Summer of Live: Growing Niche Social Accounts with Ciaran Blumenfeld

ciaran blumenfeld headshot

You’ve heard of SEO, but have you heard of Discovery Optimization (DO)?

With Discovery Optimization, you can grow your social media accounts by focusing on how your target audience uses social media to discover content.

Ciaran Blumenfeld of Hashtracking and Juiced Social joined Mediavine’s Director of Marketing, Jenny Guy, in an episode of Summer of Live to speak about Discovery Optimization and strategies for growing a niche social account for your business.

Some of her tips might surprise you and make you be more intentional with your business account! (Originally aired 7/30/20)

Watch the video here or check out the transcript below.

Growing Niche Social Accounts with Ciaran Blumenfeld

JENNY GUY: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Mediavine Summer of Live. I’m Jenny Guy. I’m here every week talking with industry experts and getting their best tips for your business success.

It is Thursday, July 30. Today is the International Day of Friendship, plus National Cheesecake Day. Is that a coincidence? I think not. If you can’t be with your friends in person today, enjoy a cheesecake with them on Zoom. Make the best of the situation.

July 30, which is crazy, also means it’s almost August, bringing us back to school. My guest and I were just talking about that which, in the time of Coronavirus, means rapid social media debates. How often in the last week have you wanted to delete your social accounts and go off the grid, but you can’t because it’s your job? I cannot be alone. There have to be people. There have to be other people out there who are feeling this.

Even in the best non-Covid of circumstances, most people would say that they have a love-hate relationship with social media. And that is especially true for website owners and content creators. Historically, social media has been a great source for driving traffic until those pesky algorithm shifts whack us and our traffic nosedives overnight.

Mediavine always encourages bloggers to make social– or solid SEO a priority as organic traffic is typically the most reliable source. Although we do know that there are Google algorithm shifts. But that is not what this episode is about. We will not derail and talk Google algorithm shifts. But who out there has felt personally victimized by a social media algorithm shift? Who in the audience? Comment and tell us what platform, and how you were impacted slash how big of a drop you saw.

But record scratch. What if there was a different way for bloggers to use social? According to today’s guest, there absolutely is. And she’s here to tell us all about growing niche social accounts that deliver real site traffic. Let’s meet her.

Ciaran Blumenfeld is CEO and founder of Hashtracking, a social media analytic service and Juiced Social, an AI-enhanced service that publishes optimized hashtag lists for 2,000 plus topics. She is an OG blogger at Momfluential. She was named one of the 15 most powerful moms in social media by Working Mother Magazine and has been featured in Forbes, the New York Times and Fast Company. Follow her on Instagram. We’ll share that link and share her website.

Welcome to the Summer of Live, and thank you for applying to speak in Baltimore and for doing a ‘rona pivot and being game for a Facebook live.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Well thank you for having me. I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to go to Baltimore because I went to Johns Hopkins, and any chance to go back to Baltimore is always exciting for me. But–

JENNY GUY: Oh my gosh, it’s such a great city.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Yeah, love Baltimore. I hope we get back there sometime. But this is great too.

JENNY GUY: I mean, we’re making the best of it. We had an awesome site visit there about a year ago, and we were like, Baltimore, hidden gem. This is amazing. And the crab, and the– everything. It was a great city. We were pretty excited about it.

But we are gonna make the best of it today. Guys, if you have questions for myself or Ciaran, please post them in the comments, and we will get them asked. But let us talk a little bit– people are posting how they’ve been victimized personally by social media. And there’s quite a few.

Amy Katz said Facebook. It’s nothing like it was a few years ago. Anna says, Instagram and stuck for a year now at the same level. So different things happening out there. We had someone just say they live in Baltimore.

So Ciaran, you and I were doing a little bit of talking beforehand, and I want to get into some of that now. While many people aren’t fans of social media– there’s complaints about it and backlash on it all the time, especially now– you founded two companies all about it. So you make your living there, and you obviously find it stable enough to literally bank on. So tell us why you love social media.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: I love the immediacy of social media. I love the flexibility of social media. I love– most of all what I love about social media is the ability for niche groups to find their tribe on social media. It is such a powerful thing when people find each other.

And there are so many groups on Instagram and on Twitter that you don’t even realize that they’re there until you start doing the kind of deep dive into niche communities like did when I was creating all of the topic categories for Juiced Social. Things like, you know obscure, sports. There’s a sport called skijoring, where people have sleds that are pulled by horses.

JENNY GUY: Whoa.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Yeah. You know, there is a vibrant skijoring community on Instagram. There’s slime communities. There’s communities of people who make charcuterie boards. There’s a community for everyone. You know, there’s a niche group for everyone. And these are the good things about social media.

These are the authentic groups of people who are able to kind of come together in this virtual meeting space and interact with each other every single day, you know, and have that give and take. So I think that, you know, in our in our desire to get lots of likes, and to get brand deals, and all of that, we sort of sometimes lose the social from social media. We lose that initial impetus that was why we went there, you know, connecting with our tribe.

JENNY GUY: Yeah, I think that for sure that’s a very– I mean, I’ve always used it to remember people from past experiences and past places I’ve been or worked. But it for sure is a way to– it’s out there. I mean, whatever it is that you’re into, there are your people, they’re there. You can find them on social– we have people saying–

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: The boards.

JENNY GUY: Yeah. The boards– I want– charcuterie boards are life. I’m loving all these companies that are popping up to make charcuterie boards. I think it’s fantastic. OK.

But with all those good things you just said, we have all heard bloggers and content creators— digital content creators say they’re quitting social. They’re no longer investing time in it. How is your method different? You pitched this topic to us. What is niche strategy?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Because I think the frustration that everyone’s feeling is that– and I will blame Instagram for this mostly, because when Instagram first came out, their algorithms operated on very much a velocity kind of strategy. Which means that more people that liked your posts quickly, the more your posts got seen. And that was very easy to gain. And a lot of people gained it.

