How the Twitter Algorithm Works in 2021 and How to Make it Work for You

How the Twitter Algorithm Works in 2021 and How to Make it Work for You

Not everyone likes an algorithm to determine what they see online. This is why Twitter gives people a choice: homepage timeline (also known as popular tweets) or latest tweets. In other words, Twitter’s algorithm or no algorithm.

 

But the truth is, Twitter algorithms are kind of unavoidable. From Trends to Topics to the Explore tab to recommended accounts, algorithms always show users personalized recommendations. Twitter itself says machine learning (aka algorithms) “can impact hundreds of millions of Tweets per day.”

This means that, as a business, you need to optimize your Tweets to be picked up by the algorithm to have your content seen by the right people.

What is the Twitter algorithm?

First, let’s clarify one thing. Twitter is powered by multiple algorithms determining all aspects of how content is served on the platform. This includes everything from recommended accounts to top Tweets. Like most social media algorithms, Twitter’s algorithms are all about personalization.

When most people talk about the Twitter algorithm, they mean the one that powers the Home feed timeline (also known as the top Tweets view). Here’s how Twitter itself describes the algorithmic Home timeline:

“A stream of Tweets from accounts you have chosen to follow on Twitter, as well as recommendations of other content we think you might be interested in based on accounts you interact with frequently, Tweets you engage with, and more.”

The Twitter feed algorithm doesn’t affect the main timeline for those using the Latest Tweets view, a simple list of Tweets from followed Topics and accounts in reverse-chronological order. But it does structure the timeline for those using Home view.

Twitter algorithms also power Twitter Trends, Topics, and recommendations, which appear in the Notifications tab (and come through as push notifications), on the Explore page and in the Home timeline.

 

How the Twitter algorithm works in 2021

All social algorithms use machine learning to sort content based on different ranking signals.

The truth is, the fact that it’s machine learning means not even Twitter knows exactly what its algorithms will surface. That’s why Twitter is currently involved in analyzing the results of its algorithms as part of its “responsible machine learning initiative.”

This initiative has identified Twitter algorithm bias issues, including:

  • The image-cropping algorithm showed racial bias, tending particularly to highlight white women over Black women.
  • The recommendation algorithm amplifies right-leaning political content and news outlets over left-leaning content in six out of seven countries studied.

The Twitter algorithm change is not taken lightly. Especially since the algorithm’s first appearance on the platform made #RIPTwitter a trending hashtag. But Twitter has formed a Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability (META) team to address inequities, which will likely lead to changes in the algorithm over time.

For instance, to address the image-cropping issue, Twitter changed the way it shows images. Now, Twitter presents single images without cropping and shows users a true preview of what images will look like when cropped.

As far as right-leaning political content, that’s a work in progress. Twitter says, “Further root cause analysis is required in order to determine what, if any, changes are required to reduce adverse impacts by our Home timeline algorithm.”

Future changes will likely give users more choice over how the system surfaces content through “algorithmic choice.” Twitter says this “will allow people to have more input and control in shaping what they want Twitter to be for them.”

For now, here are some of the ways Twitter ranking algorithms power your experience on the platform.

 

Home timeline vs. Latest Tweets

Twitter users can toggle between two different Twitter timelines: Home or Latest Tweets.

Latest Tweets shows Tweets a real-time chronological timeline of Tweets from people you follow. Home uses the Twitter ranking algorithm to shuffle posts into what it suggests is a better order (i.e., “top Tweets”).

To switch between the Home timeline and Latest Tweets, click the star symbol on the desktop or swipe between views on mobile.

 

Customizable Timelines

Twitter users also have the option to create a custom timeline using Twitter Lists.

You can pin up to five lists for easy access. Within them, you can toggle between Latest Tweets and Top Tweets, just like in the main timeline.

Tweets from the lists you follow also appear in your Home timeline.

 

Twitter Topics

Twitter uses an algorithm to suggest Topics based on what it thinks someone likes.

