What Does Twitter's Algorithmic Feed Mean for Social Marketing?

It's potentially disruptive for the many businesses who use Twitter and Instagram to try and reach customers.

learn more about David Z. Morris

By David Z. Morris

Bloomberg

This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

Last week saw a major shift in the new media landscape, as Twitter switched all of its users to a so-called "algorithmic feed." That means users will be more likely to see tweets that match their own preferences, rather than just the most recent ones. At the same time, Instagram was reported to be testing similar changes.

From users' perspectives, the shift to algorithms should (at least in theory) make feeds more interesting and engaging, as Facebook's newsfeed filtering has. But it's potentially disruptive for the many businesses who use Twitter and Instagram to try and reach customers. As Josh Constine reminds us over at TechCrunch, Facebook's algorithm took away what had been a free, seemingly direct line to customers, forcing businesses to pay more for social reach. As Constine puts it, "the free ride is over" on Twitter now, too.

Well, maybe.

It's actually never been true that social followers saw all posted content, in Constine's words, "as long as they open their apps." On both Twitter and Instagram, the strictly chronological timeline has made visibility fairly random, because users don't see any content posted very long before or after they check their feed.

Algorithmic feeds make it more likely users will see content relevant to them -- even when that's unpaid marketing. The difference now is those messages will actually have to have appeal, instead of just being in the right place at the right time. While the new social media landscape might be an arena where posts battle for attention, that may be an upgrade from what it has been -- a lottery.

In short, the most skilled marketers will still be able to generate organic attention on Twitter and, if it makes the switch to algorithmic filtering, Instagram. But those who can't are going to have to pony up for better placement -- which is totally sensible, since these are advertising-driven media companies.

Despite some grousing, advertisers have accepted paying for visibility on Facebook, pushing that giant's revenue up by leaps and bounds, while its algorithm helped keep its userbase growing worldwide. Twitter and Instagram might ride their algorithms to the same boost.

David Z. Morris

David Z. Morris is a contributor for Fortune, writing frequently about technology.

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