And it just became this arms race for the number of followers and how much exposure you could get. And people lost sight of the niche community. They didn’t care who was seeing their post or why they were seeing their posts. It was just get the biggest number. And it’s very frustrating because people who wanted to be authentic didn’t want to buy traffic or engage in these sorts of schemes.

JENNY GUY: The pods.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: The pods. The purchase traffic, the pods, the– you know, there’s many different schemes out there. And frankly, they work. You know, even if it’s paid advertising. Some of it works, like, to get that velocity.

But I think that it was a very negative thing for a lot of bloggers and genuine niche community members because they felt like their posts were never seen. And they felt like on the one hand, the posts were never seen because they were comparing themselves to these mega influencers with hundreds of thousands.

And it’s an ego thing also. It’s definitely ego. It’s like, nobody likes me, nobody’s see me, why am I doing this. I’m not getting results. And then there’s also this feeling of it being this magical thing where you can’t control anything.

Like, who knows. Who knows why your post is being shown or hidden. Is there a shadow ban? Does Instagram hate me? Does, you know, Twitter not really want to show my post? Nobody really knew what was kind of making their posts show other than having lots of followers and lots of likes. That was the one thing that people felt like they were in control of.

And oftentimes doing it black hat ways, you know, to get results. I think that algorithm has gotten a lot more sophisticated, particularly in the last year and a half. So some of those black hat methods are no longer working for people.

And a lot more of the niche, kind of original niche stuff, is becoming effective again. But I think people need to sort of have a real heart to heart with themselves and examine what their goals are before they employ any niche strategy and algorithm strategy.

Because I’m not talking about here today, like, how to get a million followers and get brand deals. If that’s your goal, this method is not the method for you. If your goal, however, is to sell your own services, to drive traffic to your website, to build a strong and committed following for your site, or your service, or product, et cetera, then this stuff works.

JENNY GUY: I think that all of that was very– we’ve got a lot of people chiming in about their own personal frustrations with these things. We’ve got Ellen Folkman, she just said, I’m over Instagram. It seems to grow when I ignore it. Michelle Price says, wow, Ciaran is talking directly to me about my Instagram experience.

There are a lot of people that are empathizing with this. And I’ve heard a lot of publishers and content creators talk about how frustrated they are when they’re seeing brand deals go to these people who have purchased followers. And that’s how they’ve gotten where they are. And that’s frustrating.

But as you’re saying, they aren’t your people. And they won’t last forever. And I do think– I don’t know, I would ask that to you and I would ask that to our audience. Do you think that brands are getting more sophisticated about their ability to look at a following and note whether or not their engagement– I know that there was a significant shift from working– being a brand myself and seeing the shift between just follower numbers on social media to actual engaged following, to whether their comments are– you’re getting comments, you’re seeing interaction, you’re seeing– you’re asking about DMS, asking about actual relationships with their followers.

I’ve seen a shift. What about you, Ciaran, and people in the audience?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: It really depends on the brand. So some brands are very, very aware of all of the fake and inflated numbers, and prefer to work almost exclusively with micro-influencers. Like, they don’t even want to work with mega influencers because it’s a lot of money for, know, scattershot and then not reaching your audience.

So some brands are very, very up on it. And other brands are not so up on it. It also depends on the brand’s goals. Like, are they just going for general exposure? Or are they going for sales within a targeted niche? So if you are the content creator, you need to ask yourself, do I want to be a mega influencer and have big brand campaigns that are just going for exposure and going for the scattershot?

And if the answer– if the answer to that is yes, then go ahead and buy yourself some traffic. I mean, that sounds awful. But, you know, do advertising, engage in pods, and all those things if you just want those big numbers for that type of stuff.

But if your goal is really to drive traffic to your own site, and to grow your own community, your own niche, and to have loyal followers and people who will buy your product or service, or buy the product or service of very targeted brands that you choose to work with, then, you know, then you can do that through building your DO. I call it DO.

DO is like the SEO of social. It’s Discovery Optimization. So everyone kind of knows at this point that you can do SEO for your website, but you can do DO, Discovery Optimization, for your social feeds. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Instagram, or if it’s Twitter, or if it’s TikTok. Whatever your social feed is, they’re all algorithm-based. And they all sort of have the same ingredients for discovery optimization, although you may have more of one thing in one platform, and more of one thing and another. But there are known things you can do.

JENNY GUY: Very much true. And I love what you’re saying is that it’s a way to link together all of the pieces, to make those– so if you’re a content creator with a website that you already have, a voice, and a different niches or a niche that you’re talking to, and you’re wanting your social accounts for that website to be an extension of what you’ve already done, it only makes sense that you would only connect to those people that are interested in the things that you’re actually talking about.

OK. People are freaking out. They want to know about Discovery Optimization. Let’s talk about it. So what can you do to grow stronger and more engaged niche communities on social media? Talk to us about DO.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So I think you have– do you have one of my slides?

JENNY GUY: I do. I do.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Just to explain what DO is, you know. People don’t really think about– they don’t think about social media in terms of search and in terms of discovery. So DO is what you do that helps people find your content. DO is something that you do that affects how often your content is shown and how authentic your content is viewed by the platform, which then leads to more discovery.

So discovery is when your posts are shown more often in your follower feeds, when your posts show up in hashtag feeds, when platforms recommend you in their suggestions to users, and when your posts are promoted in roundups, or collected into a hashtag feed, or to a local feed. Basically it’s your post being surfaced and shown more in the same way that SEO causes your URLs in your post to show up higher in search lists. So DO does the same thing, but it’s through discovery.

We could just dive right in if you want to. What happens that causes discovery. How do you train the algorithm to recognize you and to reward you with discovery. And really, I talk about algorithm training in the same terms that I talk about in dog training. It requires consistency, and patience.

