The Dreaded Algorithm

Facebook has been, quite rightly, thrown in the shit lately in regards to data privacy concerns. But the social media giant has always received the ire of its many users in particular the various content creators.

For those unaware, since 2012 Facebook has been limiting the “organic reach” of every post being made on its platform. What this means is that everything you upload is not being shown to everyone on your list, i.e. not popping up in their newsfeed. Facebook decides this by use of an “algorithm”, which supposedly analyses each person’s online habits and displays what it thinks they prefer (and advertising). One simple aspect is if you don’t interact with certain people enough they may not pop up as often.

Now a lot of this is perhaps due to how cluttered our newsfeeds can be on any given day what with all the people and pages we follow but the issue is most definitely deliberate by Facebook, which is most prominently seen with public pages.

Public pages are used by all sorts including businesses big and small, corporations, celebrities, public figures, political and charity organisations, even artists and other independent content creators. Despite having a following in the tens or hundreds of thousands, even in the millions, only a tiny fraction of that audience are seeing posts from these pages. It was estimated that in 2012 the “organic reach” was drastically cut down to 16% and as of 2014 it could be as low as 2%. This is part of Facebook‘s business model to coerce page admins to pay for “boosting” their posts (the posts you may have seen labelled “sponsored” ) to reach more of their audience. But they have also said that it’s part of their efforts to filter out “fake Likes”, which sounds ridiculous but may not be as far-fetched as we think.

Content creators have been justified in their complaints about their reach being throttled and that this type of blackmail in paying to boost said content is just not affordable for smaller independent creators. It most definitely sucks and unless you have a giant marketing budget then it will continue to hinder the proliferation of a lot of good work out there.

And I don’t have any tips for you on this. In fact my own personal study/experiment about this very thing taking a deep dive into my own posting habits is woefully out of date now.

I want to have a look at this topic from a different perspective. One that potentially may not be so friendly or encouraging.

The nitty gritty
Let’s take a look at some of the associated data for an above-average Facebook post for me from almost a year ago. If you are an admin for a public Facebook page you would be familiar with this stuff.

These insights give some basic info including how many people the post reached, how many reacted, shares, as well as what’s known as “negative feedback” (I always get a couple of whack-jobs there).

At that time I had about 4,700 followers for my page. This post reached approximately 1,933 people on Facebook and not all of them follow my page. This is because 3 people shared the post to their friend’s list as well as reactions to this post making it show up to their friends in their newsfeed (for example “such and such as reacted/commented on this post”).

On the photo I uploaded, I received 72 reactions (likes, loves, haha’s etc). Another 77 reactions were on the shared posts.

As far as a standard cosplay post goes this is one of the better ones for me. But let’s unpack some of the things about it…

Let’s pretend for the moment that about 1,000 out of the 1,933 people reached are actually following my page when this was posted. Out of those thousand about 70 people reacted. That implies that the other 930 people may have seen this and chose to not react to the post.

If 930 people did not react to the photo (assuming they saw it in their feed, remember it only says it reached them not that it was “seen”) then what does that mean? Did they not like it? Do they even care? Are they maybe bored by it (it had been maybe 4 weeks since I debuted the cosplay) so did the interest in that particular work run its course? What if your work isn’t as good as you think it is?

That sort of second guessing will usually lead to questioning the quality and value of your work and that’s never a good thing for the self-esteem (or ego).

Going back to the Facebook’s numbers, if the organic reach was not being throttled and all 4,700 had it pop up in their newsfeeds then is it reasonable to assume that around 330 people may have reacted to the post (does 4.7 times the reach mean 4.7 times the reactions)?

That’s still only 330 reactions out of 4,700 followers. What’s happening with the other 4,370 people that may or may not have seen the photo in their feed?

Well, I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends seem to bring up posts I’ve made in the past (whether it be my public or personal pages) but I don’t ever recall them reacting to said posts. They see it, remember and retain it, but don’t respond. In fact, if I’m honest, I notice a lot of “friends” aren’t reacting to many of my posts regardless of platform I’m using (but will react without fail to certain other people’s posts).

