If you’re scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, you might have been noticing content that you are either not familiar with or do not like at all.
In your Facebook feed, you see posts from pages or people whom you are not following or connected. And these aren’t even in your mutuals or match your taste.
Facebook keeps suggesting you follow certain pages/people and those posts show up on the feed often embedded in your actual feed.
If you go to the search feed of Instagram, it’s full of videos and photos from people you don’t know, and these are just there on your feed alongside the content from people you follow.
All of this seems odd. Did the algorithms get dumber at suggestions and content mapping? Aren’t they supposed to get more accurate and personal over time, with more and more data being available?
Are the algorithms actually broken or is this deliberate and very intentional? Why is the Suggested Content changing and becoming the forefront of every social media?
Before we answer that, let’s start with understanding how the business of social media works.
Take any social media, the end goal is the same. Get the users to spend the maximum amount of time on their platform. More time, more interactions( likes, shares, comments, Follows), and eventually more ad spots and clicks, which makes them money.
But the tricky part for them is, they don’t actually make the content on the platform, the users do.
Take Netflix for example, they make the content, and based on its success, they will continue to make similar content. If Stranger Things Season 1 hadn’t got massive views, they would have never green-lit the later seasons.
Hence, content creators turn out to be highly valuable assets necessary for the success of social media. So if the creators leave, the platform dies, and that’s exactly what happened to Vine.
Okay, now back to our question, Are these algorithms broken on purpose?
Yes, they’re. Suggested content is becoming more and more based on how good or well a creator is performing in terms of interaction and bringing higher ad clicks. But why?
Now let’s also look at the frequency of posts or uploads or stories. Compared to a proper content creator, a regular user posts very little, some none at all, while these creators post every day, often multiple times. So they consistently get content onto the platform.
You might have seen how these platforms actively nudge users to post content, like, share a post, and upload a photo/video, which they have been doing since the beginning.
So these platforms realized it was better and more profitable, to push the content of these creators, rather than urging the entire user base to post.
Anyone who seriously considers becoming a content creator or a social media influencer will often make the quality of content. Because that’s what the algorithms push. So the production quality of videos or photos, transitions, audio, and video editing will be far superior to the content that an amateur puts. And you might have also seen content that screams movie-level quality.
And such content usually brings more views and interactions, hence better prospects of making more ad revenue. So it’s only natural for these platforms to push content from them.
Control & Conditioning
This I believe, is the main reason why suggested content is changing and will continue to change.
When the platform is curating suggested content in such a way that it only pushes content that’s from well-established creators or has gone incredibly viral, it’s essentially yielding more control over what content users would see.
This helps the platform in two ways.
They can exert more control over the creators, as the algorithms make or break their content, and eventually their commercial success. Since they’re limiting this pool of creators by deciding which content to show, they now have a smaller group of people, making their job easier. You don’t need continuous nudges to make people post all the time.
And when it comes to users, the platform can condition people to get accustomed to watching specific content for hrs and hrs. It’s essentially the endless scrolling looking for that next dopamine hit.
These social platforms have gotten incredible success sticking with the existing search and suggestions, and continue to thrive. So why tweak it now, when it’s not broken?
And the answer to this is “TikTok”. In simple terms, every social app these days is trying to become Tiktok. Tiktok blew the doors off when it comes to giving an opportunity to commoners to produce content and gain traction and popularity. It got to a point where content creation has become a full-time job (though YouTube pioneered it, which we will talk about in another article).
The Tiktok method worked both ways. It got more and more people to create content that’s centered around the latest trends and viral moments. It also got content consumers to spend longer time on their app, endlessly scrolling through myriad videos that all look and feel the same. It has become a daily chore to go down the rabbit hole of Tiktok and come out after an hr or two.
So to sum it all up, Social platforms are trying to control what content users see and also the creators who produce the content. This is a tried and tested way to ensure longer watch hrs, and higher ad revenue. So the social platforms are now ramping up to become content platforms, where the actual social features like chat take a backseat.