Algorithmic vs. Non-Algorithmic Marketing

Understanding this key difference makes your marketing much easier

This piece initially appeared on the Bye, Social Media! website. I republished it here.

Why You Need to Know About Algorithmic and Non-Algorithmic Marketing Channels

If you found Bye, Social Media! on ze internet, I’m going to hazard a guess that you’re at least annoyed with the Insta algorithm.

Before you go deeper into whether, why, and to what extent to leave social media and which channels to use instead, you need to understand a key difference in marketing channels: algorithmic and non-algorithmic ones.

Marketing content for solopreneurs or online business doesn’t talk about this distinction much. It’s a crucial one for your business with far-reaching effects on whether and how your messaging reaches your target customers, the quality of your life as a solopreneur, and whether your business is set up for sustainability and longevity.

You need to understand this first, before we can look to the solutions.  

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • the difference between algorithmic vs. non-algorithmic channels

  • why this matters for your business, and

  • how to choose marketing channels in your business

You can find a separate article that goes deeper into types of non-algorithmic marketing channels exist and how you can use them in your business here.

Algorithmic vs. Non-Algorithmic Marketing Channels

In a nutshell: algorithmic marketing channels algorithms distribute content and shape user interactions. This is the norm for all marketing channels run by big tech companies and digital platforms. Non-algorithmic marketing channels don’t use algorithms. They allow direct, unfiltered interactions.

Examples of algorithmic marketing channels:

  • Social media

  • Podcast distribution platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts

  • SEO

Almost all social media platforms use algorithms to shape the user experience. Tumblr is a notable exception. There, you can still maintain a chronological feed as one of the options for feed design.

Podcast distribution platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts use algorithms to curate which shows you’re most likely to see in your user interface.

SEO and which articles you are shown on the top of Google’s search results are shaped by Google’s algorithm. You have to cater to it and follow a set of methodologies to come out on top.

Note: All three of these channels require you to cater to the algorithms to get anywhere in your marketing.

Examples of non-algorithmic marketing channels:

  • Newsletters

  • SMS marketing

  • Networking

  • Referral and affiliate programs

  • Cold outreach

  • Whatsapp or Telegram channels and status posts

In all these marketing channels, you can interact with your audience and target customer directly. There is no algorithm that filters and steers the distribution of content.

Who Controls Content Distribution?

If you make content to attract your customers into your world, you’ve felt the frustration when you spend an hour writing a killer post for Linkedin that nobody sees. It can feel like – and is! – a waste of your lifetime. If your reach and engagement on social media are down, you’ve encountered the effect of algorithmic marketing and its key challenge first-hand.

It’s a matter of who owns content distribution.

Marketing is a communicative relationship between you as a business and the people you want to sell to, your prospective customers.

Direct Marketing Relationships 

Ideally, this relationship is like a straight line. You talk to your customer directly through a variety of means.

Your customer might not pay attention or not give you a referral. Unlike in the case below, there is no third party with interests of its own interceding in your relationship. The only filter is your customer’s attention span and their willingness to engage with you.

Algorithmic Marketing Relationships

This relationship is anything but a straight line. It’s complex with multiple interests at play.

Tech companies want to maximize the time users spend with their products and collect as much data as possible to refine their ad products. It’s in their interest for people to get some utility out of what they do. This is why social media marketing works somewhat for some people.

Don’t be mistaken, though, the efficacy of your marketing and content distribution is not a priority. This only needs to work well enough so people don’t quit the platform. Why? Because if there are paid advertising channels the platforms offer themselves, it makes little sense for these companies to excessively reward organic reach. It happens – but on their terms and with the bottom line in mind.

Algorithms Control Content Distribution

The algorithms in tech companies thus become a tool to control content distribution, user interactions, and user behavior all to serve a tech company’s business goals. This is to be expected, yet not highlighted enough in the business community.

In this scheme, you’re not the empowered player you think you are building your business on social media. You will never have the upper hand in this relationship or be an equal. You’re a cog in the wheel of a much, much larger operation with no say over how you can interact with your existing audience or target customers.

You Cannot Game the System

All the time you spend figuring out the Instagram algorithm is farcical. You cannot game the system, because as soon as you believe you have mastered the algorithm, it changes yet again, continuously dangling the carrot of engagement and quick business growth in your face.

Beyond that, algorithms are tricky inventions because they can behave like a black box. The more complex they get, the harder it is to trace how they arrive at their conclusions. In understanding your relationship with algorithms you should keep in mind that they are designed to further the business goals of the companies who own them. The people running them might not always understand how exactly outcomes are produced, the framework and underlying conditions are very clear, though.

Join the conversation

or to participate.