If you follow a Topic, then related Tweets, events, and ads will appear in your timeline. The Topics you follow are public. You can also tell Twitter you’re not interested in a Topic.

When Twitter first launched Topics last year, people complained their feeds were overwhelmed with Topic suggestions. Twitter has since scaled back on suggestions in the Home feed, but you can still find them in search results and when viewing your profile page.https://twitter.com/TwitterSupport/status/141575763083698176

To access and customize your Twitter topics, click the three dots (more) icon in the left menu, then click Topics. From here, you can follow and unfollow Topics and tell Twitter which topics do not interest you.

 

Trends

Trends appear all over Twitter: the Home timeline, in your notifications, in search results, and even on profile pages. On the Twitter mobile apps, you can find Trends on the Explore tab.

The Twitter trending topic algorithm determines which topics show up as Trends. Sometimes you’ll see some context about why a subject is trending, but sometimes you’ll have to click through to solve the mystery.

By default, the Twitter trending topic algorithm shows Trends based on your current location. However, you can choose to see trends for a specific location. From the For You screen, click Settings and then choose the location you’d like to see.

Clicking on a trend reveals Tweets containing the relevant phrase or hashtag.

 

Recommended accounts (aka Who to follow or Suggested for you)

On your Home screen, the Explore tab, and profile pages, the Twitter algorithm suggests accounts it thinks you might like to follow. These recommendations are based on:

  • Your contacts (if uploaded to Twitter)
  • Your location
  • Your Twitter activity
  • Your activity on third-party websites with integrated Twitter content
  • Promoted accounts

 

Twitter algorithm ranking signals

According to Twitter, top Tweets are chosen “based on accounts you interact with most, Tweets you engage with, and much more.” We can only guess what “much more” means. Every algorithm has its secret sauce.

 

Here’s what Twitter has shared about its Home timeline, Trends, and Topics ranking signals:

Recency

  • For Trends: “topics that are popular now, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis.”
  • Current events and topics may appear in a section at the top of the Home timeline called What’s Happening.

Relevance

  • ​​Your previous actions on Twitter, like your own Tweets and Tweets you’ve engaged with
  • Accounts you often engage with
  • Topics you follow and engage with most
  • Your location (for Trends)
  • The number of Tweets related to a topic

Engagement

  • For Tweets: “How popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with [the Tweet].”
  • For Topics: “How much people are Tweeting, Retweeting, replying, and liking Tweets about that Topic.”
  • For Trends: “The number of Tweets related to the Trend.”

Rich Media

  • The type of media the Tweet includes (image, video, GIF, and polls).

Note that Twitter specifically says it will not recommend “content that might be abusive or spammy.” This should go without saying, but just in case: don’t be abusive or spammy.

 

10 Tips for working with the Twitter algorithm

Try these tips to increase reach and boost your amplification signals to the Twitter ranking algorithm.

1. Maintain an active Twitter presence

All good relationships require commitment, even on Twitter.

As the company explains on its blog, “Tweeting regularly and consistently will boost your visibility and grow engagement.” Visibility and engagement, of course, are key signals for the Twitter algorithm.

Hootsuite generally recommends posting at least 1-2 times per day and a maximum of 3-5 times per day (with multiple Tweets in a thread counting as one post).

The less often you tweet, the more likely your account is to be the target of purges and unfollows. Don’t feel overwhelmed, though. We can help you schedule Tweets.

Keeping your Twitter account regularly active is also a key requirement…

 

2. Get verified

After a break of about three years, Twitter reopened its public account verification process in May 2021.

While getting verified won’t necessarily boost your content directly in the algorithm, it will help show that you’re legitimate and credible. This, in turn, can increase engagement and followers, which leads to higher relevance and engagement ranking signals.

 

3. Tweet at the right time

Especially since some people turn off the Twitter feed algorithm, it’s critical to tweet during peak engagement hours.

