How the Twitter Algorithm Works: Everything you Need to Know
Love it or hate it, Elon Musk is one of the most idiosyncratic billionaires of our time. His investing choices, financial decisions and statements give us something to talk about. His tweets have even led to heated debates between users online and big corporate companies.
After buying 9.2% of Twitter, Elon put out in a press release the importance of his vision for free speech for our democracy.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,”Musk said in a statement when the deal was announced on April 25, 2022.
Free speech is important, right? But we can’t ignore Elon’s controversies, and unconventional and radical vision that’s led to hate speech and fake news being spread across Twitter. This is not the first time, and certainly won’t be the last time he’s left us wide-eyed. Forecasts predict that over 32m users are expected to leave Twitter over the next two years with concerns over technical issues and offensive content.
As a Twitter user, you might be feeling the harm of his changes online, with users stating they’ve seen wild fluctuations in their follower counts.
So, what’s really changed on the online news and social networking site since Musk’s takeover? Let’s dig further…
Users on Twitter have complained of either stagnant or a decrease in follower counts recently. In the past, the social platform has said that Twitter suspends machine-run profiles (bots) and spam accounts. However, in May Musk stated that he would soon begin removing Twitter accounts that have had no activity for several years.
Looking at Twitter’s policy, users should log into their accounts at least once every 30 days to avoid permanent removal due to prolonged inactivity.
Bonfire of the Blue Ticks
The legacy ‘verified’ blue tick symbol to signify a verified account, was removed from all accounts on Twitter earlier this year. Elon Musk pledged he was getting rid of what he described as a “lords and peasants system”. Instead, he’s offering to sell the blue badge to anyone who will opt-in to the Twitter blue paid monthly description at $8 a month, offering the checkmark to your account and early access to select new features, like editing tweets.
Twitter has gifted these new ticks to its top 500 advertisers and top 10,000 most followed organisations on the app. Musk has also gifted blue checkmarks to a range of high-profile users, which he claims to be paying for personally.
You’re welcome namaste 🙏
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 20, 2023
The problem is, Musk has devalued the value of the blue tick, selling it to anyone willing to pay. It’s now meaningless and some may see it as a negative marker.
$20 a month to keep my blue check? Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) October 31, 2022
Onwards and Upwards
After looking at what some of us marketers may perceive as negative consequences of the changes made to the social media network, can Musk add new features and elements that will bring more people to the app and make our marketing lives a little bit easier? Together, we’ll take a look.
The Twitter Algorithm
To boost engagement, build brand awareness and drive traffic, you first need to understand the Twitter algorithm. Just like Musk, Twitter can be unpredictable. But one thing remains, you must respect the algorithm if you’re looking to make big moves.
Understanding how Twitter ranks, filters and picks tweets can help you write content to reach hundreds and millions of people.
Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter allows users to choose if they want to view their Twitter feed between ‘For you’ or ‘Following’ Tweets. Luckily for us, if users opt for ‘For you’, Twitter still chooses virality. We all know retweeting, replying, or liking tweets helps posts spread further.
The “For you” and “Following” tabs replace “Home” and “Latest” and will be pinned to the top of your timeline so you can easily switch between them. Swipe to switch timelines instead of tapping the ✨ icon.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) January 11, 2023
What is the Twitter Algorithm?
Twitter’s algorithm is one of the scariest of them all. When I say they have a mind of their own, it’s because they really do. Twitter uses “black box” algorithms, meaning users only know so much about how machine learning sorts the content on their ranking signals.
Back in 2022 CNN reported “Even those who can understand the code that goes into an algorithm don’t necessarily understand how it works. Consider, for example, how there’s often little more than a basic explanation from tech companies on how their algorithmic systems work and what they’re used for. The people who build these systems don’t always know why they reach their conclusions, which is why they’re commonly referred to as “black boxes.”
This has all changed now thanks to Musk.
Twitter algorithm should be open source
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 24, 2022
Fastforward to this year, Twitter have released details surrounding their algorithm that powers the ‘For you’ feed.
Today marks a new era of transparency for Twitter. 🧵
We’re sharing much of the source code that powers our platform with the world. Visit our blog to learn more about this initiative: https://t.co/hTHVpuMDz8
— Engineering (@XEng) March 31, 2023
How does the Twitter Algorithm work in 2023?
