This post on the algorithms around us is written by Leslie Mack. Leslie is a creative director, singer-songwriter, and communicator from Atlanta, Georgia. I recently interviewed her for ChurchPulse Weekly on how to leverage this crisis to reach the next generation. You can listen to the interview here.
By Leslie Mack
You and your team just hit “post” on your latest magnum opus of content and with bated breath, wait for the likes to start pouring in.
You’d never say it out loud, but this could be the post that goes viral and brings your organization the visibility it deserves.
You check back in 15 minutes…2 hours… 2 days. Where are all the likes, views, reshares, and comments?! You have 500 followers but only 12 likes. You have 3,000 subscribers, but only 78 views.
Alas, we shake our fists to the heavens and lavish our unspeakable cures on the only one to blame here… The Algorithm.
Why do we hate “The Algorithm”?
Algorithm, a word that – if you’re bad at math like me- sounds like it’s spelled with numbers.
Between high school math equations, the binary zero and ones code the matrix showed us, and our leach-like dependance on a technology we barely understand, no wonder we feel defeated and helpless toward the invisible machine that seems to swallow our best work into the oversaturated oblivion known as the internet.
But what if you could sweet talk an algorithm?
Algorithms have feelings too
What if we embraced the idea that algorithms have feelings too? That, like humans, algorithms are trained to pick up on behaviors, and adapt to social norms (or “abnorms”). What if we viewed the algorithm as highly emotionally intelligent and not just mathematically intelligent?
By the time you feed the algorithm several opportunities to practice reading your audience, provide the algorithm several opportunities to hone this skill, it becomes highly skilled at predicting the behavioral responses of your audience.
Don’t believe me, just google “Cloud AI”.
It’s not that the algorithm doesn’t want the world to see your content. The algorithm is more like a big brother (no pun intended) who doesn’t want you to “leave the house like that”. i.e. Put out bad content to your audience.
What if it were possible to partner with – dare I say befriend – the algorithm. You can begin to implement strategies to make the algorithm appreciate your best content by avoiding what the algorithm hates.
1. The Algorithm hates when you sucker punch your audience
The algorithm’s job is to keep people watching, scrolling, and attention-giving as long as possible. It will refuse to feed your audience something it has no history of ever liking.
Based on the previous content you posted, the algorithm collected enough data to tell what your audience likes to click on. So when you come out of left field with a new style of content, abandoning your truest tone of voice, the algorithm tries to protect your audience from the sucker punch you’re delivering. It ups it’s loyalty to the platform you’re posting on by not pushing your content.
Instead of a drastic change from say fixing motorcycles to make up tutorials, consider having a familiar face give a familiarly toned- intro to set up the change.
You might even consider cushioning either side of your “new” content with content that features a familiar face, topic and tone to your channel and audience.
2. The Algorithm hates when you seem like a liar
If we agree the algorithm can feel things, the one feeling it hates most would be deception. And it’s pretty impatient when deciding whether or not it believes you’ll deliver on your promise.
Early on during the pandemic, I posted a video to YouTube called “You, Kanye, and Hangry Jesus” – teaching on the parable of the cursed fig tree. Originally, the thumbnail featured images of cut-outs of fruit, my face, and Kanye’s face. Clickbait-y? The algorithm definitely thought so. I didn’t mention Kanye until 9 minutes into the video!
In the first few minutes of the video being live, the metrics predicted that the video would perform below average for our channel. We changed the title of the video to “New Pandemic, Old Me: are Instagram Lives Making Us Better People” and changed the thumbnail to just feature my face with a confused expression holding fruit.
We were able to restore the performance of the video back to being on target for our channels average.
Now, we both know that you’d never intentionally set out to flat out lie to your audience. We just tend to like a sermon that ends with a good ah-ha moment.
However, if in the first few seconds of your content it doesn’t seem like you’re going to deliver on the promises made in the title, the thumbnail text, and the thumbnail art, well the algorithm would much rather suggest a video that will.
That’s why a large amount of the successful videos you watch on YouTube start off with “In today’s video I will…” followed by a list of buzz words and phrases that align with the title, tags, thumbnail text.
Try using a Search Engine Optimization tool along with a tool to help craft strong titles, to see what words people are searching for and align your content – from the title and thumbnail to the very last sentence- to meet an existing need.
3. The Algorithm Hates When You Thoughtlessly “Re-gift” Content
Grandma may always give you socks for Christmas and money on your birthday. At least she recognizes there’s a difference between the holidays (and doesn’t re-bless you with socks for both).
It’s tempting to put all your energy into making one piece of amazing content and just repost it, as is, across all platforms. But, the reason why your great aunt is on Facebook, your brother is on reddit, and your niece is on Tik Tok can be chalked up to two words: pace and preference.
Not tailoring your video to the platform it will live on means you’re guaranteed to be missing key components of what makes content succeed on different platforms.
It’s up to you to learn the pace and preferences, i.e. the native language, of the platform to which you post.
Where blogs speak the language of text with subtitles throughout, Tik Toks speak the language of short vids, overdubbed with jump cuts and text on screen.
Your audience (and therefore the algorithm) can spot “regifted” content from a mile away. Videos made for YouTube stand out like a sore thumb on Instagram- can the link you mentioned “in the description box below” actually found in your bio now?
Your church websites’ generic greeting video feels irrelevant to the audience on YouTube. Is regifting content all bad? No, but making some minor edits that make your content native to the platform help up your chances of visibility and reach.
Here are a few things to consider when customizing the content you intend to post on various platforms:
1. Which platform supports the type of audience engagement you or your team is able to be responsive to?
If someone comments “I want to accept Christ” on your YouTube video you posted 3 months ago, do you have the right systems in place to respond in a thoughtful and timely manner?
If they reach out looking for your church’s address via Instagram DM, can you respond?
2. Are you thinking mobile-first?
The content we create is being consumed not on the massive computer screens we use to edit on, nor on a flatscreen TV, tablet, or jumbo stage projector in an auditorium.
By a landslide, mobile devices are the primary space for consuming digital content.
When you shrink your content down to the size of an index card, or even a 2’’ x 1’’ screen within a screen, are the graphics still legible? Does the orientation of the video allow your subject to be centered or cut off? Is important information in your headers or lower thirds being covered by in-platform graphics?
Does your call to action ask your audience to navigate through tricky multi-step processes that are hard to get to from the current platform? (Ask me about the nightmare of using Instagram Stories to ask 10,000 students to submit TikToks via FormStack that ultimately got complied into dropbox files for a DJ to mix into a video that would play on 40 ft projectors at an in-person event. The complexity!)
3. Are you using your title real estate effectively?
Is your title now cut off due to the character limit shown on this specific platform where the full title was clear over on YouTube?
Are you posting a series that all start with the same phrase and therefore limits your audience’s ability to engage with all the different parts of your content at a glance?
Is the text on your thumbnail redundant to title redundant to caption?
Maximize on grabbing attention by rephrasing or re-angling at each opportunity.
4. Does your content artwork break the promise your title makes to your audience?
Are you covering a sensitive topic but your artwork is your default, million-dollar smile headshot?
Is your message titled “peace during a pandemic” but your artwork feature an image of the pastor, scowling with passion as he makes his most poignant point?
Does your video title promise you’ll be hearing from students in this video but your thumbnail only show your face?
Treating the Algorithm as if it’s highly emotionally intelligent (even if that “emotional intelligence” is just a string of calculated predictions and mechanistic understanding) will help the algorithm begin to love some of your best content.
What’s working for you?
Have you had any posts go viral?
I’d love to hear about them in the comments below: