Mind Readings: Hacking Social Media Algorithms

In today’s episode, we debunk the myth of hacking social media algorithms. You’ll learn why chasing secret tricks is a waste of time and how focusing on the fundamentals leads to sustainable success. Discover the key elements the algorithms consider and how to work with them instead of against them.

Mind Readings: Hacking Social Media Algorithms

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What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for watching the video.

In today’s episode, let’s talk about guessing social media algorithms.

It’s a Sisyphean task, and if you don’t remember, that means that Sisyphus was the character in Greek mythology who was constantly pushing a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down on him and so on and so forth.

Chasing the algorithm, chasing Sisyphean tasks like that’s a bad idea.

One of the persistent thoughts in social media marketing, and this has been the case since the early days, but I heard a lot about it at Social Media Marketing World from various speakers and attendees, is the belief that you can build secret algorithm hacks towards unearned success, right? Trying to find shortcuts, tricks, very reminiscent of Black Hat SEO.

Let’s find ways to manipulate these things.

And I get that.

You know, you want to get to success as quickly as possible.

The reality is, with social media algorithms, you can’t do that for any meaningful period of time.

And here’s why.

The underlying models that power social networks are constantly shifting like sand dunes in a desert.

Now that people are aware of what a model is, thanks to generative AI, we can talk about this in a more sophisticated way than you and I used to be able to, in the before times before generative AI ate everything.

Take a tool like ChatGPT.

It’s got a model underneath it called GPT-4, one of many.

That model gets updated relatively frequently.

And you’ve probably had the experience where you were using ChatGPT and it worked well, you found some prompts that worked well, and then one day they didn’t.

And one day you’re like, “What? What happened?” It’s the same software, it appears to be anyway.

And then the next day, things don’t work the way they used to.

The model changed.

The underlying model changed.

Now a model like the GPT models that power tools like ChatGPT and Gemini and all these others, those really big, very sophisticated models that require a lot of compute power and as a result, they don’t get updated all that often every few months.

Older models, models that are recommendation engines based on classical machine learning like social media algorithms, those can update much, much faster.

Meta of Facebook has said openly in developer interviews and in the Transparency Center on their website that their entire code base for like Facebook, that and the model that powers the recommendation engine updates hourly.


Automated AI operations just recompile the code and rebuild the model every hour.

What does that mean? That one secret Facebook doesn’t want you to know.

If it ever worked, it stopped working probably an hour later.

As the model recompiles, it adjusts.

It’s internal weights.

It adjusts the things that work and don’t work.


Same thing.

LinkedIn’s knowledge graph is a massive, massive multi-petabyte database that spans like seven or eight servers around the planet.

And the whole thing is kept in memory, at least according to LinkedIn’s operations team.

So it’s real time or near real time and updates in seconds.

When you change your LinkedIn profile, a cascade of operations happen that changes your experience on the network plus the experience of your first degree connections.

Why does this work? Why do these companies do this? Well, the recommendation engines that power social networks, they use very effective but very lightweight techniques to keep their models current on what’s going on.

So you’ve had this experience.

If you go onto Instagram and you like a certain type of post, like puppy posts, right? Click on cute puppies.

Within minutes, your feed changes.

You’re like, oh, look, more puppies, avalanche puppies, and then start suggesting things like kittens.

Like, okay, cool.

You go on LinkedIn, you like a post on AI, and suddenly your feed is filled with AI stuff because the recommendation engine has changed what you see.

That is a direct response from the model itself that has been updating as you change your behaviors, which means that if you’re a social media marketer, you cannot hack the algorithm, right? You can’t beat it.

It will just adjust.

So if you find something that creates anomalous engagement for a little while, but doesn’t trigger the other signals that signify long-term engagement or sustainable engagement, your secret hack will stop working relatively shortly.

So what do you do? You can’t beat the algorithm.

Well, you have to learn.

You have to learn the algorithm.

You have to learn two things, two and a half things.

One, what are the inputs to the algorithm? What does the algorithm take into account? And you’ll find this on developer blogs, transparency centers, disclosures, etc.

Two, what are the outputs? What does the model return? Obviously, it returns recommendations, but it’s not consistently just one way.

For example, LinkedIn has part of their algorithm says they look for likelihood, to help a creator continue to engage.

It’s called upstream engagement, which is really interesting.

This was on the developer blog.

And so it predicts the success of a post, not just on how your connections and network will interact with you, but how you will interact with LinkedIn, trying to encourage you to create more, to post more.

If you understand the inputs and you understand the outputs, then you have a blueprint for what to do on social media to be effective, right? Which things to focus on? Which things not to focus on? For example, on Threads, one of the big signals that Threads looks for as a negative is what gets hidden.

When people hit the hide button, you will see less of that content in your feed.

If you are a marketer and you’re getting hidden a lot, your engagement is going to go to zero, right? So if you’re creating stuff that people don’t want, that people think is crap, it’s going to go to zero.

So where do you learn stuff like this? From developer blogs, transparency centers, technical disclosure.

Podcast interviews.

Go on the various podcasts about social media marketing.

Look for and listen for heads of product and developers or systems operations people doing interviews about how the systems work.

Now, you have to be a bit of a data detective to do this, right? You have to gather information from all the various places and piece it all together.

But when you do that, when you sew together the available evidence, you have a working picture.

And that will tell you what works and what doesn’t work on social media.

So you can’t hack the algorithm, you can’t beat it, but you can, you can understand it and work with it.

Again, people who’ve been in SEO for any amount of time more than a year, you know this, you know that it’s you can’t beat the machine, but you can give the machine what it wants.

That’s today’s episode.

Thanks for tuning in.

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