JENNY GUY: And that’s a great way to think about it. And I love– the main thing, and we talked about this. I’ve looked at your presentation. It’s so exciting because it takes out that weird social black magic element of having no control, having no ability to do anything about it, rather than just being buffeted around by the social winds, you’re actually able to train. Let’s look at this one real quick, though. Let’s look at the slide real quick.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: OK. So as I was saying, you know, how discovery happens every single day on social media is, you know, when people open up their screen– and whether that’s on TikTok, or whether that’s on the explore page for Instagram– they see your post. And the way that your posts are chosen are not just about how many likes you get. I mean, people think very simply, and think back to the days when you could gain things and show up on the popular page with a number of likes.

But it isn’t just that anymore. The algorithm is actually a lot more sophisticated. And the algorithm knows, for example, whether your followers tend to like posts with the same hashtags that you use, whether they follow other accounts that are similar to yours, whether your velocity– which is how many people liked your posts in the short term– always comes from the same group of people.

That’s, like, one of the caveats of faking it with pods, is that algorithm starts to recognize, OK, they always get 10 quick likes from these same 10 people. We’re just not gonna count that anymore. The algorithm is really, really smart.

JENNY GUY: Excellent. And yes. And, as you said, it’s gotten significantly more sophisticated moving forward, especially, you said, in the last year and a half you’ve noticed a shift. Is that correct?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Yeah. So I mean, I guess probably all of this sounds kind of scary. It’s like, oh no, I can’t do this. I have to do this. What am I gonna do? And it’s actually– like, I don’t mean to scare people because the things that you can do are very, very simple things that aren’t all that time-consuming. Like, doing things like engaging in pods is actually far more time-consuming than the very simple things you can do to train the algorithm to recognize you as a niche authority.

JENNY GUY: So talk a little bit about the difference between a niche following and a quote, “big” following. I mean, and obviously that’s a relative term.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Yeah. A niche following is really a following where you have followers that are your people, that are your fans. They like the same stuff as you. It’s very targeted. And to really– to get this sort of Discovery Optimization effect, you really have to hone your niche.

You have to know exactly what your niche is. And you have to stay in your lane. You have to really focus on your niche. I know, like, for me personally, with my personal account, that is the hardest thing of all. I just want to post about anything and everything. But if you have a blog, or if you have a business, it’s really critical to hone your niche and only post about your niche.

You’re not using that account to like your neighbor’s baby pictures, or your cousin’s puppy, or anything unrelated to the business. Because that algorithm is looking for patterns. And if the patterns that you’re feeding it are, I like baby pics and dogs, then the algorithm is going to say, your account is about baby pics and dogs. And maybe you’re about soap, like, really is what you want to be about.

So if you are setting it up as a niche account, you want to clearly define what your niche is, clearly define who your followers are, and clearly define what sort of content, and what sort of stuff you’re putting out, and what you’re engaging with.

JENNY GUY: So that’s an important key, is to know what you’re gonna engage with. Guys, can we go ahead and share Ciaran’s presentation so everyone has that? We’ve got that– she’s got that available. There are some great links in there. We’re not gonna show every slide as we’ve been doing these last few weeks. But lots of great information for you to follow along on your own screen, see what you can from the screen share, and then look at when we’re done.

And then I’ve got a comment from Leah Ingram, which I think is an important one. She says, this sucks. If the same people like your stuff, you don’t get rewarded. What–

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: That’s–

JENNY GUY: –are the legit people in your niche?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So yes. Leah that’s a very good point. I didn’t mean to say that you don’t get rewarded it’s the same people. I’m talking about if it’s, like, literally the same 10 people who like it in the first 10 minutes every single time you post, you’re not gonna get rewarded for velocity. Velocity is a specific thing that algorithms look at, which is how quickly people like your posts.

If they are legitimate people who like that type of content, you’re still gonna get the benefit of having people who are genuinely interested in your content, you know, that the algorithm will recognize. Like, you have community members who are genuinely interested in your content. But the algorithm will also recognize that maybe you’re using those community members to gain velocity, and won’t reward you for the velocity.

JENNY GUY: So this is another really helpful question. So Ellen Folkman says, so is it OK to share other bloggers content? What if they’re outside your niche? I’m sure– I imagine that makes a difference there.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: If they’re outside your niche, then you’re probably not serving your community or yourself by sharing their content. You know, it’s nice to do as a friend. I would share in your personal feed. But if you’re sharing content that isn’t within your niche, then no, you’re outside your lane. Don’t do it.

JENNY GUY: OK. And that and the same goes for even liking friends content. Is that accurate?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: The same goes for liking content. So I have a checklist of the sorts of actions that– and it’s my presentation, but basically all of your actions on social are tracked and followed. OK. So these are the things that you really have the most control over.

You don’t have the most control over everything with an algorithm, but you do have control over what you post, you have control over when you post, you have control over the ways that you post, whether you’re commenting on something, whether you’re sharing a video, whether you’re sharing someone else’s content. You have control over that. You have control over what you like.

And you have control over what you follow, who you subscribe to, and you have control over your hashtags. And when I talk about hashtags, some people think, like, I don’t use hashtags or, you know, I only use my own hashtags. But you have to think about hashtags more holistically because every time you comment on content that contains a hashtag, you’ve now associated yourself with that hashtag.

And, you know, the algorithm is smart enough to know when it’s an outlier and you just like something with a weird hashtag versus you always like posts that are about cheese boards and charcuterie. Like, that’s really your thing. But you’re associated with hashtags even if you don’t use them because you’re associated with the hashtags that the people you follow use, and you’re associated with the hashtags that you follow.

