Dealing with social media algorithms shouldn’t have to be difficult.
While the mathematical aspects of a social media algorithm might be complex, the basic function isn’t. Sure, algorithms do their best to figure out what their users wants by trying to predict behaviours, but the social signals informing the algorithm are easy to understand — engagement and authority.
The result of exchanging engagement and authority on a social platform is that having many inactive followers is bad for business. Really bad, actually.
Imagine pulling all your social media followers into a spreadsheet with three columns; one for engagement, one for authority, and one for the total. In each column for each follower, you then calculate a rank number between 1 (low) to 10 (high). The top 10% most engaged followers would be given a score of 10, the second most engaged 10% would get a score of 9, and so on. And then you would do the same for each 10% of your followers in terms of authority.
Each follower would then get a total score between 2 and 20.
In this new ranking of your followers, the top 10% will be freakishly valuable to your reach. The bottom 10%… well, not so much. They might even drag you down with them.
Now, here’s the real kicker:
When deciding what content to show to its users, the algorithm will compare your percentiles with percentiles from other competing content publishers. If you have 100,000 followers with 90% “ghost followers”, your percentiles will not win very often.
Yes, the algorithm will collect performance data on everything you publish, but contrary to popular belief, this data is mainly used to validate the algorithm’s accuracy, not to determine your authority1. Posting great content (meaning: content that performs better than the algorithm’s initial prediction) will micro-adjust in your favour, but only ever so slightly! Such micro-adjustments can almost never make up for having 90% ghosts, for instance.
What does this mean?
A huge following of ghosts could be poison to your attempts to negotiate the algorithm. Great content alone will rarely make up for having a large portion of followers with low scores on engagement and authority.
If this is the case, what can you do? There’s no easy solution, unfortunately. You could use various techniques to get these ghosts to unfollow you (i.e. blocking them). But this behaviour will tell the algorithm that you’re not interested in engaging with those accounts that have chosen to follow you. Short term, this is likely to impact your own engagement score negatively. Your only course of action is to make sure that you’re at least not following them back and hope that they will unfollow you, too, over time.
Also, there’s another algorithm challenge we must address:
Your niche. If your brand is posting on, say, ten different topics and each and every individual follower is only engaging with just one of these, you’ll be creating 90% “virtual ghosts” for whatever topic you choose to go with on any particular occasion. You’re basically dead in the water in terms of trying to negotiate the algorithm — and it’s all due to a flawed audience strategy.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Naturally, the social media algorithm has already made most of its predictions before you publish your content.
- Just make sure to push past the point of critical mass.