Allow me to begin this blog post with an apology. Earlier this year, I shared some tips to understand the social media algorithm. I wanted to share ways to help you improve your presence on social media so you could be seen.
When I did this, I made the assumption that this magical algorithm played fair: an assumption that’s far from the truth. Algorithms are not so much objective as they are “opinion embedded in math.” We can’t have an algorithmic metric for success unless someone dictates the definition of “success.”
Despite the fact that the algorithm is machine learning, its genesis stems from the human mind. Even the most well-intentioned among us have our own agendas, our own ideas of what should be represented.
The worlds of computer and data science reflect the whims and ideologies of their participants. Traditionally, those participants are already well-represented, and they are often seen as the standard-bearers: white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, non-disabled. Even though this demographic is changing, the change comes slowly in relation to how quickly information is shared and how that sharing influences the algorithm.
Also, a paradox to consider: it’s challenging for each of us to consider bias in our social media feeds because the algorithm works. We only see our own feeds, which also means we only see the pages and people with whom we engage. The information we receive is designed to reflect what the algorithm thinks we want to see… which is basically reflecting our own selves back at us. How does that help us consider and listen to voices that are not our own?
Make The Algorithm Work For You
If you’ve been following us for a while, it’s safe to say you know our commitment to antiracist actions and to amplifying diverse perspectives. We’re guessing you share those values and goals as well. So how do we ensure that our social media feeds more accurately represent the full spectrum of awesome that’s out there?
Take time to discover the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) creators in your industry. Give them a follow, and follow that up with direct engagement. The algorithm tends to respond by showing you more content from the accounts you follow most recently. Take that up a few notches by liking their recent posts and leaving appropriate comments.
Let this also extend to adding more queer/gender-expansive creators, as well as folks with disabilities. Generally speaking: look outside your own sphere as much as possible.
Reflect Before You Collect
A common refrain I heard from BIPOC creators and activists after the #BlackoutTuesday and #AmplifyMelanatedVoices efforts was that their follower counts grew exponentially, but they did not see that same growth in engagement. If anything: increasing follower count without meaningful engagement likely deprioritized their content.
Take a few moments to ask yourself: did you rush to follow more Black folks online without considering how you wanted to interact with them?
If that’s the route you took: no shame. Now’s the time to review your feeds, show extra love to the folks you want to support and elevate, and consider unfollowing accounts you’re not engaging with. That last suggestion might sting for a second, but again: we want followers who actively and genuinely support our work.
But Also: Collect!
An Instagram-specific tip for y’all: make the most of saved posts and collections. It’s rumored that Instagram’s algorithm favors saved posts more than comments or likes.
Here’s how: Take a gander at any post in your feed, and you’ll see a small banner icon at the bottom right. Click on it to save that post. If you hold the banner icon, this allows you to create a collection folder that you can name whatever you choose.
Think about how you can use this feature to keep tabs on your favorite accounts while also helping boost their visibility. One way is to create a collection of content you want to share! Remember that sharing posts also helps engagement! This is especially helpful for posts that include calls to action; saving this content allows you to take action when you’re able, and reminds you to share the actions with others.
Do All Of This Within Reason
Your mental health counts for a LOT, friends. We won’t tackle the major issues in our world via social media alone. Take ample breaks from your feeds. Engage with the best members of your community in more direct, offline ways as you’re able.
Also: don’t hesitate to block and report malicious, spurious, and abusive accounts or pages as necessary. This helps make more room for the voices and perspectives we want to celebrate while also prioritizing safety for all.