How do social media algorithms work?

Social media invariably raises eyebrows. Regardless of the social gathering I find myself in, be it business networking, a one-to-one with a fellow business owner, or just coffee with a friend – if the conversation veers towards social media, it’s guaranteed to infuse the atmosphere with electric sparks. Why is that? It’s all down to the ever-mysterious force of algorithms that seize control of the content we post, distributing it in ways that, at times, baffle even the most technically advanced among us. 

While I’m never going to offer you the absolute truth about how these algorithms truly operate, I thought I’d attempt to provide a very simple, top-level overview that should help to demystify the subject, at least slightly. 

How the social media algorithm works

Disclaimer: The explanation below portrays a highly generalised process. Specifics can vary by platform and involve more intricate factors.

Why is this happening? Well, it’s all down to who’s used to what. The more mature of us, those born anytime in the 20th century, are still loyal to Google. They’re the ones who would first think, ‘let’s Google it.’ But those born closer to the year 2000 head straight to their favourite social media platform.

Stage 1: When content is published, it’s initially seen by roughly 20% of your frequently interacting followers and a segment of users who are likely to be interested in your posts or videos.

Stage 2: Before your content reaches a wider audience, the algorithm evaluates two things:

Watch Time:

  • If a user watches once but doesn’t engage, it’s ‘game over’ for the content – it ‘hits the wall’ and doesn’t propagate further.
  • If users re-watch and engage, the post is ‘pushed’ to more people with similar interests.


  • Shares, saves, comments, likes – the algorithm delivers the content to additional users. 

A more realistic explanation

Algorithms employ machine learning to tailor user feeds, analysing various signals to predict engagement, ensuring each feed remains unique. They account for additional factors such as:

  • Relationships: Prioritising content from accounts with which users frequently interact.
  • Interests: Displaying content aligned with user preferences.
  • Relevance: Accentuating timely or trending topics.
  • Popularity: Content with significant engagement may attain a wider reach.

Employee Advocacy

Regarding engagement for business content, I always advise my clients to instate a policy requiring employees and associates to share and like the brand’s content. It’s in the employees’ interest that brand content is visible, and this represents a low-cost, straightforward, yet incredibly beneficial activity.

If you’re leading a business brand that employs a workforce, take this piece of advice from this article: encourage your staff to like and share your business social media content. It’s a well-worn truth, but it worth repeating – people buy from people. By liking and sharing brand content, employees are not just engaging with it; they’re endorsing your brand and recommending it to their networks. The power of employee advocacy should never be underestimated; its value is indeed worth its weight in gold!


If I’ve even slightly demystified the workings of social media algorithms for you, then I’m truly delighted. However, if you’re struggling with digital brand visibility or just need a boost, drop us a line. We’re here for a chat and ready to help.