So it’s a good idea to be really kind of intentional about following hashtags, making sure you follow hashtags that are your hash– that are your topic, that are in your niche. And then also looking at the people who are big posters or well-liked within those hashtags, and engaging with those people. Because by doing that, you’re training the algorithm to recognize this is what you’re about. You’re just reinforcing over and over again with your own content as well as your interactions, if that’s what you’re about.

JENNY GUY: So interesting to think about the fact that even if you think you’re not using hashtags, you are just based on the posts that you’re liking. That the algorithm is looking at everything you’re engaging, with everything you’re liking. So fascinating. Great advice.

OK, Leah says, OK, for the when you post, I use Tailwind to schedule posts to Instagram and Pinterest. Tailwind recommends optimized days and times. Any thoughts on that?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: You know what, if you have Tailwind or another service– I think Later does that as well– it is a great idea to follow the recommendations because they are looking at when your audience is on there and when they’re most likely to respond to your content. And again, the more– Instagram, in particular, still gives weight to velocity. So you want to post at a time when you’re gonna get the quickest return on your posts. So I would say yes, it’s important to pay attention to that.

However, I would not get obsessive-compulsive about it. If you can’t post within that specific time period, it’s still more important for you to post consistently. And when I say consistently, it doesn’t mean you have to post the same time every day. But you want to post the same number of times per week. Because you want to keep waking up your audience. You don’t to disappear.

JENNY GUY: OK. Excellent. Very helpful. Did you want to talk anymore about the problem with good optics and skinny fat accounts?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So I could talk a little bit more about those big accounts. I don’t want to dwell on them too much, but I want to sort of reassure people who are very discouraged by, you know, all the fake out there. I actually had a slide, like the virtuous circle and the vicious circle.
The people who are faking it, it’s getting much, much, much more expensive for them to fake it. And the rewards are becoming less and less. So the virtuous circle is basically a situation where you’re posting authentic content, and the people who are liking your content are doing it in a timely fashion. They’re your true followers, they’re people who are interested in the types of content that you post, they are engaging with your content.

Because it’s really like, wow, this is the stuff they like. And that signals Instagram that you’re an authority, that you’re authentic, that you have a real account. And then Instagram kind of rewards you with more discovery. And this isn’t just Instagram, this is really any algorithm-based platform.
But what happens in the next slide, the vicious cycle, which is how I would describe those skinny fat accounts. I call them skinny fat because they have great optics, but their health is really, really not good. So every time they post, they need to gamify, they need to engage in pods to get those likes quickly, they have to buy likes, they use hashtags to gamify. These are all things that have to– they have to purchase.

Instagram is that algorithm– or any algorithm which is growing and learning. I think there’s something like 90 million posts a day. I mean, think about all that information and how quickly these algorithms can learn. They start to recognize any gamification type of behavior. They recognize when the people who are liking your content have never liked your content before, or have never liked similar content to yours before, when the comments don’t look like they’re human comments, they’re just sort of like a string of emojis.

All of these things– then you get dinged for that. And then you have to spend more money to get better-quality fake. You know, you have to get fake 2.0 that is more expensive. So there’s, like, a whole inflation cycle for people who have these faked accounts. And I think– you know, my one true prediction that I will make a prediction and stand by it, is that it’s going to get harder and harder and harder for people to be successfully fake on platforms like Instagram.

I saw a lot of fakers just abandoning ship from Instagram and jumping to TikTok at the beginning of this year. They were like, oh, it still works TikTok. It’s not working so much for me anymore on Instagram. It’ll get harder there too because the algorithms are smart, and they can see the patterns of fake.

Just like, if you or I looked at an account, and looked at all the commenters, and we were like, oh, this account has no profile picture. This account has one follower. These don’t look like followers if we can do it, the AI can do it a million times faster.

JENNY GUY: And it’s good to hear that it actually does matter, and it is getting smarter. Christina Riley says, do services like Smarter Q, where you loop your content, hurt your discovery?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: I’m not familiar with that.

JENNY GUY: OK. OK. Well, let’s go to– can you ever– so let’s talk about training that algorithm. We kind of skipped ahead, but let’s get into the nitty gritty of it. Can you ever really beat this ever-shifting algorithm? And it sounds to me like what you’re saying is it’s not necessarily these seismic shifts, it’s more just improving, and improving, and improving on the algorithm. So talk to us about beating the algorithm, please.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So I don’t think you can beat an algorithm. I think you can be your authentic self and be consistent. I think it’s sort of like going on a diet. You know, you can go– you can eat healthy, and you can take a walk every day, and you can follow best practices, and long-term you’re gonna see the benefits. You may not have overnight results. You may not have, like, you know, some smashing story to tell within a month. But you’re gonna have the benefits of overall health.

And I think, even right now, a lot of people are like, ugh, no one’s on social or, oh, I don’t know what to post on social because the pandemic. But it’s actually a really good time to just lay the foundation for your niche. And you don’t have to set huge goals, but maybe your goal is posting five times a week, and being really niche-specific, and using really niche-specific hashtags and engaging with really niche-specific accounts. And that’s enough because you are signaling your authority, and you’re laying the groundwork for future Discovery Optimization.

JENNY GUY: And love hearing that. Sarah says, no not like a diet. Sarah, I feel you. It is not a good time for diets in our life. Leah says, then why can’t the algorithm find all the I want to be your sugar daddy people on Instagram? Fair question.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: It finds them, but they, like, kill them, and they pop right back up again like horrible mushrooms.

JENNY GUY: They are. They’re like gremlins. You fed them after midnight. OK. Let’s look at what the algorithm actually tracks, OK? Let’s talk about that.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So the things you have less control of– so you can control, like, what you’re posting, and all that other stuff. But the algorithm is also going to be looking at how fast people respond to your posts. That’s the velocity portion. And I wish it wasn’t weighted so heavily still, particularly on Instagram. It’s less weighted on other platforms. But it is something that people look at because if people react quickly to your content, it’s a sign that they really like your content.

