Social media is an important space for brands as it can be used for both paid advertising and sharing organic content. This combination, on the same platform, allows brands to expose new, potential customers to their business as well as building a community of loyal consumers.

With so many consumers online, brands cannot afford to ignore social media as an advertising platform.
Brush up on the advertising options available on social media in our article, Social media 101: Advertising in South Africa
With paid-for adverts getting your brand name out there, you’ll also need to focus on your organic social media growth to ensure your consumers have a space where they can interact with you — and see that your brand cares about the same things that they do.

To get the most out of your organic content (aka, to ensure your content actually appears on people’s timelines), you’ll need to understand how each social platform’s algorithm works.

While every social media platform has its own algorithm, each one is designed to show users content that is relevant to them. Social platforms do this to ensure that users enjoy their experience on the platform and that they continue to stay active.

To this end, many changes are made to algorithms to ensure that users stay happy and that social media platforms can continue to exist. For example, the first half of 2018 saw Facebook making five major changes to its News Feed (and undoubtedly, many more that were unreported).

Let’s break down how each platform’s algorithm works:


Facebook’s New Feed algorithm ranks content so that every time you open the New Feed, you see the most relevant content at the top.

According to Adam Mosseri, the former Facebook VP of News Feed, the ranking system is based on four elements:

  1. The available inventory of stories
  2. The signals, or data points, that can inform ranking decisions
  3. The predictions Facebook makes (how likely users are to comment on a story or share it with a friend)
  4. The relevancy score attributed to it

Mosseri explains the process in more detail in this video:

The signals are where brands and marketers have the chance to increase their organic reach. How, you ask? Well, the more active interactions your posts get (think shares, comments and reactions), the more people will see the post.

So by posting content that resonates with your target audience, or naturally creates meaningful interactions (like a Facebook Live video), you can increase your organic reach.


Early in 2018, Instagram (finally) revealed how its algorithm works. What shows up in a person's Instagram feed is based on three main factors:

  1. Interest: Posts that Instagram thinks the user will be interested in will appear higher in their feed.
  2. Timeliness: Recent posts will tend to appear higher in a feed than older posts.
  3. Relationship: Posts from accounts the user has regularly interacted with will also tend to appear higher in their feed.
However, those are not the only factors that Instagram’s algorithm is based on. There are three other factors that also affect how content is ranked, but to a lesser extent. Frequency of posting, the size of your following and Instagram usage will also factor into the rankings.

Writing for WordStream, Conor Bond says that “the longer you’re on the app during a given visit, the harder Instagram has to work to produce relevant images and videos,” which forces the app to expand on the boundaries of what is relevant to the user, “thus producing lower quality content as the visit continues”.

So, what does that mean for brands? It means that to succeed on Instagram, brands need to have a deep understanding of what interests their audience and must work to create content that encourages engagement (and uses relevant hashtags) to get their content onto more consumers’ feeds.


Twitter’s timeline consists of three main sections:

  1. Ranked tweets
  2. ‘In case you missed it’
  3. Remaining tweets in a reverse-chronological order

According to Buffer, every time a user visits Twitter, its algorithm studies all the tweets from accounts the user follows and gives them a relevance score. The score is based on three main factors:

  1. The tweet itself: its recency, presence of media cards (image or video) and overall engagement (including retweets, clicks, favorites and time spent reading it)
  2. The author of the tweet: the user’s past interactions with the author, the strength of their connection to them and the origin of their relationship
  3. The user: tweets the user has found engaging in the past, how often and how heavily they use Twitter

Once Twitter has ranked each tweet, it places them into the ranked tweet and ‘in case you missed it’ sections.

So, how can brands improve their organic reach on Twitter? Buffer has some suggestions:

  • Reuse your top content
  • Try out some different posting times
  • Experiment with Twitter videos
  • Strategically use hashtags
  • Reply to mentions
  • Promote your tweets

What are some of the elements you think social media algorithms should take into account when it comes to suggesting content? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Now that you know how the social media algorithms work, check out these Four reasons why brands needs to focus on organic social media marketing.