What Indie Authors Should Know to Ensure Their Posts Are Seen
Until the late twentieth century, town criers were used to spread the word about local happenings. They stood in front of crowds, disseminating crucial information. Each author must now take up that role, but luckily, thanks to the internet, we don’t have to yell, and the effectiveness of our efforts is greater.
Today, programs like Facebook, X, Instagram, and TikTok act as the digital town square where you can scream about your newest release. But social media is a shifting landscape, and each program runs on carefully tuned algorithms that determine who sees your content. These platforms are also living programs, meaning they are always in a state of change—and keeping up with these changes can be cumbersome, especially when developers don’t always make the updates clear to users.
If you’re using social media for marketing your work or building your audience, it is necessary to understand how the algorithms influence the visibility of authors’ accounts and how to potentially track changes in these algorithms over time, as these developments will affect how you should approach using social media to see the most impact on your indie author business. We’ll cover the major players below.
What is an algorithm?
Without getting into the weeds, an algorithm is an automation that decides the placement of content on a social platform. It operates on signals, such as clicks, views, and other interactions with the application. Algorithms prioritize content that is engaging, meaning anything a user interacts with by clicking, viewing, liking, up-voting, or otherwise showing it has attracted their attention. Algorithms then determine how often to show similar content and to which people. No two users may see the same content in the same order, because each user, based on their profile and account “history,” is unique. Furthermore, each platform, and each algorithm powering that platform, is also unique. There isn’t a human operator making minute changes, watching your movements and content—it is automatic through the program.
Owned by parent company Meta, Facebook is a robust, effective tool for connecting users based on interests (Groups), setting up a social front for your business (Pages), or running ads (Ads Manager). Facebook has changed over the years to keep up with short-form content of Instagram Reels and TikTok. Facebook prioritizes the content found in a user’s “feed” based on a few factors, including whether they are a friend or follower, which receive highest priority, and how engaging the content is to those who view it. Facebook also considers how relevant the content is and whether it’s “white noise,” spammy, or otherwise un-engaging. Authors should consider Facebook’s acknowledgment of a shift to video focus, especially as editing software becomes more intuitive and affordable, when deciding what type of media they should post.
Facebook posts platform information on its Business, Innovation and Technology page and even produces its own articles, including one on AI and the algorithm, published in the Meta Newsroom (https://about.fb.com/news). These are devoid of most of the techno babble and geared toward everyday users who are curious about developments.
Instagram, another child of parent company Meta, is a platform most known for sharing pictures and videos. It functions on a similar algorithm as Facebook, and a lot of the information you need about it can be found in the same places.
Instagram is an amalgamation of algorithms and includes separate rules and priorities for the Instagram Feed, Stories, Explore Page, and Reels. The peeled-back version of each algorithm and how it determines how to display content is as follows:
- Feed: This is determined by your activity in your Feed, such as likes, comments, shares, and saves.
- Stories: Stories uses the Stories you’ve viewed or engaged with in the past to determine what content you’re likely to engage with most.
- Explore Page: Similar to the Feed, this page tracks your activity in the Explore tab to determine your interest in content based on your engagement with it.
- Reels: Likes, comments, shares, and saves are influential to the type of content you will see.
Additionally, some social media scheduling platforms such as Later and Hootsuite include tools within their platforms to track individual account campaign and posting effectiveness. They also post useful information, such as this deep dive into the Instagram algorithm (https://later.com/blog/how-instagram-algorithm-works). Please keep in mind it is up to you to decide the weight of the information provided, and that it may not all apply to your business.
TikTok’s meteoric rise in popularity has changed the social media landscape in the past five years; today, it is the most popular smartphone app in the United States, according to Axios, and the third most popular social media network worldwide, behind only Facebook and Instagram, according to Insider Intelligence. TikTok is simple in conception and robust in functionality, acting as a video editor and social platform in one. TikTok’s For You Page also seems to be one of the most responsive, curating content for its users based on a few video views and likes and focusing heavily on trends in which videos follow a similar format and style.
TikTok allows for the creation and use of hashtags to organize videos, and the app analyzes these and other video information, including sounds, captions, and video effects, to suggest content for other users. TikTok itself provides in-app analytics and performance metrics; like Later and Hootsuite, there are also a host of services which offer more in-depth analytics and trend-tracking. Beyond the tools and articles, the most current information regarding the community guidelines on TikTok, such as the type of content allowed, can be found under the TikTok Community Guidelines Page.
X (formerly Twitter)
Home to 450 million active users per month, Twitter—renamed “X” by CEO Elon Musk in April—is a social platform that focuses on short-form text, though each post on the platform can contain text, video, images, or links. Like the other platforms mentioned, X’s algorithm compiles data from engagement, meaning shares, likes, and comments, to determine what type of content to boost.
Under new ownership as of October 2022, the platform has seen some of the most rapid user-affecting changes as of late, the news of which seems to be passed down through the app itself and notably from Musk’s own posts on the site. Typing “Twitter News” into a search bar yields little verified information, and following X’s algorithmic changes is easiest from the company’s official blog.
Asking for help
Navigating social media can be a challenge, as the software is always in a state of flux. Indie authors excel at maintaining malleability and adapting to change, and seeking out other users who are using these platforms with variable degrees of success can sometimes be the best option. Luckily, the platforms themselves often have one or more versions of a community by which to find answers to your burning questions. Use Groups within Facebook and Communities within Twitter to find people who can provide you with support. In Instagram and TikTok, you can expect to find answers in video or picture format, and those can be sorted by hashtag and keyword searches in the apps. Finally, do not be too timid to search the internet in pursuit of the most up-to-date information.
You don’t have to grasp the intricacies of each platform to do well within its ecosystem. Sometimes, trial-and-error is your best bet for spending your time and energy as a creator; then, double down on what works. Above all else, be sure to view social media from a macro perspective—otherwise, keeping up with the changes will become a full-time job itself.