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How to Measure the Impact of an Algorithm Change — and Optimize For It

Algorithms on social networks are constantly changing. Kevin’s recent post about how to stop panicking and prepare for Instagram’s algorithmic change makes the point that it’s useless to fight City Hall — but brands can optimize for these changes. Or, as Beyoncé would remind us, make lemonade.

Clarifying the Role of Social Media

Preparing and optimizing for the effect of algorithmic changes on a social network is a three-step process that any brand can follow.

Step 1: Set Up Your Benchmarking System

First, whip your benchmarking program into shape. Know which social content was performing best before this particular algorithmic change, and know your average engagement, impressions, engagement as a % of audience, or whichever other metrics are important for your brand’s goals.

This chart comes from Simply Measured’s Pinterest Channel Report.

I recommend using a consistent timeframe for past benchmarking and moving forward to ensure accuracy with your data sets. For the purposes of this exercise, come up with two benchmarks based on the metrics you choose: your averages over the past year and your averages over the past 30 days.

Having a set of dual benchmarks will help you avoid creating a “false average” by solely focusing on a long time frame in which there might have been phenomenal months and not-so-phenomenal months. By putting that year average into context with the 30-day average, you’ll have an idea of how your brand is doing right now and if you have to tweak your benchmarking figures.

Step 2: Read the Network Documentation Carefully

You need to understand the social network’s reasoning for making their algorithmic change. Instagram didn’t just wake up one day and say, “You know what would really freak social marketers out? Changing the algorithm by which their content is displayed! LET’S DO THIS.” No. There was business sense behind this modification, and by understanding why, you can make the most of the change.

For instance, Instagram wrote a blog post about their latest algorithm change. In it, the network gave its reasoning for the change, which boiled down to this:

People miss, on average, 70 percent of their feeds. As more people join Instagram, more people follow brands on Instagram, and both brands and users publish more content on Instagram, chances are that Instagram users aren’t seeing branded content. This isn’t good for Instagram (especially as it vies for those tasty advertising dollars), Instagram users, or your brand.

With Instagram’s algorithm updates, the content that people “would be most interested in” surfaces first. What this means is that customers who regularly engage with your content will see more of it. This can keep your brand top-of-mind for the people who are already interested in it — and it makes the engagement and engagement as a % of audience metrics more important than ever on Instagram.

As Instagram and other third-party services make it easier to connect to purchase points directly from the app, this can mean the users engaging with your content will have a higher likelihood of buying.

See? We got all of that from one little social network announcement blog post! Make sure that you’re taking these changes in stride and thinking about the ramifications for your brand in an equally thoughtful way.

Step 3: Identify Content That’s Performing in the New Ecosystem

Every algorithm change effectively makes a social network a new place. What thrives in this new environment? What is a dud? Use the content that has typically performed well for you on that network. If your numbers go down, you will need to shift your strategy. One way to do this is to and find out which of your competitors’ content keeps popping up on your target audience’s feeds, and then learn why this is happening and which strategies you can take for your own brand.

The good news is, algorithm changes can force you out of a rut. They can make you experiment with influencer marketing in a new way, or pay more acute attention to where you’re suggesting ad money should go. Change is afoot, but it can also be manageable — and maybe even the best thing that ever happened to your brand on social.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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