Bye-bye editors, hello algorithms

If you catch me in an 'in-between' moment, you'll most likely find me scrolling through one of my feeds on Facebook or Instagram.

How should the PR industry react when editors are being replaced by algorithms, asks Adrian Ma
How should the PR industry react when editors are being replaced by algorithms, asks Adrian Ma

It was while scrolling through Facebook that I learned of the death of Delores O'Riordan from the Cranberries. In fact, it's where I discover a lot of news.

I'm not alone in here. A Reuters study points out, 51 per cent of us are now using social media as a news source, which marks a shift in news and content discovery that we need to build into our own working practices.

The role of gatekeeper to news stories is falling out of the hands of editors, and into the hands of the algorithms that promote organic content on our feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc.

I don’t think that algorithms will completely replace editors. I certainly hope not, anyway (that’s another topic).

But as PRs, it’s our role to manage the visibility of brand reputation, and because of this, we need to adapt our way of working to ensure that we’re considering the role of the social algorithm in content discovery.

Let’s use the Facebook algorithm as an example.

Facebook breaks down the steps to its newsfeed algorithm into four stages (however, major news feed changes are being made as we speak):

• Inventory – Facebook takes an inventory of the stories that you and your friends have posted and the pages you follow

• Signals – Facebook considers all data available to determine how interested you will be in a story (these include who posted a story and how much engagement it has had)

• Predictions – Facebook then uses signals to make a prediction to calculate how probable it is that you are to read, comment or share a story

• Score – Facebook generates a ‘relevancy’ score

This process happens every time you open Facebook, and determines what your feed looks like, although changes that Facebook announced recently may change all this.

But the one thing that remains clear is that if you’re working on a story that you want to be discovered, it’s important to consider the role of ‘Signals’ in discovery.

Mainly, this means that if you want your content (whether it be a piece of coverage, or something direct from a brand) to be seen, it’s got to be something that receives engagement, and is something that applies across all social media channels.

Of course, there are those that seek to ‘game’ these algorithms.

I’ve read about Instagram influencers creating WhatsApp groups (or ‘Pods’, as they call them), with fellow influencers to announce when a piece of content is posted, so that they can all ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on it at the same time in the hope that it will increase visibility.

I’m not suggesting that you adopt these practices.

In the long term, these algorithms always wise up to these, and you’d run the risk of being penalised as a result of these ‘Black Hat’ practices.

But at the very least, you should be considering your role after a piece of coverage has been landed, or a piece of content is live.

Life doesn’t stop with coverage. In fact, it’s just the start and it's our job in the industry to help get it discovered.

Adrian Ma is founder and MD of Fanclub PR

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