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Algorithms: Godsend or God Awful?

A few years ago, algorithms across social media platforms appeared to be a god send to any digital marketer extraordinaire. Of course at first they were a bit of a mystery, with many of us unsure of how exactly they operated. However, over time algorithms on social media have become easier for marketers to manipulate.

Algorithms under fire – Facebook’s mistake

Despite the opportunities that come with this, algorithms are affecting all of our perceptions through what they make visible on our social feeds. Most recently these have come under fire following the US election, where fake news was being spread. The algorithms allowing these articles to go viral within particular online communities. Mark Zuckerberg has since explained how the social network plans to fight the virality of fake news, with seven new projects lined up to help detect authenticity – or lack of it.

Facebook do not make use of a human editorial team, but rely on technology to do this job for them – a dangerous game to play. Before we go too ‘Black Mirror’ on you, in this post we’re simply going to explore how the effects of algorithms could lead to problems in targeted online marketing.

The effects on social marketing

Algorithms on Facebook are developed from identifying what users like, share, post or comment on, as well as making use of call-to-actions such as ‘show more like this’ on individual posts. This is because, for Facebook, their goal is to have an engaging and relevant News Feed for each individual user. This means that what we are viewing on our Facebook feeds, is very much narrowed down to almost what we want to see, or at least what Facebook thinks we want to see. For marketing, although this might make promoting to target audiences easier in some ways, it also brings with it limitations.

For those content marketers using Facebook Pages in a natural way (i.e. not advertising posts), this kind of algorithm will affect who sees each posts. Those who haven’t visited or engaged with a certain page in a while, or those who might not have many friends who have engaged with that page could miss out on what’s being shared, meaning that, in turn Facebook Pages could be missing out on some of their audience.

A few years ago Facebook conducted a controversial psychology experiment, which they did not inform users about until after it happened. Facebook hid a small percentage of emotional words from people’s news feeds, to test what effect that had on the statuses they posted, as well as the posts they reacted to. With this in mind, it’s almost a given that algorithms on Facebook also have the power to influence users’ thinking as well as their actions, which can include consumer behaviour.

The effects of advertising on Facebook

In terms of Facebook ads, another ranking algorithm, which works in a similar way decides whether you’re likely to be interested in a Page or particular advertisements. These ads tend to be inserted within the regular News Feed. The relevance of ads you see is determined by how much information Facebook has on you.

As the advertiser, you choose the interests, gender, age of your target audience and whilst honing in on targeting one specific audience, another could be completely missed, because of their Facebook activity.

The main issue with these Facebook algorithms, is that they drive users to like-minded people, who share similar posts and similar interests. The result of this could be making it harder for marketers to reach out to a wide range of people. As everyone stays living in their own online bubbles, sharing the same type of content, how difficult will it be for new brands to find their place and their audience, and for existing ones to stay relevant?