How Do People Really Want Their Social Media Feeds Ordered in 2024?

Social media feeds are the lifeblood of social networks, shaping the user experience and influencing the type of content that gets created and shared. So it‘s no surprise that the question of how these feeds get ordered is a crucial and often controversial one.

As Twitter recently reintroduced the option for a reverse-chronological feed and Instagram has experimented with removing likes, the debate over feed ranking is heating up once again. Should social feeds be a reflection of your social graph ordered by recency or an algorithmically curated selection of top content? Let‘s dive into the data to see how users really want their feeds in 2024.

The Current Feed Ranking Landscape

As of 2024, most major social networks employ some form of algorithmic feed ranking, although the degree varies:

Platform Default Feed Ranking Chronological Option
Facebook Algorithmic Available in settings
Instagram Algorithmic Available in settings
Twitter Mixed Yes – default view
TikTok Algorithmic No
LinkedIn Algorithmic Available in settings

Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta, are the most committed to algorithmic ranking. Posts are ordered based on signals like relationships, engagement, and user preferences with the goal of showing users the most relevant content. Chronological viewing options exist but are not the default.

Twitter, on the other hand, has shifted back towards a more chronological timeline in response to user feedback. The default feed shows latest tweets first with recommended tweets and promoted content mixed in. Users can easily switch to a fully chronological "Latest Tweets" view.

TikTok is unique in that it has a fully algorithmic "For You" feed that is central to the app experience. The feed ranking is highly personalized and optimized for engagement but there is no way for users to view content chronologically.

LinkedIn also employs algorithmic ranking in its feed, aiming to show users professional content that is most relevant to them. However, it does offer an option to switch to "Recent" posts displayed in reverse chronological order.

What the Data Says About User Preferences

Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years to gauge user sentiment around social media feed ranking. Here are some of the key findings:

  • A 2022 survey by Sprout Social found that 60% of Gen Z and Millennials prefer algorithmic feeds compared to 40% who favor chronological. For Gen X and Baby Boomers the split was closer to 50/50.

  • A 2021 study by Nielsen Norman Group on Facebook usage found that 43% of users want posts from friends and family prioritized, 30% want a chronological feed, 20% prefer an algorithmic feed of top posts and 7% want a mix of content from brands and friends.

  • A 2020 survey by Piplsay found that 57% of Americans prefer seeing the latest posts first on social media, while 43% prefer having top posts selected by an algorithm.

  • A 2019 study by Locowise analyzed Instagram engagement rates before and after the switch from chronological to algorithmic feed in 2016. It found that average engagement rates actually increased from 2.8% to 3.2% after the change.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? It‘s clear that there is no unanimous consensus among users. Younger generations tend to favor algorithmic ranking, likely because they have grown up with it and appreciate being shown relevant content. But there is still a substantial segment that prefers a reverse chronological feed.

Engagement data suggests that algorithmic ranking can lead to more interaction and time spent on the apps, which benefits the platforms. But this doesn‘t necessarily mean it leads to a better user experience, as some feel algorithms worsen issues like polarization and misinformation.

The Pros and Cons of Different Feed Ranking Approaches

Let‘s break down some of the key advantages and disadvantages of chronological vs. algorithmic feeds for users, creators and platforms:

Chronological Feed

Pros:

  • Feels more authentic and "real-time"
  • Ensures you don‘t miss posts from friends and accounts you follow
  • More transparent and gives users a sense of control

Cons:

  • Can feel cluttered and overwhelming, especially if you follow a lot of accounts
  • Easy to miss important content if you don‘t check frequently
  • Less tailored to individual user preferences

Algorithmic Feed

Pros:

  • Helps users discover new content and accounts based on their interests
  • Optimizes for engagement, increasing key metrics for platforms and creators
  • Can improve relevance and reduce noise in the feed

Cons:

  • Lacks transparency and leaves users feeling like they don‘t have control
  • Can create "filter bubbles" and worsen polarization by reinforcing existing beliefs
  • Susceptible to being gamed by bad actors through inauthentic engagement tactics

Ultimately, the ideal approach may be somewhere in the middle – allowing users to customize their feed based on their individual preferences. Platforms should offer clear controls for adjusting ranking settings and toggling between different view options.

Best Practices for Social Media Marketers

For businesses and creators trying to navigate the world of social media algorithms, here are some key best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Focus on Quality over Quantity – Algorithms tend to reward engaging, high-quality content. Posting frequently won‘t necessarily boost your reach if the content isn‘t resonating.

  2. Encourage Authentic Engagement – Respond to comments, ask questions, run polls and find ways to connect with your audience. Engagement is a key ranking signal for most algorithms.

  3. Optimize for Each Platform – Tailor your content to fit the unique style and format of each social network. For example, short vertical videos are key on TikTok and Instagram Reels.

  4. Post at the Right Time – Even with algorithmic feeds, timing can still impact performance. Use analytics to determine when your audience is most active on each platform.

  5. Embrace Emerging Formats – Algorithms often prioritize newer content types like live video, Stories, and AR filters. Experiment with them to increase your exposure.

  6. Collaborate with Other Creators – Partnering with relevant influencers and accounts through tactics like guest posting, takeovers and co-promotions can help introduce your brand to new audiences.

  7. Diversify Your Social Presence – With algorithms constantly evolving, it‘s risky to rely too heavily on any one platform. Build your audience across multiple channels so changes to any single feed won‘t tank your reach.

Staying on top of algorithm changes is challenging but critical for social media marketers. Make sure to regularly check your platform analytics and keep an eye out for any official announcements or guidance from the social networks themselves.

Conclusion: The Future of Feed Ranking

Based on the current state of social media and user preferences in 2024, it seems likely that we will continue to see a mix of algorithmic and chronological feed options across the major platforms in the coming years.

While the data shows significant support for algorithmic ranking, particularly among younger generations, there is still a vocal segment that prefers a more transparent chronological approach. Social networks will need to balance these competing desires while also optimizing for business objectives like engagement and ad revenue.

One potential future scenario is increased personalization and user control over feed ranking. Platforms may introduce more granular customization options, allowing users to truly tailor their feeds based on their individual needs and interests. We‘ve already seen some movement in this direction with Facebook‘s "News Feed Preferences" and Twitter‘s topic-based following options.

At the same time, calls for transparency and oversight of feed algorithms are likely to grow as concerns mount over their societal impacts. Policymakers may push for regulations requiring social networks to be clearer about how their ranking systems work and to give users more control over their data.

Ultimately, the way we experience and engage with social media content will continue to evolve alongside the feed ranking technologies themselves. As users and marketers alike, it‘s crucial that we stay informed about these changes and adapt our strategies accordingly. The businesses that thrive will be those that can navigate the shifting algorithmic landscape while staying true to their brand values and audience needs.