They’re looking at who interacts with your content. Are these people who are genuinely within your niche and within your interest. They look at the intent of your engagers. And intent is something that’s just become much more important this year as we’ve had the save button show up on a lot of different platforms.

When people can do more with your content besides just like it, or comments on it, when they can share it, and when they can save it, those are very, very strong indications to an algorithm that people identify with your content, and that they intend to return to your content. And that affects also how much time they spend on the platform. And any platform, any social platform, wants to keep people there. So if you have content that people are marking save, or that they’re sharing with others, then that’s just increasing the overall time on the platform. And they really want to reward you for that sort of stuff.

So it’s important when you’re creating content to think about, is this something that is save or share worthy? Because you’re going to increase your Discovery Optimization when you share something that people want to return to. So it could be, like, a recipe, or could be instructions, it could be a guide of some sort. These are the sorts of posts that lead to more discovery.

JENNY GUY: Fantastic. OK. And let’s go to your next slide, and what the algorithms reward. So let’s highlight that really quickly. I like the space background.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Oh my gosh, I can even read it. But the algorithms, as I was saying, they reward you for the actions people are taking, the ways that–

JENNY GUY: –different. There’s more specific, other than just, I like something. Now there’s–

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Now there’s different ways. You know, not all engagement is equal on every platform. You know, for a while there videos were getting a lot more play on Instagram. And sometimes, like, the saves are considered more valuable because people saving things is showing intent. And they’re really trying to build time on platform.

So the things that the algorithm rewards change from time to time, how much they reward each specific thing. However, all of these things are important. So rather than obsess about, oh my gosh, I have to do only video because right now they’re weighting things to video, I think it’s just healthier to be balanced. You know, to say OK, these are the things that they reward. They’re gonna reward things like swipes, comments, sticker interactions.

You wanna make sure you’re giving people lots of different ways to interact with your content. So you’re gonna see greater discovery optimization if you don’t just do feed posts, if you do stories occasionally, and you give people ways to interact by either, you know, taking a poll, or commenting on a sticker, or swiping up, or– you want to give people more ways to interact because the more ways that they interact, the more time they spend on the platform, the more the platform will like you.

So it’s important to be aware of those opportunities. If you can’t do them all, don’t beat yourself up. You can still build your niche and build your authority without taking advantage of every single opportunity. But if you want to supercharge, you know, you should be aware. You’re gonna get more overall exposure, and the algorithm is gonna like you more, if it sees that people are interacting with you in all the different ways they can. If that makes sense.

JENNY GUY: No, it absolutely does. Giving people more opportunities to encounter your content and to interact with it. I love that, getting people involved. And you’re very right. And it still seems to me that while it’s not quite as extreme, video is still getting preferential treatment and weight in the algorithm for sure.

So you said all the things you have control over, some of them you can’t. I want to talk more about that intersection between good SEO and good DO. So let’s break that down.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So I’m not sure what the question is.

JENNY GUY: The interaction between SEO and DO. How can you take the practices, or good SEO, strong as SEO practices, and have them translate over into social.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So you want to think about your Discovery Optimization in terms of search. So good SEO practices include really honing your niche the same way, and really knowing your keywords, and really knowing your audience, and making your content available to that audience and easy for them to find. I think that for Discovery Optimization, hashtags are really important because hashtags are low-hanging fruit. And a lot of people use hashtags inappropriately and incorrectly. They don’t follow the hashtags that they’re actually content that they’re interested in, they make up their own hashtags, they hashtag for brands, which, actually, you’re then sending your traffic to the brand. You’re not getting the traffic from the brand most likely. You’re sending people away.

JENNY GUY: How do you properly use a hashtag? Tell us what a hashtag is. Obviously you’re a big fan.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: The number one thing you want to do when you’re choosing a hashtag is you want to say, is somebody searching for my content? What’s the search term? Don’t even think of it in terms of a hashtag.

Think of, like, what’s the keyword, or what’s the search term, that somebody is going to use to find your content. It’s not happy birthday. It’s not congratulations. Those hashtags are pretty much useless because nobody is searching congratulations looking for content. They may be looking for graduation party cake, they may be looking for graduation card.
So you want to think, what are people searching for. And that is the hashtags that you then want to go out and say OK, what are the hashtags that are the things that I want people to search for and find my content. And you want to look at what hashtags are being currently used, how popular they are.

If it’s a hashtag that, you know, is getting used constantly, you’re just gonna get buried in that feed. If it’s a hashtag that’s used once every five years, nobody’s really looking for it. So you want to look for hashtags that have a decent amount of traffic, but not too much, and that are really gonna lead people– that are the keyword that are gonna to lead the people to your content who want to find your content.

I think it’s really smart to look for hashtag adjacent communities. And an example of a hashtag adjacent community is if you are a home decor blogger, you look for home staging hashtags. Those are people who are very interested in home decor. Or if you are somebody who does recipes, and you have beautiful photographs of your tabletop display, you want to look for a tabletop display hashtags. Something where the community is very interested in the same sort of stuff that you do, and the hash tags are appropriate for your post, you can pull in an adjacent community. And those people could be very loyal to your content because it’s similar enough to the niche that they’re interested in.

JENNY GUY: So if you’re doing your– I wanna hear about how you do your hashtag research other than just going to your site and getting a great keyword list of hashtags– how you’re doing that and are you doing this for each individual platform? Or once you’ve done your hashtag research, does that apply to all platforms?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So I pretty much use Instagram for most of my hashtag research because I find that people use the same hashtags that they use on Instagram on other platforms unless there’s, like, a specific TikTok challenge, or a specific Twitter thing going on. If it’s a community or a niche hashtag, they generally cross platforms.