Hootsuite research shows that, in general, the best time to post on Twitter is 8 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. But if you have followers in multiple time zones, it’s important to post content throughout the day.

Bonus: Download the free 30-day plan to grow your Twitter following fast, a daily workbook that will help you establish a Twitter marketing routine and track your growth, so you can show your boss real results after one month.

Twitter Analytics will help you learn when most of your followers are online and active. And Hootsuite’s Best time to publish feature can provide personalized recommendations about the best times to Tweet for your specific account.

 

4. Use tags purposefully

Hashtags are a great way to gain traction on Twitter — branded or otherwise. For example, Twitter data shows that the attention a Twitter ad gets increases almost 10% when it includes branded hashtags.

Keep an eye on trending hashtags. Or even better, plan ahead with top hashtag and keyword forecasts on the Twitter blog. But don’t overdo it. Twitter recommends using no more than two hashtags per Tweet.

Then there’s the @ tag. If you mention someone, be sure to include their handle. Include a photo, and you can tag up to 10 people in it. Tagging someone increases the odds they’ll retweet and engage.

For example, this entrepreneur who scored on America’s Big Deal shared the news in a Tweet. She used a hashtag, tags, and photo tags to draw attention, and Macy’s retweeted her post.

Here, Red Bull Racing combined trending hashtags with photo tags to highlight their team win at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Signal boosting of this kind is bound to score a few points with the Twitter algorithm.

 

5. Use photos, videos, GIFs

A boost in engagement can help your Tweet’s ranking with the Twitter algorithm. And it’s well known that Tweets with photos, videos, and GIFs tend to get more attention.

Twitter data shows a 95% increase in video views on Twitter in 18 months, and 71% of Twitter sessions now involve video.

Twitter recently began testing an expanded amount of space for visual content with edge-to-edge Tweets on iOS and Android, so graphics will be even more thumb-stopping.

Use captions in videos: this results in a 28% longer view time.

 

6. Encourage followers to engage

When it comes to soliciting engagement on Twitter, it’s simple. Ask, and you shall receive.

Ask a question. Ask for feedback. Ask for replies in GIFs or emojis.

Hosting a chat or “ask me anything” is another good way to get a convo rolling.

Add an incentive with a Twitter contest. The engage-to-enter format is a tried and true way to boost likes, retweets, or comments.

Obviously, if you ask for engagement, be prepared to return it. Retweet relevant posts. Respond to questions. Show appreciation. There’s no such thing as a one-way conversation.

 

7. Try a Twitter Poll

Another thing you can ask for: votes. Polls are a quick and easy way to ask for input on something. It could be anything from a thematically on-brand survey, to a request for concrete feedback.

The added benefit of a call-and-response strategy is that it provides you with tons of customer feedback. Make sure you’re prepared to make the most of it with listening tools like Hootsuite.

 

8. Join relevant trends and topics

Look for trends and topics that your brand can contribute to — or better yet, lead. Plan ahead with Twitter’s Q4 2021 holiday marketing calendar or our complete list of social media holidays.

Keep an eye on the Trending tab on the Explore page for the latest trends in real-time. But don’t trend-jack or news-jack your way into every conversation on Twitter. Find the topics and themes that make sense for your brand. Doing this will also increase your odds of appearing in a Twitter Moment.

 

9. Repackage top content

Even if you tweet at peak times, chances are many followers may have missed your Tweet. And if it performed well the first time, it likely will again.

Don’t simply Retweet or copy your top-performing content. Find creative ways to repackage and re-share what works. Leave enough time and contrast from the original so as not to appear spammy.

The New Yorker’s Twitter account often shares the same article at different times. But they choose a different pull quote or tagline to hook you in each time.

 

10. Apply insights from Twitter Analytics

When it comes to algorithms, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Use Twitter Analytics to track what works and what doesn’t for your specific account, and tailor these tips accordingly.

And for a bird’s eye view of how all of your content is performing across different social media platforms, choose a social media analytics tool like Hootsuite.

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