The “Dreaded” Social Media Algorithm: What Is It – And Can Cannabis Businesses Take Advantage Of It?

by | Sep 29, 2023

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No; it’s The Algorithm! 

You’ve no doubt heard references to “the algorithm” on social media, particularly when it comes to the types of content you’re most likely to see. You may have even heard people talk about manipulating the algorithm, leveraging it to serve the content they want to see most. 

But what really is this vaguely named concept and how does it work? Do we even know how it works? There are tons of questions around whether a social media algorithm can be manipulated and how to leverage insights from well-performing content as part of your own strategy. We answer these questions and more in this guide to the social media algorithm and how it works.

What is the algorithm in social media?

A social media algorithm is a set of rules used to determine which content on any given platform gets served to which users at what times. These algorithms often change.

Social media algorithms are wildly complex, taking into account a vast array of data points such as the accounts a user follows, the content they typically engage with, the content they avoid, their search engine queries, and other websites they’ve visited. A social media platform’s algorithm is why you might suddenly notice a lot of cannabis products on your feed after liking a post featuring a cannabis flower and following the account that shared it, for example.

Social media algorithms also determine how the content you post and share is served to other users. This makes it an important concept to understand for social media marketers and brands that want to extend their reach to more users in their target audience.

If you want to learn more about social media marketing for cannabis businesses, check out these must-use social media channels for cannabis marketing.

How do I control my social media algorithm?

It’s less about control and more about influence.

Your social media marketing efforts will go farther if you can leverage the algorithm for your own goals. That’s certainly easier said than done, as social media platforms aren’t typically eager to release details about how their algorithms work. It takes trial and error, some research, competitor monitoring, trend monitoring, and thinking ahead of the curve to take advantage of the algorithm — but it can be done. 

Here are some tips on how to increase the odds social media algorithms favor your content:

Check out what’s trending: Before you start creating content, take some time to peruse what’s already trending in cannabis. Follow some prominent cannabis brands, especially those in your market segment, and check out what they’re doing. Take note of how your feed evolves as you engage with this content and follow more accounts, as this can tip you off to what sort of content the algorithm is currently favoring.

Share relevant, high quality content: Make sure you’re putting a lot of thought and effort into delivering relevant, quality content to your followers. Demonstrate your credibility with links to educational resources and trustworthy organizations. Ask yourself with every post whether your content provides value to your followers and whether it’s relevant to your business or what’s trending.

Prioritize video content: Videos are critical to harnessing the algorithm because they get more views and more engagement from users. That’s part of what makes TikTok such a powerful platform and why so many other platforms, like Meta products Instagram and Facebook, have followed suit with their own video-based products.

This is especially true for live videos, so don’t be afraid to live stream now and then. If you do, though, don’t just wing it. Livestream with purpose and have a general outline in mind so you can get to the point in a succinct yet effective way.

Include hashtags, tags, and mentions: Every post you share on social media should include trending hashtags relevant to your content. Whenever applicable, also include tags and mentions to other people and accounts in cannabis. This demonstrates that you’re active and involved in the space, especially if they also start tagging and mentioning you in their content. Be careful not to overdo it, though — too many hashtags, and the algorithm may interpret your post as spammy.

Create engagement opportunities: Engagement begets engagement, so plan deliberate opportunities to invite your followers to interact with your content. Whether you post a poll or survey, plan a promotion like a contest, or just ask your followers to comment with their opinion, including these opportunities can go a long way to boosting your content in the eyes of the platform’s algorithm.

Post often and schedule upcoming content: Consistency is critical when it comes to social media, so establish a content calendar and stick to it. At minimum, you should be posting a few times per week. To make this a lighter lift that requires less micromanaging, try planning your calendar a few weeks to a month in advance and scheduling your posts ahead of time. That way, you know you have a strong foundation in place and can build on it accordingly.

Engage in cross-platform promotions and collaborations: Your overall profile can help boost you on individual social media platforms as well, so don’t neglect other channels.

Cross-platform promotions are one way to maximize your content, although it’s important to note that each piece of content should be properly formatted and optimized for each platform.

Collaborations with other creators can help you reach more eyeballs, gain more followers, and drive engagement as well. This, in turn, can help you leverage the algorithm to serve your content to a broader audience.

Consider paid social: Advertisements are an effective way to reach users in specific geographic locations or demographics, even if they don’t follow you. It can help you gain new followers, spread brand awareness, and drive more engagement.

In cannabis, paid advertisements are not always allowed, depending on a social media platform’s terms of service. That hasn’t stopped many cannabis companies from getting creative and finding ways to run successful campaigns. We recommend you consult with a digital marketing agency that specializes in cannabis social media marketing to make sure you don’t run afoul of these rules.

These best practices can help you better leverage social media algorithms and deliver a better user experience. Even if the algorithm doesn’t immediately pick up on the fact that you’ve implemented these improvements, your audience will, leading to more engagement, more followers, and broader reach.

Looking for some cannabis social media marketing inspiration? Follow CannaContent on Instagram or TikTok for inspiration — and be sure to say hello!

Are social media algorithms secret?

Yes, social media platforms keep their algorithms secret. As a result, it can be difficult to know precisely what’s going on under the hood, much like search engine algorithms that influence how long it takes for SEO content to rank on a search engine results page. That doesn’t mean you’re left totally in the dark, though. Part of a social media expert’s responsibilities are to take note of what’s trending on each platform and measure how algorithms are responding to content.

Social media platforms also periodically update their algorithm. When an update is released, the platform may release update notes that hint at what the changes mean for users. For example, Facebook recently tweaked its algorithm to prioritize posting in Groups and Events, making these features more important for brands than ever before. While Facebook did not release the details of how this change would work, you can infer that hosting or attending events or organizing groups would be beneficial to lifting your overall content.