And the way I like to do research– if I’m doing it manually, I’m going to say, OK, what’s the keyword. I’m literally gonna type it in. Instagram’s gonna give me a list of suggestions, and I’m just gonna start looking at them one at a time, and looking at the feed and saying, do these images look like what I’m about? Or would the people who like these images like my image? Does my image belong in this collection of images? What we’ve done with Juiced Social is we’ve trained AI on this process so that we can look at 100 million posts, you know, in a week or less. And humans cannot do that.

JENNY GUY: No. And why would you want to?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: No, and why would you want to? So, I mean, every single list on that site started out with human research. It started out with us going out and finding, you know– we think that there’s a community around this topic, and there’s some hashtags around this topic. Let’s find the ones that are being used right now, and look at relative speed, or the relative amount of use, and how related they are to the topic.

JENNY GUY: Sarah Auerswald says, how do you see the hashtag stats? Like, how often they are used. Where do you find that information?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So Instagram will show you. They don’t give you a lot of information, but they’ll tell you how many times the hashtags have been used overall. It can be difficult to tell whether that use is recent, or whether that use is all time. So, you know, hashtag could’ve been really, really popular, you know, two years ago, and you see that there’s millions of uses. But everyone kind of stopped using it. You can look at the feed and see how recent the posts are, and sort of get an idea of how often the hashtag is used right now.

JENNY GUY: OK. I want to talk a little bit about what DO looks like in practice. I’m gonna push our faces away and let you talk through this slide because this is the nuts and bolts.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: This is the nuts and bolts, and it’s actually super simple. But, you know, it’s a mental shift for most people because we really think about discovery as being this sort of, like, magical thing if we use the right hashtag, or, you know, people like you enough.

But it really is a very consistent practice of posting consistently in your niche and using your niche hashtags, which means, you know, every day when you post about orange juice, you’re using the orange juice love hashtag. And you’re showing a picture of orange juice or something having to do with orange juice. You’re following accounts that are about orange juice, you’re following hashtags that are about orange juice, you’re engaging with that content every single day.

Whenever you go on, you’re engaging with the content that you’re about. And hopefully– you have less control over this, but– if you’re really being authentic in your engagement, you’re convincing your platform that you are about what you say or about, your stuff is going to be shown, and other people are gonna start engaging with your content that are really about what you’re about. So you’re gonna get engagement from those orange juice people.

So this is like, in a nutshell, the most simple, you know, expression of what we have control over and how you should be thinking about algorithms in general on social media to maximize your chance of discovery. You know, whether you use video, and, you know, how you get people to interact, that stuff matters. But this stuff, on this particular slide, is what matters the most. It’s that you’re walking the walk, talking the talk, staying in your lane, and being really, really conscious and intentional about your content, and really authentic about your content. Because that is the foundation that you really need to get that strong niche following and to build your Discovery Optimization and your authority.

JENNY GUY: And that is– for those that are following along with the slides, we can share that link again– that it slide 17. It’s basically the nuts and the bolts of what we’re talking about here. We did a little bit on this earlier, but I want to just reiterate. Are there specific social platforms– you said this works on all social platforms, but it can work differently. You said you primarily do your research on Instagram, in terms of hashtag research.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: In terms of hashtag research, I primarily look at Instagram because community hashtags, like I said, sort of cross over onto other hashtags. But in terms of your consistency, and your staying in your lane, and your engaging with that content that is, you know, in your lane, it doesn’t matter what platform we’re talking about.

Algorithms are just like a puppy that you’re training, you know. If every single time you say sit, you push its butt down and then you give it a treat, you’re training that puppy that sit means this and that’s the reward. You want to do the same things over and over and over again and very consistently with any algorithm-based platform.

JENNY GUY: Do you recommend focusing on one platform at a time, tackling multiple at once in terms of social?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So it depends. It depends on you, first of all, like, how much time you’re willing to put in. I would say that you should claim your space on every platform where you think you want to have a presence. Claiming your space, like I said earlier, doesn’t have to mean that you’re doing three stories a day, and you’re using all the stickers, and all the polls, and every way that people can interact with you. It may just be as simple as saying, I’m gonna commit to a four posts a week. I’m gonna be consistent and intentional about it. And I’m gonna make sure that I’m following and engaging this much every single day.

I think it was Gary Vee, he had, like, a grow your Instagram strategy that he shared. And I had to laugh because he didn’t sell it as a algorithm-training type thing, but it was really the same sort of stuff. And people were like, wow, his method really works. And basically it was looking at hashtags that are in your niche, following those accounts that are in your niche, and engaging with them daily.

I mean, it’s small consistent practices. How much you want– if you want to do more, you want to spend more time and engage with more accounts, and you want to use, you know, more– you want to do stories, and do more, your results may happen faster if you are putting yourself out there in more ways. But the results are gonna be there, slow and steady, even if you put in minimal effort. So if you don’t have the energy to do it everywhere, then fine, don’t beat yourself up. Just get that baseline of, you know, those very basic things like what you post, what you follow, and what you engage with.

JENNY GUY: That is really helpful. And how much time would you suggest is a good place to start, like, in terms of if you’re wanting to do a bullet calendar or something like that out your day?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: You could get a lot done in 20 minutes a day.

JENNY GUY: Per platform?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Per platform. 15 to 20 minutes. I mean, you know what, personally I think TikTok takes way more time because making videos takes a long time, at least for me. It takes a while for me to make videos. But interacting is really easy, on the other hand, on TikTok, so–

JENNY GUY: OK. So in terms of– this is a question we get all the time for SEO. We talk about SEO and a lot of people ask about cleaning up their old posts and their old content. How does that translate? How does SEO equal DO for social?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So that is a great question because yeah, a lot of people have old content. And I think it is really important to make sure that your feed reflects who you are because when you are, say, using a new hashtag and you’re attracting someone to you, that is your opportunity to gain a new following. The first thing they’re gonna do is click on your profile, they’re going to look at your feed, and if you’ve got a bunch of old, random content that isn’t about what your niche is about, you’ve lost them.
Like, you need your feed to be really niche-specific. And you need people, within two or three seconds, to see it and know that you’re about what you say you’re about both in your description and images that you have. So I think it is really important to clean up and curate yourself. Like, from the get go, hone your niche and make sure what’s there isn’t all that old stuff.

