start to finish. That doesn’t mean everything you share needs to be a haiku, but aim to keep at least some of your videos in the 15 to 20 second range.


Next, consider not only what you post, but when. Yes, the whole point of social media algorithms is to sort posts in a users’ feed based on relevancy instead of when they are published. But as with love and comedy, timing is everything. It’s important to post content when your followers are most active, so you can generate more engagement more quickly. If you finish editing an amazing video at three o’clock in the morning, it may be tempting to publish it at that very moment, but hold your fire. No matter how good your content is, it won’t get a lot of traction if most of your audience is sleeping. 


Another important key is to use popular hashtags. You can click on the Discover tab on TikTok, and see which hashtags are trending. By using popular hashtags you can boost the visibility of your videos. The same goes for music: sounds trend the same way that hashtags do but unfortunately, finding trending music isn’t as easy as finding popular hashtags. One thing you can do is open the Sounds tab in your video editor and scroll through the list of trending sounds. (If you have a TikTok Pro Account, you can also see the sounds your followers have been listening to in the last 7 days.) 


The last factor to help increase your visibility is to remember the “social” part of social media. Because engagement is the most important factor in TikTok’s algorithm, it’s important to take some time to like, comment on and share videos by other creators. One easy way to increase engagement with your posts is to ask questions in your captions, as a way of inspiring your audience to interact. Tagging other relevant accounts in your posts is also a great way to build your audience. 


At pearpop, of course we also have our own set of algorithms.  When we designed these algorithms, our aim was to understand exactly what kind of content each creator makes, and also which audiences that content connects with best. Armed with that information, we’re able to serve recommendations and predict which collaborations will be the most effective in maximizing your social capital, while staying true to who you are as a creator.  As with everything we do, our goal is always to help grow your audience and provide ways for you to earn the money you deserve. Which is why, in addition to all the suggestions listed above, participating in pearpop Challenges is the ultimate and most effective way to connect with other creators, grow your fan base, and get that paper!