I'm so over algorithms fucking with my jam
I'm so over algorithms ruining my world domination
Instagram Instagram Instagram. It feels like all I do these days is lament the social media platform that has helped my blog progress from strength to strength. I've bitched about it affecting our self confidence, the criticism bloggers get over 'cliche' photos on there, the obsession we have over creating strict aesthetically pleasing feeds, and even touched on how it's warping our own personal taste in style. Buuuut the Instagram 'game' (if you will) is becoming harder, so even though it's helped put my name out there and grow my blog, I'm going to have another pop at it because quite frankly it's doing my head in. So today, I'm talking algorithms (or should I say fucking algorithms because it most certainly deserves an f-word prefix as an introduction?)
Every.single.day. I see at least one person tweeting about how much they hate the algorithm. Then for every one tweet, there's around 10 replies or so of people also lamenting the summer's much-hated Instagram update. So we all know we're not alone. We all hated it because it was going to fuck up the neat little formula we had for publishing and viewing pictures. As a blogger, I knew the best time to post to enhance my engagement (blogging 101 isn't it) and as a viewer, I knew those would be the best times to view a flood of all my favourite social media peeps' latest posts. And this was all thanks to the nice chronological order Instagram reeled the photos out in. Brilliant! A huge clap for optimised engagement times and the sensibility of chronological timelines. Then they rolled out this feed that was going to reshuffle things and order everything in the way Instagram thinks is most relevant to you with some shitty little algorithm. Nope nope nope.
Honestly, at first, I hardly felt much of a difference. My engagement stayed average. Then one brilliant week, every single photo I posted hit at least 800+ likes and one even hit 1000+ which NEVER HAPPENS TO ME!!!! And I thought: I have made it. I am riding the algorithm wave. I am one with the algorithm. I am the chosen one that the algorithm will not fuck with. Everyone else just hasn't accepted or embraced it yet.
Now I had no clue what made these photos become so socially sticky - maybe I was just having a very attractive and aesthetic week - but it just happened. Yet give it a week and my likes had slid right back down to the 400-500 mark and I was racking my brains as what I'd done to fall from algorithmic grace.
Am I not pretty enough?
Am I lacking a recognisable theme/aesthetic?
Are my captions too salesy? Not funny enough?
Am I becoming irrelevant?
Somebody just tell me the freaking answer. Photos where I used to get 100 likes within fifteen minutes now rack up about 50. And to some people, this may sound really silly. "Bloggers and social media stars are up in arms because their likes are at an all time low!" But when engagement on social posts is becoming just as important as your number of followers, it can have a huge affect on your earning potential as an influencer. It can make you look unsuccessful. It can make you look like you've bought followers. And worst of all, it's disheartening.
The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where we grade and value our lives based in likes and comments far too often. We get caught up in that and start to feel we're losing our value because the algorithm isn't giving our images the air-time they once had - which can lead to an unhealthy focus on our self-worth. It's so so sad seeing conversations between people who create such incredible content online saying they feeling really disheartened. My Twitter feed is riddled with "my engagement is so low I'm not sure what's the point anymore" or "I'm actually considering giving up on this" kind of tweets. And of course, it makes sense. We work hard, put our content out there, and it gets swallowed up and suffocated under other photos of giant influencers, celebrities, or sponsorship messages. So yes, it's easy to think there's no point.
Likes and comments have placed us in a culture where instant gratification has more meaning than ever before, so when you enforce an algorithm that makes it drop, it's hard to feel the same levels of gratification that we once had.
Looking at the bigger picture, however, this is just a tiny - and possibly selfish - snippet of big issue that is algorithms within social media. It's so much more insidious, dangerous, and larger scale than "Waaaaah my selfie only for 293 likes!" - Facebook has been in hot water because its algorithm has been prioritising "news" articles containing completely false information on users news feeds (especially around the US election) simply because the engagement rates were so very high. And when two thirds of adults get their news from social media, this is a very unhealthy, dangerous, and concerning trend.
The problem is, where social media was once a place for democracy of opinion, free speech, exploration and discovery of news and opinions and people across the globe, it has increasingly become more of a tool for the corporate world to advertise to us and gather data from us to use in the future. We think social media is making our worlds larger, but with all of the 'suggested' ads that are projected at us from our user data, our bubbles are getting smaller. The prominence of sponsored messages and ads on Instagram was touted as one of the major reasons for the update - the shift to the algorithm was a key move in a monetization strategy. By aggregating the feed, the platform has greater control on what is shown, and can filter out what it sees as clutter (yours or my selfie or outfit picture!) in favour of something more *relevant* (aka make more space for adverts) and that's suffocating smaller brands and influencers.
So, what the hell do we do about it?
I'm not suggesting we head off to Instagram & Facebook HQ with plackets and signs scrawled FUCK THE ALGORITHM! But it's time we take a little step back and try not to get so wound up over it because at the end of the day, we're basically all in the same boat. Tweet right now that you hate the algorithm and you'll be sure to get plenty of engagement on that (oh the irony...) because almost everyone hates it. But no matter how many petitions we sign or much we complain, it's not going to change. Money and business will trump this every time.
Comparison can be a key to this all - a fucking nasty one at that. We look back at our old posts and try to figure out why they are failing in comparison to our latest ones and it makes us feel bad. Don't fall into this trap. Maybe it wasn't such a strong image, or maybe it's the algorithm fucking with your jam. Don't let it get to you. Live in the now. And comparison - the bitch that it is - will kill us from looking at others and seeing them still get serious engagement and you don't know why the algorithm hates you so much or if everyone just hates you or what.
Social media is a huge, huge influence on our lives, but it's not the be all and end all. Enjoy it more and see it less as a personal marketing tool - Megan Ellaby wrote a brilliant post about the trouble of Instagram recently. Support each other, like and comment on one another, because for every time you feel shitty your picture hasn't hit your ideal engagement rate, I promise you a big percentage of those who liked your photo are probably feeling the same about the image they just posted too.