The problem with social media algorithms and online communities

The algorithmic nature of social media platforms encourages wrong behaviours, creating unsuitable environments for many online communities.


Social media algorithms have been the source of much debate and frustration for some

time now, with both individuals and brands feeling like it’s a struggle to get

their content seen by the people they’re already connected with.

 

Aside from diminishing visibility, the way the algorithms on some of the major

networks are changing is having a negative impact on our daily social feeds

more generally too.

 

As users, when we come to these platforms, we expect to see relevant content that resonates with and interests us, from those we’re connected with – after all we followed them for a reason. However, a shift towards prioritising and promoting ‘high performing’ content that games the system is creating a poorer experience. And if it is creating a poorer experience for you, it will be creating a poorer experience for your community as well.

 

Social media algorithms are taking away the equal share of voice that communities thrive on.

 

Communities should be built on trust, creating a safe space where professionals who are joined together by a common interest or expertise can build relationships, share ideas, get honest feedback, and support one another. People often feel empowered to be more open and candid than they might in the office or at in-person networking events. However, if you take away that equal share of voice it only benefits certain parties.

 

Large social media platforms like LinkedIn have an algorithmic feed that favours certain

style posts, meaning that valuable content is getting lost in a sea of marketing messages and long, broetry style posts with thousands of likes. Those with something valuable to say or share are finding it difficult to cut through the noise and get their posts seen – even when they pay for it!

 

One of the benefits of communities is direct access to advice and interaction from like-minded peers, and when you put obstacles in the way of that, it begins to feel like a less suitable environment for an online community.

 

Encouraging the wrong behaviours

 

The problem with an algorithm that favours certain styles of content, is that it pressures others to attempt to mimic these patterns, not necessarily out of greed, but out of necessity to stay visible on the platform.

 

Those who may previously have shared inspiring content or research for example, may

resort to long, drawn-out posts where every sentence has its own paragraph, and a formulaic approach of overcoming struggles to find success is used, preferably with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s predictable, it’s boring, and more often than not we all know that the truth is being stretched a little.

 

These algorithms are encouraging (and rewarding) the wrong kind of behaviours not just in what we’re actively posting, but in what we interact with too. Many people make a conscious effort to engage with these style posts that they wouldn’t ordinarily have an interest in, to try and manipulate their own presence on the platform.

 

It’s also becoming more common for people to avoid linking out from the platform

they’re in, in a bid to gain more impressions – even if doing so would provide

their audience with useful information or context.

 

When we begin to make decisions that favour algorithms over user experience, it’s clear something is wrong.

 

That’s why these platforms aren’t always the best homes for communities. They have the benefit of being recognisable and easily used by your audience but they incentivise the wrong actions and subsequently, you’re left with a community that loses sight of its values and purpose.

 

Find a more suitable platform for your community

 

A less noisy environment, that’s not so much about pushing out messages, but more

geared towards helping each other and building longer term more meaningful

relationships is better suited to creating and growing an online community.

 

It’s important to incite the right habits, such as sharing content that will benefit other users, and not just appear prominently in a newsfeed.

 

Online communities can be extremely valuable; a space to build relationships, gain feedback and support, but to continue to have this impact, they need to be on the right platform.

Ashley Friedlein is the CEO & Founder of Guild