Whether you realize it or not, algorithms play an increasingly important role in your online campaign. By better understanding algorithms and how they work, you’ll be able to use them to your advantage and avoid the implicit penalties that come with not playing by the “rules.”
So what is an algorithm? At its most basic level, an algorithm is a set of processes to help computers make decisions. For example, with thousands of possible Facebook posts to show a user, an algorithm determines which dozen or so you’ll see the next time you open the app.
Algorithms typically prioritize a key behavior or goal like keeping unwanted marketing emails out of your inbox or keeping you hooked on one video after another. These processes rely on the input of data to inform their decisions and the more data an algorithm ingests, the more complicated the decisions.
Since algorithms only operate off of the inputs they’re given, any marketer – political or otherwise – needs to understand all of the various inputs or signals their marketing content provides the algorithm.
The most valuable input an algorithm can receive is real-world user behavior data, which is why engagement is often one of the most important inputs in determining algorithmic output. Savvy marketers in the era of algorithms know they need to optimize their content and strategy to increase engagement – clicks, shares, reactions, opens, views, etc.
Important considerations beyond simply what your content is, like when you share it, factor heavily into how much engagement it generates. And this doesn’t just mean time of day either. Now, more than ever, your online content should follow the ebb and flow of the political conversation. If your content is about taxes but everyone online is talking about immigration, you’re swimming upstream and will get less engagement.
The format of your content also sends important signals to a platform’s algorithm. For example, Facebook’s algorithm appears to preference video hosted natively that keeps a user scrolling through their feed over a link to another service like YouTube.
And ensuring that details surrounding your content are configured appropriately for the platform where you’re sharing it, like Facebook open graph tags or video captions, is also critical because platforms use these as signals to make decisions. The “art” of search engine optimization (SEO) is all about making your site more “friendly” to the algorithms that determine search engine results.
With email, this includes the technical aspects related to email authentication which serve as signals to the email inbox provider about whether your message should be delivered.
Whether you realize it or not, algorithms affect your campaign’s success online. But the good news is you don’t have to understand the complicated details behind them to succeed. Format your content appropriately by following best practices and give your audience what it wants to leverage algorithms to your advantage.