Again, it’s easy to see how that can eat away at the self-esteem when those in your life aren’t even responding or interacting with your work. But then again I too have to examine my own social media habits in regards to which posts I react to. I do my best to react and respond as often as I can (for a few pages of close friends I actually have notifications turned on).

Why is it important that people react or interact with your posts? Well, as you can see from the earlier numbers, those interactions pop up in your friends’ newsfeeds as well as add to the algorithm for your social media habits and possibly allow for those pages to pop up more often in your own feed.

It’s why a lot of content creators post in a manner that encourages interaction, often asking people’s opinions on matters (like about the latest movies for instance), cosplayers try and get people to help decide on their next project, as well as the “like & share” competitions.

I tend not to solicit people’s opinions because in my experience people will give them to you anyway and they’re most often wrong (there’s only so many times you can read someone bitch and moan about ‘The Last Jedi’ before wanting to distance yourself from the fandom).

Let’s for the moment consider that maybe my work is the real issue. That it isn’t as good as I think it is. That if it were possible to be “better” or “more appealing” then it would result in more interactions and therefore more organic reach. That doesn’t actually explain the Facebook-owned Instagram.

Other Platforms
Content creators are often comparing their Facebook numbers to their Instagram results and there’s usually a stark contrast.My IG account has substantially fewer followers (at the time of this post around 800 users) and we also know that it too uses algorithms to control the reach of your content. It’s estimated that in 2018, approximately 10% of your followers actually see your posts.

So if out of 800 followers only 10% saw it (80 users) and I got 80 ‘likes’ then does that mean I had a 100% strike rate of likes to users reached? No because we also have to take into consideration the hashtags people follow, which doesn’t really happen on Facebook.

There are those who follow #disney content and of course all things #cosplay. I once had a Wilderness Survival blog respond to my #WildernessExplorer tag asking if I wanted to contribute my camping experiences to their blog.

Actually, have you noticed that a lot of comments you may be receiving on your Insta posts seem very out of place? Sometimes vague, generic compliments, maybe just emojis, or even nothing to do with your post at all. A lot of the time they are fake accounts or bots, sometimes it’s legit accounts just trying to get some attention for their own business.

So again that doesn’t quite answer whether the quality of work on show is an issue, but simply highlight the platform. Instagram is all about the instant image, very short term, in the moment, instant reaction. More often than not people don’t even bother to read the caption attached and you can tell because they’ll ask something utterly stupid that you already mention in said caption.

As for Twitter, well mine is shite.

If anything I have my Twitter to keep up with celebrities as well as those friends that have seemingly abandoned the other platforms, y’know because I’m actually interested in what my friends do, think, and feel.

I think the point I’m trying to get at is that regardless of the throttled reach, not everyone is going to react the same way or they’re not going to react the way you want.

“Content is King”
I did a lot of multimedia design in my decade plus change as a graphic designer and the phrase “content is king” was used a lot to highlight that a well-designed website for instance was only as good as the content it was made to display.

To an extent that is true also of social media but the way people interpret that is where they fall down.

It’s all about creating content that is entertaining, engaging, and interesting as well as honest. Any combination of these things helps draw people to your work even if they don’t realise it and it helps you stand out from the crowd (or at least that’s the theory).

The way most people interpret “content is king” is to just create content for the sake of content. Any content.

People seem to be producing and posting anything and everything, throwing it at the wall to see what sticks or hoping to simply keep a steady stream of “stuff” in order to remain visible. This is problematic on a variety of levels because it undermines what everyone else is doing and just makes things worse for themselves.

While it might seem “smart” to expand your range and amount of content in order to appeal to a wider audience there is a danger of diluting said content (or even your brand). And if you’re creating as much content as you can without discrimination then all you’re doing is adding to the noise that everyone else is making because they’re thinking the same way you are.

So with more noise it’s all the more difficult for genuine talent to rise above the muck. Same with jumping on bandwagons, if all you’re doing Is chasing trends, replicating what’s already popular out there then you devalue it and make it harder for honest messages to be heard. And there is a lot of trash out there.

That adds to the apathy people have on social media. All those users who do see posts but don’t react because they’ve seen it elsewhere before. It becomes noise to them that they begin to “hide” or “unfollow” or simply ignore that then adjusts their algorithm for such posts.