Social media platform algorithms, explained

Here’s a look at what we know about the algorithms for some of the most popular social media platforms used by cannabis businesses today. Whether you want to boost brand awareness or raise your personal profile, understanding how these algorithms work can lead to success on each social media platform.

Instagram algorithm explained

These factors are the most prevalent when it comes to Instagram’s algorithm

  • Connections: On Instagram, who you follow and who follows you has a big impact on the content you see in your feed. This makes it important to follow other accounts operating in the cannabis industry, as well as tagging them and mentioning them in your own content when it’s relevant to do so.
  • Engagement: Driving engagement is important, especially with users involved in your space. The more cannabis accounts you can get to engage with your content on a regular basis, the better you’re likely to do in cannabis circles on Instagram.
  • Interests: Users are served content based on their interests on Instagram. That means anticipating the interests and needs of your target audience and then developing content that meets their expectations.
  • Relevance: Keep an eye on timeliness and trending topics when creating content on Instagram. The internet moves from topic to topic quickly, so be responsive and build flexibility into your plan to account for relevance.
  • Popularity: If your content earns a lot of engagement quickly, you could land on Instagram’s explore page, which gives you a big boost in terms of reach. This can serve to set up your future posts for success, as well.

Be forewarned that Instagram is notorious for frequently updating its algorithm. These concepts are at the core of it, but the precise details of what works and what doesn’t are subject to change.

Facebook algorithm explained

These factors are most important for Facebook’s algorithm

  • Connections: Most of the content a user sees in their feed come from people they are friends with and Pages they choose to follow.
  • Content type: Users are more likely to be served content they prefer to engage with. So, if you like long form, written posts, you’ll likely see more of those. If you prefer to engage with video, expect a feed filled with videos.
  • Content quality: Facebook places an emphasis on “meaningful” content that is “informative” and “accurate.” Brands should make sure they’re verifying any fact-based claims before posting. Tweaking content to make it as relevant as possible to your audience can also improve its odds.
  • Engagement: Content that sees a lot of engagement is more likely to surface in more users’ feeds. Creating compelling opportunities for other users to like, comment, and share your content is a major way to make progress on Facebook.

TikTok algorithm explained

As a new platform, TikTok’s algorithm remains fairly mysterious, but some of the factors likely to drive success with TikTok’s algorithm include the following:

  • Engagement: On TikTok, engagement is more important than followers, so focus on producing highly engaging content that compels users to comment and share. Past engagement also matters, so building an engaged following over time should be a major priority.
  • Discover activity: TikTok keeps track of how users behave in Discover to serve them more relevant content. So, if you know a certain demographic of your audience engages with content a certain way, tailor it to their preferences to increase the odds you reach them.
  • Location: Content produced and shared from your country and in your language is more likely to reach you. For brands, this is an effective feature of TikTok’s algorithm.

It’s worth noting that TikTok isn’t especially cannabis-friendly, even for a social media platform. Keep this in mind when creating content for your cannabis business on TikTok.

YouTube algorithm explained

YouTube’s algorithm prioritizes the following elements:

  • Performance: The better your videos perform, the more likely you are to get an algorithmic boost from YouTube. Key metrics include time of engagement, click through rate, likes, and dislikes. Focus on creating videos that perform well with your audience, driving a lot of likes, keeping viewers watching, and incentivizing comment activity.
  • User behavior: Users are served content similar to what they’ve watched in the past, so build your page to be hyper-relevant to your market segment. If you sell concentrates and extracts, for example, avoid publishing too much content about topicals — unless, of course, you sell those too.
  • Relevance: The more relevant your videos are and the more you can establish your niche, the better your content will perform on YouTube. Your channel should be clearly dedicated to a specific topic or set of topics that your audience is interested in. Try not to veer off into tangents that aren’t related to your market segment.
  • Information quality. YouTube seems to prioritize content that follows their guidelines, which includes not using their platform to spread false information. Ensure that the content you put out there is accurate, authoritative, and doesn’t rely on sensationalism for the sake of trying to attract views.

LinkedIn algorithm explained

LinkedIn is a great space for cannabis professionals to connect, and its algorithm rewards the following:

  • Connections: The connections you work with closely will see more content from you. Growing your network deliberately to include people in the cannabis industry is important to building momentum on LinkedIn.
  • Engagement: Engagement, especially shortly after a post is shared, can keep content in users’ LinkedIn feeds for weeks after publication. That means understanding not just what your connections are likely to engage with but what time of day they’re most likely to do so is key to success.
  • Content quality: LinkedIn categorizes content as spam, low quality, and high quality, so always ask yourself how much value a post adds before you click the publish button.
  • Thought leadership. Your experience and subject matter expertise play a significant role in how your content performs. Regularly sharing insights into your areas of expertise can help your content go far. No wonder cannabis content takes off on LinkedIn!

Social media algorithms can help or hinder cannabis marketing

Social media algorithms are neither friend nor foe; they are simply mathematical models designed to organize data and deliver them to users in a way that keeps them on the platform. Brands can use these social media algorithms to their advantage, but it does take work to observe what’s working and follow up on major changes. Luckily, with the best practices and tips above (and a keen eye on trends and changes), you can lay a strong foundation for a cannabis social media marketing strategy that gives your brand a competitive advantage.

Running social media accounts is a full time job, and you have a business to run. If you’re thinking about outsourcing social media marketing to a cannabis digital marketing agency, CannaContent has your back. 

Check out our list of services or contact us to set up a no-cost consultation today.