JENNY GUY: And that’s all platforms, regardless of anything.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: All platforms. Anywhere whether there’s an algorithm. The same as you would do for your blog, how you’d get rid of all that extraneous content that’s confusing the algorithm, do the same thing.

JENNY GUY: We actually don’t recommend people delete old content. We ask them to, especially if it’s getting any traffic, we ask them to polish it. We ask them to– but deleting content, it’s just not a great use of time because people– you know, if you have 800 posts, people are not coming to your home page and digging. But you’re right. On a social media feed, if you’re scrolling through– like, you know, if you’re on someone’s timeline or you’re looking at somebody’s feed, you’re seeing it. You’re seeing what those are.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Right. Old content on a blog– like, if it’s getting traffic, it’s great. But people aren’t, like, showing up at your home page and then being like, wait a minute, this isn’t what this is about. You know, when people show up on social media, all they see is that feed.

JENNY GUY: OK. I’m gonna go back because we had a bunch of questions. Pamela said, I just saw this now with Ciaran. I want to go back and listen from the beginning. Cyd, who works here with Food Fanatic, said I should stop watching endless videos of old Olympic gymnastic competitions on Instagram using my primary blog account. Cyd says yes, you should definitely stop.

I mean, we’re not saying don’t watch those. We’re just saying not with your blog account. Anna says, so we have a theme dinner party platform and post the parties and the recipes. Does this strategy mean that we should not acknowledge and post about, say, National Girlfriend Day?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: I think it’s fine to acknowledge and post about National Girlfriend Day, and sometimes using those hashtags, it’s like a great idea for content. But you want to make sure that you’re saying, this is the dinner party for National Girlfriend Day that we’re hosting. You want to always tie it into whatever your thing is about.

JENNY GUY: Yes. So make sure it’s clear and that you’re showcasing those consistent hashtags, right? If you’re always posting about hashtag dinner party, hashtag eat at home–

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: But you get– I mean, you get up to 30 hashtags. So, like, you know, maybe 10 or 15 are your sort of niche-specific and consistent ones that you use. Maybe not every single post the same 15, but you have that pool of hashtags, 15 of them are really niche. But you have space for other things and to draw on other people. And it’s OK to use a really popular hashtag here and there because you may win the lottery on it, you know. You may attract a lot of people. Or maybe it’s not specifically your niche, but you’re showing a dinner party for that, so why not use your extra hashtags.

JENNY GUY: #olympics, #olympicdinnerparty. Let’s tie it all together. So then we’re making sure that we’re all on this for– are you saying delete old junk posts on Instagram?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Is the couch still for sale? It’s a yes.

JENNY GUY: OK.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Delete the old junk posts. If they’re not really niche-targeted, then they’re not doing you any favors. People aren’t going to be searching for them, and finding them, and going oh, like, I need to follow them ’cause this is what I’m about, and they’re about. If they’re not gonna serve that purpose, then you don’t need them.

JENNY GUY: OK. Good to hear. So slightly different than from what we would say with SEO. Because that’s not something we would say for you to invest a lot of time in, is to go back and worry about all of these old posts. OK. What kind of results have you seen from this? I think that’s the thing that we all– you said it’s slow and steady. What have you seen from your clients and from yourself, and how do you track those results? What metrics are you really looking at?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So it’s slow and steady, but sometimes people do, like I said, win the lottery. Sometimes people will use a hashtag from a hashtag adjacent community and they’ll go from, like, 100 views on a post to 12,000 views on a post just because that hashtag hit within that feed. And then what you really want to look at, though, is when you get all that traffic, when you are being discovery-optimized and your post is being shown to so many more people via a hashtag, or just via good optimization and, you know, maybe it’s being shown more in people’s feeds that follow you, you want to look at what people did once they saw that.

So did people visit your profile? And once they visited your profile, did they follow you? So this is why it’s really important that, if you use a hashtag you’re getting 7,000 new people who are then, oh, let me check this person out, let me look at the feed, you want them to follow you. You want them to then, you know– you want to capture them and you want them to be your regulars.

You want to look at also how often your posts were saved, and how often your posts were shared because that is something that platforms are looking at to represent intent. If somebody is saving your content, that’s somebody who wants to come back. And if a lot of people are saving that content, then you should be creating more of that content. That’s the sort of content that, you know, people are very hungry for.

And if people are sharing your content, it’s content that they identify with. It’s generally things that, like, oh, my friends will think I’m cool, or my friends will think I’m clever. You definitely want to create more shareable content. And those people then, hopefully, will follow you because they wanna come back to you for that same sort of content. But even if they don’t follow you, you know, the saves and the shares are super, super important.

JENNY GUY: So how do you track all of this, and do you have any recommended tools? Because there are a lot of tools out there that a lot of people are using. So tell us what your thoughts are on that. And now this is not hashtag sponsored by anyone. We’re just asking her for her opinion off the cuff.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: So, I mean, with platforms like Facebook and Instagram, it’s gonna be your own analytics. You should have a business account, and you’ll just go in and look at your own analytics. There are third-party tools that you authorize to sort of present your analytics in much prettier formats, like Sprout does it. There’s a bunch of different ones.
But personally, I think you can just– platform analytics. You can see all of that. You can look at and see how many people found– in the discovery column, how many people found your post from feed versus hashtags or other. I still don’t exactly know what other is. I don’t know if it’s link sharing, or what other is.