But I do get it. My most popular content EVER actually began as a joke

Yet it was fun, engaging, and honest, which is most important as is everything else I try and post on my public accounts. Not because it “might attract the punters” but because it’s just little ol’ me.

The Vero Bandwagon
In one of the most perplexing examples of social media anxiety I witnessed as of late was the minor and short-lived exodus to the new platform Vero.

It was touted as a great new alternative to the current big examples and a lot of content creators signed up in droves. Many big businesses also went over for fear of missing out and some signed up so as to lay claim on their online handles and names so no one could “impersonate” them.

Hell, even I succumbed to curiosity and peer pressure and eventually started an account.

And it was shithouse!

In a matter of five days, Vero went from the saviour of content creators and the next big thing in social media to a mere joke, a potential danger to privacy, and then a tiny blip on the radar. The enthusiasm had died giving way to questions about data privacy, account subscriptions, and a buggy app.

See, Vero had been languishing in the various app stores for about three years without notice. It wasn’t until their recent push advertising the first million sign-ups would get free lifetime subscriptions that people took notice thanks to a number of online influencers (there’s that word again) also promoting the app.

But the app was still in Beta. It couldn’t handle the sudden deluge of people and would constantly stuff up. In fact my very first experience was what appeared to be a frozen screen right after my own sign up where I had to reboot my phone in order to move on.

The most bewildering part of this saga were the motivations for some that jumped ship so wholeheartedly. Frustrated with how the likes of Facebook and Instagram were displaying their posts to their audience, they wanted to move over to a platform where NONE of their audience were present. An audience that would have had to pay for a subscription if they missed out on the 1 million cut-off. So instead of focusing on where the audience were already they were deluded enough to think they would all follow them all to the new holy land for just ONE person?

Look, with a little more time and development, Vero may indeed one day become a formidable alternative but for now it serves as a bookmark in how fear and anxiety about how our work is seen fuelled one of the most stupid social media events.

The Elephant(s) in The Room
I’ve deliberately left out discussion about one of the more obvious aspects of content creation and grabbing people’s attention primarily because, as a male, it’s not exactly my place but if it were (and who knows I may just say “fuck it” and one day decide to discuss) there’s a lot to unpack about it. Still my current primary instinct is to refuse to partake in the potential slut-shaming that is bound to happen (you do you and be proud of it) and that other more insecure cosplayers have tried to do in the past to boost their own over-inflated sense of worth.

Mind you the other elephant in the room I already touched on: whether or not your work is good enough to get the attention you so desire.

In terms of cosplay, in my absolutely honest opinion, there is a lot of trash out there. Lots of tacky and dull re-designs, people chasing trends, dishonesty about who did the work, and just lots of peacocking about rather than focus on the craft and expression. It all makes it difficult to see and focus on the more genuine, earnest work being presented out there, regardless of quality and skill, which I think is the majority of cosplayers.

Unfortunately, that’s the internet in general. So much trash out there because anyone can get on and upload whatever the hell they want.

Quite often the most puerile thing will go viral across the world whereas the work you put all your heart and soul into barely causes a ripple in the pond. And at first glance that comparison can really fuck over your sense of self worth as it implies that you’re work really isn’t good enough. But in reality it says a lot about the habits of the average internet user as well as what gets their attention in an instant.

The biggest problem with getting your work seen is most definitely Facebook and other social media in how they propagate (or don’t propagate) your posts with the use of their algorithms. But the other piece of that puzzle is in the way we as a people value and interact with the media we consume. Remember, those algorithms adjust based on how we interact with the posts we already see. We play a part in their very existence and how they work. Sure, they shouldn’t exist but as long as they do we affect them.

Not only that most of us are rather passive in how consume most social media. If we expect others to respond to our work in a certain way then perhaps we need to up our own game in respond to other people’s work in the same manner.

Finally, I can understand if you’re a business person or independent contractor and how it can affect your income but we keep repeating over and over again that “likes don’t matter” and yet we’re consumed with how many people see our work. Let that just sink in.

Here endeth the sermon.

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