Social Media

Twitter Update: New ‘Algorithm’ Shifts How Content is Served Up in Timeline

February 10, 2016

Starting today, Twitter is evolving how it serves up content to its 320 million monthly active users around the world.

In a move likely intended to boost user growth, users will now see the most relevant, important and engaging content at the top of their feeds when accessing the platform on desktop and mobile.

Brands active on Twitter could see a Renaissance of sorts for their content, as the change is expected to boost organic reach for multimedia content that has high engagement, though it remains to be seen what implications this update will have on paid media, either in the immediate or the long term.

While it’s important to note the ‘algorithm’ tweets will still appear in a reverse chronological order, preserving the integrity of Twitter’s DNA, the update is expected to receive less-then-positive sentiment from loyal users, who tend to be quick to criticize any change to the platform—such as altering the ‘favorite’ star to ‘like’ heart. But with this change, Twitter is aiming to make the platform more approachable to casual, less active users and non-users.

Why Introduce An Updated Timeline Now?

It is no surprise that Twitter has been building to this moment and some say it should have come even earlier. In 2015 it made several adjustments to its platform to better curate content, such as Moments and While You Were Away. With this most recent change, it will make content discovery easier, and is a more natural format to users of other platforms such as Facebook.

Power users who check the feed 20 times a day, may see very little change algorithmically. However, less active users who visit Twitter once a week will see more ‘most important’ tweets before they get to the chronological portion of the feed.  Users will also have the option to turn off the update on their desktop, iOS and Android settings.

Tests administered by Twitter indicated that surfacing engaging content encourages users to check the platform and engage more frequently. The tests also showed that the updated timeline experience is more positive for brand content, as it tends to be some of the best content on the platform and has the opportunity to rise to the top portion of the timeline.

It is important to note that while the algorithmic tweets may sound similar to Twitter’s “While You Were Away,” feature, the results brought up through this ‘algorithm’ will showcase more than just a handful of tweets and will move seamlessly into the chronological feed, rather than being visually separate.

What Signals Determine Which Content Gets Surfaced?

  • Previous Engagement and Interests – Twitter will be looking at the relationship and history that a user has with the author of a tweet, how the user has engaged with that author in the past, and how people in their network have engaged with the author. Additionally, previously used hashtags as well as interests of the user and/or their network will be factored into the equation.
  • Content Engagement – Content that has higher overall engagement on the platform will surface to the top of a user’s feed. Promoted content will be considered for the top of the feed based on the organic engagement it receives, but will not suppress best performing organic content.


Marketer Implications

The following are specific ways marketers and publishers can anticipate the effect of the Twitter timeline shift:

Quality Still Reigns: Twitter is emphasizing that the change will be in favor of serving users more rich, quality content and that this content – which may once have gotten overlooked due to the saturated nature of the timeline – stands a better chance at getting viewed by more users now. The ‘algorithm’ should not affect how marketers are planning or executing for their brands. Creative should always be top of mind when publishing to the platform. Rich media like videos, GIFs, photos and polls, must continue to be a part of brands’ creative strategy.

Timely Content Pushes: Content about breaking news or those tweets coming in from the front lines of a significant event will rise to the top and continue reaching even more users on the platform. Brands, publishers and media should continue publishing newsworthy and relevant content to their followers.

Entertainment Brand Benefits: Brands that fall under the Entertainment umbrella could see increased opportunities when focusing their efforts on being top of mind, specifically during promotional periods for shows, seasons and celebrity partnerships. Entertainment brands catering to their engaged fans can plan to leverage pre-show excitement through quality content and aiming to be top of feed. Marketers should look to integrate high quality content into their evergreen content, as it will elevate brand presence outside of live-tweets and responsive messaging to fans.

Paid Media Opportunities: Twitter has emphasized that it will not intentionally suppress brand content in order to encourage paid spending and product testing. As such, it will still be important for brands from verticals such as CPG, QSR, Retail, and Travel among others to continue to include media spend on the platform as part of their strategies, as this will remain a critical component of reaching and engaging with the right consumers at scale. At this time, paid implications from this update include:

  • Paid content will be served in the same ad slots regardless of how tweets appear in the timeline.
  • Organic impressions derived from paid media (e.g. RTs of a Promoted Tweet) will factor into the ranking the same way that regular organic tweets do. For instance, if a promoted tweet receives high engagement organically it could surface to the top of the new timeline and the engagement could help set it up for success to reach the top.
  • The platform will continue to roll out paid products for brands with alpha and beta opportunities.


Today’s development to Twitter’s timeline is most likely the beginning of a significant shift in its platform, as it involves its’ growth of users globally. Brands, influencers and publishers can and should take advantage of Twitter’s new timeline capabilities, and marketers will want to keep a close eye on new ways consumers are engaging with the platform.

Cover photo via Adweek.