And, you know, what I do, what my company does, hashtracking is more about your own hashtag and your own campaign. So we can provide much a deeper dive analytics into who has engaged with a particular hashtag, and how many people have used the hashtag, and the exposure of a particular hashtag. But just as a content creator, when you’re growing your own account, you want to look at how people are interacting with your individual posts.

Another important thing to look at in stories is when and where people are exiting because that’s where they’re bored with your content. And you wanna know.

JENNY GUY: Yep. Absolutely. Very helpful. And what you can do to pull them back in. And, like you said, it’s very much like SEO. When you find that something is hitting with your audience, you’re getting out there, make more of that thing. Do more of that. Don’t copy it, but similar content is very– related content. Huge.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Yeah. And it’s often surprising. I have a blog that is about haunted travel, and I found whenever I use a witch-related– witchcraft-related hashtag, I got phenomenal exposure. And apparently those are my people.

JENNY GUY: People are loving the witches. There’s nothing wrong with that. I really did like that season of American Horror Story, Coven. One of my favorites. One of my top seasons. Do you recommend scheduling versus live posting for social media posts?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: I am a big fan of scheduling just because, as a creative, as much as I walk the walk and talk the talk about algorithms and all of this stuff, I understand patterns but I am terrible about executing them. I am the least consistent person that I know. I am just– it’s very hard for me. So I am a fan of scheduling because you know you’ve got that baseline. But ideally it’s a mix. Ideally you get things scheduled, and then you go in, and you interact. And maybe you schedule your posts, but you’re liking things, engaging with things, commenting on things in a more human way, like, here and there and everywhere.

JENNY GUY: And as you were saying before, you think that rather than setting a crazy, I’m gonna post five times per day on each platform, you said it’s more helpful to set a reasonable goal like five times per week, like five feed posts. But does it matter in terms of consistency with day and time? Like every single Tuesdays and Thursdays are when I post. Is it just letting it find the best time?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Yes and no. OK, so in terms of the algorithm, the algorithm wants to see that you’re posting consistently. But in terms of your audience and, like, human beings, people want to know that they can tune in on Tuesday. So if you’re somebody who is telling your audience, like, every Tuesday I’m gonna share a recipe, or every Thursday I’m gonna reveal my new project, you want to be consistent and cognizant of that. And that is a great human trick for getting audiences to pay attention to you and follow and convert.

But in terms of the algorithm, you just want to see consistent use over time. So whether that’s five times a week, or whether that’s once a day, or whether it’s three times a week, the algorithm is just gonna say, OK, this person hasn’t quit if they haven’t posted in three days, because their pattern is they post three times a week. They get to know your pattern. And they’re not going to sort of ding you for not posting or think you’re a dead account suddenly if you don’t post for two days.

On the other hand– I just wanted to say, if you don’t post for a while, you should be aware that if you haven’t posted for a while and then you suddenly post, there is an effect of them wanting to– you’ll get higher exposure when you post after not posting for a while. And you should really take advantage of that. But you want to make sure you’re consistent after that because you only get it that one time, and then if you don’t post again they’re like, ah! What algorithm is that?

JENNY GUY: Bad. Dead–

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Psych.

JENNY GUY: Still dead account. Psych, I haven’t heard that one in a while. So you’ve got– this has been so mind-blowing and very helpful. Will you please tell us you’ve got some special offers for our audience?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: I do. So if you’re interested in finding some hashtag lists, we have a coupon code for Juiced Social, MV20. We’ll get you four free lists. So it’s $20 off any order. I would recommend you look for some lists in your niche, or some hashtag adjacent lists. The hashtag lists have up to 300 hashtags that are the most recent and most engaged hashtags. So we look every two weeks at what’s being used within each niche. And then I also offer consulting on the site. So that’s $20 off you could use on consulting. And we also have a group. It’s groups slash Discovery Optimization on Facebook. And if you join the group, I will give you a code to download my ebooks. And I have a book on content that converts, and I also have a fun– if you’re somebody who likes workbooks, I have a fun workbook to help you sort of organize yourself and plan for your Instagram account.

JENNY GUY: So helpful. We’re gonna drop some of those links. You’ve also got the links to her presentation, and those are hyperlinked in the presentation so you can click over. The code right there is MV20. And then we had one quick– we’re gonna go slightly over. Do you have any recommendations for a scheduler? That was one of the last questions that we had.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: I use both Tailwind and Later. I use, interestingly, I use Tailwind for my personal account, and I use Later for my business account. I like a little bit– I like the way Later does links and certain things better for the business accounts. But I like Tailwind my personal, so those are my two favorites for scheduling.

JENNY GUY: Very helpful. Ciaran, this has been awesome, and so great. And we’re sharing all of that into the comments so people can find you afterwards. Is there anywhere else they should look for you?

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: You can find me on my personal site, ciaranblumenfeld.com. And you can find me on Facebook. I’m always on social media. I’m Ciaranblu on Instagram and on Twitter. And I’m always online.

JENNY GUY: I mean, I think that’s kind of the nature of the beast with our jobs. And also it’s kind of our personalities. Thank you so much for being here, guys. Next week we have an awesome episode coming up. It is our much-anticipated– Thursday, August 8, 3:00 PM Eastern time– we have our Publisher Support Live.

We’re gonna have Heather Tullos, who is the Director of Publisher Support, and Carmen Stinson, the Assistant Publisher Support Manager, on her first live. We can talk Dashboard, we can talk optimizations, plugins, video. You’ve got questions, Carmen and Heather have the answers that will make you the dollars. Come by. Everyone say a big thank you to Ciaran for an amazing hour. Very helpful. And everyone stay safe out there. We’ll see you next week.

CIARAN BLUMENFELD: Thank you.

JENNY GUY: Bye. Thank you.

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