June 28, 2017

Twitter's algorithm and what it means for you

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Published: 28 June 2017 

With the amount of new content posted on Twitter every second, it’s often hard for your tweets to stand out from the crowd. To make sure your tweets get seen, it helps to have an understanding of Twitter’s algorithm.

What is Twitter’s algorithm? It is considered quite different from the algorithms used for social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Twitter’s algorithm is far more subtle than it’s competitors’. For Twitter, the tweets which the platform thinks you care about most will show up first in your timeline.

This hasn’t always been the case for Twitter. Originally, the platform ordered tweets chronologically. However, since 2014, Twitter started to tweak its algorithm to make it more personalised by including recommended tweets and accounts. This meant users were seeing content from people’s accounts who they weren’t following.   

Furthermore, in 2015, Twitter introduced a “while you were away” feature. This showed a selection of tweets you missed while you were not online from accounts you already follow. This same algorithm was then applied more generally to users’ timelines.

How top tweets are determined

So how does Twitter determine which tweets you are seeing in recommended tweets and in for the “while you were away” feature?

Twitter looks at factors which include:

  • Accounts you interact with
  • Tweets you have engaged with
  • How popular the tweet is
  • How others in your network engage with the tweet

Engagement

This factor is fairly logical. If you are engaging with someone more frequently, Twitter will know you’re going to want to see that user’s tweets and show them at the top of the timeline. This will happen even if you have engaged with a user who you don’t follow.

Your most engaging tweets are more likely than others to get boosted and appear at the top of the timeline. After all, the more engagement a tweet receives, the more interesting it must be.

It’s important to note that this algorithm only accounts for organic reach. If you’re trying to use paid services such as promoted tweets to appear in the top tweets, you’re out of luck.

Location

Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has stated that location factors into the platform’s algorithm. After all, Twitter wants to show tweets which are of interest to the user. Often enough, those are tweets about what is happening locally.

Timing

Despite the algorithm changes, Twitter still publishes its tweets in reverse chronological order, with the newest tweets showing at the top of the timeline. To increase your chances of appearing in the “while you were away” tweet section, your best strategy is to tweet at the right time. This will increase your chances of your audience engaging with your tweet, rather than not seeing it.

What are the best times to post on Twitter? Well, that all comes down to your location and what audience you are trying to reach. If you’re trying to engage with a local audience, you’re going to have very little success if you’re mainly tweeting while they’re asleep. However, if you’re aiming for a global audience, the best times to publish tweets can often be out of office hours, as that’s when users in other countries are online. Make sure you know your audience and where they’re from in order to capitalise on engagement levels.   

What you can do to improve your reach

Is Twitter’s algorithm causing you to have a lowered reach? There are a few things you can do to increase your reach, such as by using:

  • Hashtags: look at existing hashtags and use those. Creating your own hashtags can be risky, as people don’t know about them, and therefore won’t use them. You’re going to get more exposure by using well-known hashtags in your tweets.
  • Photos and videos: the best way to make your posts more engaging is to use visuals such as photos or videos. You’ll find you will receive a higher proportion of replies, retweets and favourites. Video is far more effective than photos, so consider including more videos in your tweets. This will also increase your chances of appearing in the top tweets for both people that do and don’t follow you.
  • Analytics: the only way to know whether or not your social media strategy is actually working is by analysing your data. Fortunately, Twitter has its own analytics tool. This gives you information on factors such as impressions, profile visits, engagement rate, link clicks, retweets, likes and replies.   

Got any tips for Twitter users? Let us know in the comments.

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

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