The Truth About Twitter’s New Algorithm

Written by Laura Roeder

On February 16, 2016

Last week, Twitter announced that one of its most beloved features is undergoing a big change – and one that will soon be apparent to literally every single user on the network.

Unlike Facebook, which uses complex algorithms to determine which updates actually show up in your news feed, Twitter has always used a straightforward, chronological timeline. Tweets show up in a list with the newest stuff at the top, and everything posted in reverse chronological order as you scroll down.

Not anymore – not exactly, anyway.

Now, Twitter is introducing algorithms that will dictate what’s at the top of your timeline – and while the changes aren’t quite as drastic as the ones that Facebook often makes, it’s still a big deal, and something that invites some pretty big questions.

So – the Twitter timeline is changing! What’s new? What’s different? And why shouldn’t you be freaking out about this? You can check out their formal announcement here, but here’s a quick and painless breakdown of everything there is to know.

What the new Twitter timeline will look like

First things first.

Actually, first things NOT first. From now on, Twitter’s new algorithm will determine what displays first in the timeline – but that’s the only place where it will.

Instead of the top of the timeline showing the most recently published tweets from the people you follow and going in order from there, it’ll show a series of tweets that Twitter thinks you should see.

(Kind of like a seriously beefed up version of its current While You Were Away section, which highlights a handful of tweets that have been posted since your last login.)

Twitter's new timeline will function similarly to its "While you were away" feature.

Twitter’s new timeline will function similarly to its “While you were away” feature.

The traditional reverse-chronological timeline will remain intact below this section, and users will be able to refresh to make the algorithmically-chosen updates at the top disappear, if they want.

Think of the social media updates you see like ingredients in your kitchen cupboard.

Twitter’s algorithm says, “You use olive oil in a lot of your recipes. I’m going to put it at the front of the cupboard so it’s always easy for you to find, but I’m not going to mess with anything else.”

Facebook’s algorithm says, “You use olive oil in a lot of your recipes, so I filled your entire cupboard with olive oil and hid the rest of the ingredients all throughout your house, and possibly buried some of them in the back yard.”

See, unlike Facebook’s news feed, which is determined entirely by algorithms, Twitter’s timeline will remain the same as always – just with some extra stuff at the top.

In fact, shortly after these changes were announced, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey decided to clear the air regarding whether or not the timeline was changing as drastically as some feared:

So, Twitter’s timeline will still display tweets in real time – cue the sighs of relief!

But there’s more to know about this impending algorithm change.

Such as?

This is an optional change

Like sprinkles on ice cream or rhinestones on your jorts, this is 100% optional.

Seriously – any user can turn algorithmically-chosen tweets off or on at any time.

Twitter is rolling out the feature soon, but for now, it’s opt-in only.

You can turn it on my going to your settings page, like so:

New Twitter Algorithm

Ta-daa! All there is to it.

(For now.)

Soon, Twitter’s going to make opting in the default – everyone will have a check in that box automatically. They’ll still be able to switch it off, but they’ll have to take a second and go out of their way to do it.

And while that’s better than nothing, it probably leaves a lot of businesses with one huge unanswered question:

What does this mean for brands?

Maybe you’re a brand that relies on Twitter for growing your list, or driving traffic to your site, or building your brand with images you worked oh-so-hard to design.

The very mention of the word “algorithm” probably sends a little shiver down your spine while visions of single-digit Facebook reach suddenly consume your every thought.

(Or are we just being dramatic?)

Either way, you’re probably wondering, how are brands going to be affected by Twitter’s big algorithm change?

Well, there’s the good news – if brands are affected at all, it’ll be in a good way.

At least, good for the brands focused on quality.

Just like Facebook’s recently-announced algorithm changes, this adjustment should actually reward brands that are posting quality content on Twitter – not hurt them.

Twitter’s new timeline algorithm should reward people posting quality content. Click to Tweet

According to Twitter, people using the new timeline tend to retweet more frequently, and engagement has gone up for brands’ organic tweets.

The general idea? Post stuff that resonates with your audience, and you could enjoy some increased visibility. Sure, it goes a little bit against Twitter’s traditional method of showing updates strictly according to when they were posted – but it’s also kind of a comforting thought, isn’t it? (Hey, everyone likes to be rewarded for doing good work.)

Algorithms: no longer the worst!

Basically, Twitter’s new algorithm will function kind of like Facebook’s – except without any of the things that make it terrible and frustrating.

It’s optional.

It’s separate from the main timeline.

It won’t stop anyone’s tweets from appearing in real time, or in their usual order.

Twitter's new algorithm: Do your thing, do it well, and you have nothing to worry about. Click to Tweet

Long story short?

It’s a change that will make it easier for quality content to get seen without getting in the way of what makes Twitter so different and so great – so just keep doing what you’re doing, do it well, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.


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