Like all apps, Twitter wants us to spend more time there. To show you content that they think will make you spend longer online, it makes educated guesses in 4 steps:
- It uses candidate sourcing to determine which 1,500 tweets you’ll most like from the 100m tweets on the platform. This is shown on your ‘For you’ timeline with a 50% mix of tweets from people you follow (In-Network) and from people you don’t (Out-of-Network).
- Each tweet is given an ‘engagement probability score’, ranking them from best to worst using a machine learning model. Top tweets are the ones you’re most likely going to engage with.
- Twitter then cleans the list up by applying heuristics and filters – removing misinformation, blocked accounts, NSFW content and Tweets you’ve already seen.
- At the last output step, the Home Mixer blends non-tweet content like ads, follow recommendations and promotions to the list of ranked and filtered tweets. You will see these tweets displayed within your feed.
In a little more detail, this is how it works …
- The app builds a profile based on your own Tweets and Tweets you’ve engaged with.
- Twitter prioritises account users and topics you engage with using a logistic regression model.
- The Real Graph model predicts the likelihood of engagement between you and other users. The higher this score, the more of that users tweets you will see.
- Social Graph analyses the engagements of people you follow or with similar interests.
- Using a logistic regression model, Twitter finds and ranks the answers to two questions; What Tweets did the people I follow recently engage with? And who likes similar Tweets to me, and what else have they recently liked?
- The graph processing engine GraphJet, maintains a real-time interaction graph between users and Tweets to execute this process.
- Embedding space aims to answer; What Tweets and Users are similar to my interests.
- Embedding generates a numerical representation of users interests and Tweets content.
- SimClusters is used in Embedding Spaces to find popular tweets that users from communities are most engaging with.
For you Vs Following
If your engagement has dropped, this could be why. Twitter took away the star button at the top right, which let you switch between the algorithmic and chronological feeds. In place, there are now two tabs “For you” and “Following”. Like TikTok, Twitter has made the algorithmic ‘For you’ feed the default. This feed shows you tweets from people you follow out of order, intertwined with tweets the app thinks you might like.
If you’re using Twitter for your own leisure this might not be much of a problem, but for marketers, this could be a social media nightmare. You’ll need to learn how to get your content in the “For you” feed.
So, we now know Twitter loves recommending content and how the algorithm works, but one question remains. How do we get Twitter to recommend your brand’s content?
Our tips for beating the Twitter Algorithm
1. Keep an active presence
Keep your followers engaged with your account. Posting once a week isn’t going to get you in the ‘For you’ feed. We recommend posting at least 1-2 times a day. (Tweets in a thread count as one post).
2. It’s all about timing
I know I’ve already mentioned the ‘For you’ algorithm will push relevant content long after it’s tweeted, but it’s still best practice to post strategically. Keep in mind the time zone of your audience.
If you want to find the best time, try retweeting your top content at different times throughout the day to find when you get the most engagement.
3. To hashtag or not to hashtag
Some might find them cringe, but hashtags are a great way to boost engagement. Twitter states that when brands connect with what’s happening on Twitter, they see lifts across the marketing funnel, with +8% brand awareness.
Always keep an eye on trending hashtags and use them organically in your tweets – don’t overdo it!
To encourage retweets or engagement, remember to always mention other users or brands in your tweets if relevant.
4. Get creative
Like all social media, Twitter likes photos, videos, and GIFs. You can post up to 4 photos in one tweet to push your post further. Mix up your creative media and if you’re posting a video, you should add captions and alt text to make them more accessible for all users.
5. Encourage engagement
We all want high engagement, but it’s sometimes simpler than you think. Ask your users, and you shall receive. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask open-ended questions. Also, try posting a poll or asking followers to share photos or videos with you. You could even take a page out of Musk’s book and start a light-hearted debate. Or take it a step further and reply to other tweets.
6. Look for trends and topics
Find relevant trends and topics for your brand. Keep an eye on the real-time ‘Trending’ tab under ‘Explore’. Never news-jack your way into every conversation though. Find topics that are relevant.
7. Re-purpose your top content
Keep on top of the algorithm and retweet your top-performing content. You could also re-share the same content but word it slightly differently or use a different style of media. There’s always a chance users could have missed your top-performing tweets!
If you are sharing one of your blogs, highlight different elements, or even A/B test your tweets to find what your audience prefers.
8. Apply insights from Twitter analytics
Unlike everything, there’s never one size fits all when it comes to algorithms, unfortunately. Unlock your social media growth and key insight with Twitter Analytics. This powerful tool helps you discover exactly what does and doesn’t work and will give you an edge over your competitors.