Why it's Time to Stop Blaming the Algorithm

October 17, 2018
by Laura

Whether Instagram is your jam, or you’re more of a Twitter person, the complaints are more or less the same: “The algorithm is destroying my reach”, “I want chronological feeds back”, and “every time I make any follower growth, I immediately lose a bunch of followers for NO REASON”. And look, I am the first to admit that I’ve complained a time or two about the algorithm and occasionally about unfollowers (and a lot about bots, don’t get me started on bots).

But when I really stop to think about it, two things become clear to me:

  1. If I’m on brand and someone doesn’t like what I’m saying or doing enough to unfollow me, then they’re not my target audience anyway.
  2. When my content dies a quiet death, there’s usually a reason for it.

Let’s unpack those.

First, the unfollowers:

The follow / unfollow technique is a fairly well known method for creating rapid follower growth on Instagram and Twitter. Whatever your opinion is on the technique (hint: I’m not a fan), it works, and it doesn’t seem to be going away. So why let it sweat you?

Basically if someone unfollows you, they’ve made a decision that what you’re putting out there isn’t for them. It’s irrelevant if this is because they want to keep their “following” count at an appropriate ratio to their “follower” count: they’re not your target audience because they don’t care about you. Whether you’re a blogger or a business, there’s no point in having 3000, or 300,000 followers if 60% of them won’t give you the time of day. What we’re looking for on social media is authentic communities of people who like you or like your products or your services or your dog. If they’ve chosen to unfollow you, all you need to do is ask yourself two things:

  1. Is what I’m posting true to me and my brand, and not misrepresenting what I have to offer?

If the answer is Yes, great. Move on.

If the answer is consistently No, well there you go. Time to take a look at what your content is saying about you.

  1. Was that follower going to be the one that landed me that contract / earnt me this month’s rent / saved my dog?

If the answer is No, great. Move on.

If the answer is consistently Yes, well there you go. Time to take a look at what your content is saying about you. Or maybe, how you’re looking after your dog.

And even then - keep in mind that followers are going to unfollow, no matter who you are.

And now, the Algorithm.

It’s a pretty knee jerk reaction to blame the algorithm when our content doesn’t do as well as we hope. There’s a lot of hands throwing in the air “there’s no point trying” going on, which doesn’t really correlate with this fact: plenty of people have started Instagram accounts in the last few years and experienced significant genuine growth in a very short time. Take a look at From Bee with Love or Simple and Season if you want proof; both relatively new Instagrammers, both with an incredibly engaged community of followers that genuinely like what they’re selling. Their photos are interesting, consistent and high quality, they engage genuinely with their followers and the people they follow, and their captions are engaging, informative and / or relatable.

When I post a photo on Instagram and it doesn’t do very well, especially when compared to other photos posted to the same account, I can usually pinpoint why. Chances are, if you’re honest with yourself you probably can too. Yes, you can blame the algorithm for some of it, but not all of it. So ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is it a good photo? By that I mean, does it reflect who you are? / Is it edited well and is it consistent with what you post normally? / Is it framed well, is it interesting, is it unique, and relevant?
  2. Did you check your insights before posting to make sure it’s an optimal time?
  3. Did you write an interesting, engaging and informative caption that adds value for your followers? Did you include a question, something your followers can engage with?
  4. Did you sell something without being too sales-y?
  5. Do you even like it? If you don’t like it, why would your followers?
  6. Did you research your hashtags, changed some of them up from the last time you posted, and made sure they were relevant to your photo and your audience?
  7. Are you engaging genuinely with your community?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, go ahead and blame the algorithm! Post a promo of the photo to your stories and hope the engagement rolls in.

If you answered no to any or all of these then I’m afraid you might have your answer. If you’re posting a photo just because you have nothing else to put up, or because it fits with your theme, or because you feel obliged to post everyday, that’s not going to be compatible with the algorithm. Because yes, there is an algorithm but it’s designed to show your followers the content they like and they want to engage with. So if you’re consistently getting bad engagement, perhaps there’s a deeper meaning for that?

It's an easy reaction to act like we have no control over our growth on social media, but the evidence just isn't there. If you're creating good quality content and adding value to the platform, genuine growth isn't out of reach for you!

Cheers, Laura x

[RELATED POST] Automation vs Bots: what's the difference?

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I acknowledge the First Nations people as the Traditional Owners of the land on which I live and work, i.e. Meanjin, Brisbane. Sovereignty was never ceded.
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