News broke this week that Snapchat is consulting with advertising and publishing partners to introduce an algorithm into its Stories feed. The Stories feed is the element of Snapchat that most resembles a ‘traditional’ social platform (and is akin to the Twitter feed, or the Facebook NewsFeed). Snapchat already employs a basic ranking algorithm, by filtering content in this feed and giving a heavier weighting to content uploaded by a user’s closest acquaintances (as deemed by Snapchat). It is believed that the new algorithm Snapchat would like to introduce would develop this further by ‘scoring’ all content and then promoting popular content and demoting content with a lack of engagement.
Details & Implications
Platforms introduce algorithms in order to replace the chronological flow of content through feeds. They tend to operate as a highly sophisticated editorial filter, based on the digital signals that a user gives on the platform itself. Whilst there are usually thousands of signals, the most basic demonstration is that a platform’s algorithm will usually show you more content similar to that which you have clicked on previously.
The algorithm has been a fundamental part of the modern internet since Google launched in 1997. It’s PageRank algorithm is what drives its search engine results pages to feel so tailored to the individual. Facebook also famously introduced an algorithm that drives which content it displays on users feeds, followed a few years later by Twitter and in more recent months, Instagram.
Almost all algorithms are continually developed, often with dramatic consequences to publishers and advertisers. For example, Facebook’s NewsFeed algorithm hit the news recently over alleged censorship of right wing political content.
There are two critical implications for advertisers with regards to algorithms in news feeds:
- As platforms that display content chronologically begin to introduce algorithms to filter content, organic and earned media will inevitably fall on those platforms – this will likely mean an increase in paid media spend on that platform.
- Advertisers can incorporate the principles of platform algorithms into their own content creation and distribution process. By listening for the signals that users give when presented with brand content, they can learn, improve and then test new iterations – shaping content and distribution around users.
If you put people at the heart of your process, you will build a stronger relationship that allows you to communicate with them more efficiently and more frequently. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and (by the looks of it) Snapchat are proof of this.
As the volume of content online continues to explode at an exponential rate, platforms will increasingly turn to algorithms (and continue to tweak existing algorithms) in order to present the user with content that is most relevant to them. What’s important for brands is to realize that in a world of increasing content noise, it has never been more critical to create content that means something to people and to put people (and data) at the heart of both the content creation and the content distribution planning process. Adapt or die.