Today’s episode is not about disliking the social media algorithm or marketing platform algorithms. I know that many people have issues with algorithms, particularly Instagram’s algorithm, and trust me, I’ve done my fair share of complaining about it. However, this episode is about something much more sinister: the culture surrounding those algorithms and the widespread messaging that we must appeal to these algorithms or we are doomed.
trying to appeal to algorithms
“Done is better than perfect” is a concept I wholeheartedly subscribe to. It can be incredibly challenging for me to get there, but I do believe it. Unfortunately, this does NOT play nicely with common recommendations for appealing to social and marketing platform algorithms. It doesn’t suit any of them.
Recently, I am inundated with messaging that has slowed me down from creating things and sharing them. Bummer.
There is a lot of messaging around using massive social media or marketing platforms that tells me, directly and indirectly, that unless I am going to do things in a particular way, I shouldn’t bother doing them at all. But, of course, that particular way is different everywhere, making it all very challenging, or as I like to call it, impossible.
In one instance, I was told directly not to bother putting my podcast on YouTube because “unless you can post on this schedule, this kind of content, that answers these questions, your channel will suffer.”
I was told not to bother sharing my work because the reach will be low and the content will be suppressed, and engagement would be bad. I was told that YouTube suppresses this kind of content in the algorithm.
I have no clue if that’s true, but even if it is, how is suppressed content not any better than content no one had the chance to see? Done is better than perfect, shared is better than unshared… but that doesn’t satisfy the algorithm.
But I don’t work for an algorithm.
I understand that every platform has best practices and things it’s good to be aware of. I’m okay with basic rules and guidelines, but I’m not okay with being told I shouldn’t even bother unless what I want to do will make an invisible robot happy. That is so discouraging and toxic.
I don’t have any issues with the existence of the algorithms on any platform. I understand and support that there has to be an algorithm in place; otherwise, things would move so fast it would be useless.
Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and other massive platforms handle so much content from so many users and deliver it to so many users; there needs to be a system (algorithm) to manage it.
The algorithm is a huge part of what makes those platforms functional and enjoyable as a user. Are they perfect? No. Are there a million things about it that we don’t know and don’t understand? Yes.
culture surrounding algorithms on social media
My issue is with the culture surrounding the algorithms – and the messaging that seems commonplace to appeal to the algorithm or don’t expect to get anywhere. This is not a positive or encouraging message.
I have found it to be very stifling. It is the reason that my podcast is only just NOW being published on YouTube. It’s been on my list for many years, but because I kept hearing that it would be impossible to appeal to their algorithm with this content, I kept putting it off, thinking I’d create youtube specific content instead. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)
For too long, I let this message about the social media algorithm get to me. I allowed the idea that unless I work on the preferred schedule and create the preferred content in the preferred formats, I won’t be successful. And that is incorrect.
My job is to share my message with YOU. If the algorithm wants to assist and make it more likely that you see my message, that’s great. Very helpful. But when I sit down to create things, I do it with YOU in mind, not the algorithm. I feel like we live in a world where the algorithm is the priority, not the human – that includes the human creating it and the human consuming it.
Share your message. Share what you want to share. Share what you WANT TO CREATE. Just because your artwork or product doesn’t fit the Instagram aesthetic doesn’t mean it can’t connect to people there, and it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share it.
Create and share without feeling obligated to satisfy an algorithm
I absolutely believe that my content on Instagram would do better if I turned everything I wanted to share into a lip dup, song and dance, trending sound situation. However, I don’t work for social media likes. Social media recognition and engagement feel good, for sure. Does it help my business out if more people see my message because the social media algorithm has decided it will spread it around more? Maybe. But It helps ME more and YOU more if I show up in the ways I can, genuinely, consistently.
It doesn’t help either of us if I constantly try to squeeze my message into a trending format.
It doesn’t help either of us if I’m not sharing anything at all just because what I made or want to make is not the preferred format for whatever platform’s algorithm.
It’s more important that we create and share what we want to, can, and feel good about. I love a trend, I’m happy to work with one, but I don’t want to wait for one to come along that suits my message. I want to share my message consistently with you.
There is no denying that I find some of this frustrating. I am very frustrated that we live in a world that gives so much power to algorithms we cannot fully understand. I’m more frustrated when I don’t make progress or don’t post something simply because it doesn’t fit what I’ve been told works best. It makes me sad to think so many people are missing out on YOUR content do those same reasons, too. (On the other hand, I regularly do follow a lot of the rules and don’t see a lot of difference in doing so.)
social media algorithm best practices
As far as best practices go, I think the number one best practice for anything anywhere big or small platform is human first. But that doesn’t seem to get a lot of coverage. If you cannot do your work 100% of the time or any percent of the time in a way that allegedly satisfies the algorithm, don’t. Still share your work! Algorithm be darned.
I’ve seen this come up, for example, with students in our Training Course for Etsy Sellers who occasionally email us to say, “I really need to put this information in my title, but I know that’s not good for SEO.” And we will tell them that if putting whatever information in the title makes your business run smoother or in some way benefits you or your customer, it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect for SEO. You can still have great SEO without doing every single suggested best practice perfectly. More importantly, you need to keep humans in mind. If putting whatever information in the title is better for the human experience with your listing, then that’s not a trade-off we should make in favor of SEO. For that reason, having a holistic understanding of Etsy is essential. Also, having a holistic understanding of your business and what you need is huge.
I’d rather create content without having to keep an algorithm in mind
As the human who creates the content, I know what I’m willing to do and create and share – if that doesn’t satisfy the algorithm, so be it.
All of this is to say, share your message, share your work, share your business. Don’t let the threat of ‘bad engagement’ keep you from any engagement at all. Everyone who interacts is still valid and important, and meaningful. Suppressed reach is better than no reach; done is better than perfect.
I have 25.5k followers on Instagram, and most of my posts reach less than 2000 people. I have posts that have been shared by hundreds of accounts and still only have 400 likes. I’ve been told that creating content that gets shared and liked, and engaged with is good for the algorithm and benefits the account. But even when I do that, it doesn’t carry over to the rest of my account. One post can do well, and that’s it. So even when the content does what should allegedly satisfy the social media algorithm, that’s not a sure bet.
The algorithm isn’t a sure thing. You showing up can be. The most crucial sure thing of all is that humans are the ones who create, interact with and use the content. Humans are the ones who buy the products. Humans are the ones who click the links. Humans. Not robots.
Prioritize the humans, including yourself. Share your work, whether it’s checking the boxes on what every massive platform favors or not. Share your work!