Making your campaign visible: organic reach

Once you have identified your audience and thought about your key messages, you need to consider how to get your content in front of them.

Diagram representing a social media algorithm

There are millions of accounts publishing billions of content updates every day. You can post on most social platforms for free, but it’s difficult to ensure your campaign is visible in a crowded online space. In this step you will explore one social media marketing strategy which is known as organic social media marketing or organic reach, where social media platforms show content to users without payment.

Organic reach

Most social media platforms are based around the core concept of:

  • An individual user who can follow and be followed by other users to create a network of relationships.
  • Each user posts content which can be seen by their followers.
  • Each user can see posts from one person they follow, or a ‘stream’ of amalgamated updates from everyone they follow.

A social media stream acts like a TV channel containing content created by all the people you follow in that space. Scheduling content to be posted at peak times allows you to optimise for this stream, making your content more visible and giving it greater reach.

Understanding algorithms

In the early days of social media sites and blogs, the stream was reverse chronological with the most recent content at the top and older items further down the page. The recency, or timestamp attached to a piece of content, dictated where it appeared in the stream.

Today major platforms operate differently. Instead of determining order by time of publication alone, they instead use ‘importance’ or ‘relevance’ scores to determine when, and whether, to show content to users.

This relevance is determined by an algorithm, a step by step set of rules used to process information or data. Social media companies tend to be secretive about the exact factors which contribute to how the algorithm determines relevance. They also frequently tweak the input factors and metrics, so that the algorithm can’t be exploited.

For example:

A supermarket announces that shoppers wearing red hats will get a 50% discount at the cash register. How many people will show up the next day to do their shopping wearing red hats?

Even if the supermarket changed the relevant item of clothing every day, it would be straightforward to watch the traffic at the checkout and deduce what the pattern is.

So instead, the supermarket might use a secret combination of factors, different every day, or even every hour, to encourage usage and maintain interest in the promotion.

There are several factors related to content which feed into the algorithms used by different social platforms:

  • Recency of publishing, editing, or commenting.
  • Does it contain a photo or other multimedia?
  • How long is it?
  • Is the content topical and are other users on the site also posting about it?
  • Is it a repost or something new?
  • How many likes/favourites does it have?
  • How many comments?

Other factors about the user account posting it may also be included:

  • How active is the user on the site?
  • How long has the user been on the site?
  • Does the user’s previous content typically attract engagement, such as comments, likes and shares?
  • Does the user engage with others’ content?

Summing up

Recency may only be one factor in determining when content is shown to an audience. You can try to optimise your content by guessing at some of these factors, for example, using relevant hashtags, adding pictures and encouraging commenting, but this will only help so much.

The more factors an algorithm uses to determine how content appears organically on the site, the harder it will be for you to reach a particular audience with your content.

This is intentional. Social media platforms want you to pay to be seen. Their business model depends on it.

In the next step you’ll discover what is known as ‘paid activity’. You’ll explore how this compares to organic activity and how to optimise whichever path you choose.

Have your say:

  • What’s your reaction to the factors involved in algorithmic content selection?
  • How does understanding the algorithmic selection make you feel?

You could also reflect on the content you see on your own social media platforms. What do you notice about the content that appears?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Create a Social Media Marketing Campaign

University of Leeds