How the Twitter Algorithm Works in 2021

Twitter, having been created in 2006, is still one of the top social media platforms in the world. There are over 340 million active users on Twitter as of 2020, with over 500 million tweets sent a day. 
2019 – Lists

Twitter Timeline Options – Top Tweets and Latest Tweets

This summary section provides trending information on your account’s performance over the last 28 days, such as:

  • Top Tweets
  • Latest Tweets

That’s a lot of content to sift through. And if your brand is going to use Twitter effectively, you need to understand how Twitter’s timeline algorithm works and learn the most reliable methods of getting your content in front of your audience. 

Top Tweets

2019 – Topics

Latest Tweets

2018 – Top Tweets and Latest Tweets

Twitter Timeline Algorithm – Ranking Signals

Ranking signals for the Twitter timeline algorithm include:

  • How recent it is
  • Use of rich media (images, gif, video)
  • Engagement (likes, replies, retweets)
  • Prominence of author
  • Relationship of user to author
  • User behavior 

All Top Tweet, Follower, and Mentions also show corresponding levels of engagement. 

What are Twitter Topics?

2020 – Liked By and Followed By 
Lists, formerly known as Customizable Timelines, help users create timelines that focus on content that they want. To populate a List, a user would add a specific person they want to follow to a List that they created. Lists can be set to public or private based on user preferences. 

Twitter’s algorithm loves rich media content. Make it a habit to include images, gifs, or video clips with your tweets. You don’t have to do it for every tweet, but doing so increases the likelihood of it appearing on a user’s timeline. 

How Do Lists Work on Twitter?

Top Tweets uses an algorithm to display the tweets in the order a user is most likely to care about. The algorithm is based on the popularity and relevance of tweets. Because of the number of tweets published at any given point, Twitter news feed algorithms like this were created to keep users from getting overwhelmed and to help them say abreast of content that they truly care about. 
2016 – Relevance model

How to increase visibility on Twitter [5 expert tips]

The Analytics homepage has 2 primary sections:

1. Be consistent

Always remember that hashtags you choose to include are part of your brand’s messaging. Be careful which hashtags you use, and make sure those hashtags and the content around it align with the image your brand is trying to present. 
But you shouldn’t just include rich media for the algorithm. Rich media increases the chances a user will engage, too. Humans are visual creatures and engage more with content that contains visual elements. According to Twitter Business, tweets with videos get 10 times more engagement than those that don’t. So it’s in your best interest to throw in a photo whenever possible. 

2. Find the best times to post

Hashtags are a fantastic way to capitalize on trends and get your tweets more visibility. You can either use the popular hashtags that Twitter recommends, pay attention to trending hashtags in your industry, or create your own. 

3. Include rich media content

The Twitter Analytics homepage gives you a monthly performance report with the following information:
2015 – While you were away

4. Prioritize content that promotes engagement

Engagement is one of the biggest ranking factors for tweets, so you should be publishing content that promotes discussion and reactions. Such content includes:

  • Polls
  • Tweets that tag other users
  • Popular hashtags
  • Memes 
  • Thought-provoking industry content

2006 – First release

5. Use hashtags strategically

Want to learn more, be sure to check out our recent blog post on the value of running Twitter ads.
Content from those people would then appear on that list, which can be set to display either Top Tweets or Latest Tweets. The Twitter timeline algorithm would still apply, just with the additional constraints of the List’s selected authors. 

Twitter Algorithm Changes – A Timeline of Key Updates

Recency is another big algorithm ranking factor. Tweeting frequently increases the chances users will see your content as they log in throughout the day. The fresher the content is, the more likely it will appear. 
The Latest Tweets section reorders your timeline in reverse chronological order, with the most recent Tweets on top. It shows tweets as they get posted in real-time, and so more content will appear from more people, but it still won’t show every tweet. The algorithm will still have some influence in choosing what tweets to display at that very moment. 

  • Twitter’s first release displayed tweets in reverse chronological order.

There are many things you can do to align your content with that of Twitter’s timeline algorithm. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for us and our clients:

  • Twitter feeds updated to include recommended topics, authors, and tweets.

The Twitter Timeline can be set to display tweets in two different modes:

  • Twitter added a “While You Were Away” section that recapped select tweets. Content was selected based on engagement and other factors.

When the user follows those topics, they will begin to see Twitter ads, users, promoted tweets, regular tweets, and events related to those topics on their home feed. 

  • Twitter announced that they were introducing a relevancy model that scored tweets based on how recent they are, level of engagement, and author interactions. High-scoring tweets had a greater chance of being included on the timeline.

All metrics include relative percentages so that your brand knows how much higher or lower your numbers have changed.

  • ICYMI, or “In Case You Missed It,” replaced While You Were Away in the timeline feed. There difference lies in a new Twitter algorithm to determine what is shown in ICYMI, but Twitter has not announced what those differences are. 

Tweeting consistently hits a lot of the necessary algorithm check marks. For example, frequent tweets increase your standing as an author, which in turn helps boost your own content. 

  • In an effort to satisfy conflicting user needs, Twitter introduced the option to switch between Top Tweets and Latest Tweets. See section above for more info on both.

Twitter offers users and brands the ability to see how their accounts are performing courtesy of an on-platform analytics module called Twitter Analytics.

  • Twitter introduced Customizable Timelines (since renamed Lists) as a way for users to switch content preferences. 

Twitter Topics allows users to receive content based on specific topics suggested by Twitter. For example, a user might opt to receive more content on cybersecurity, cooking recipes, and Stephen Colbert. 

  • Twitter introduced Topics to help users see more content that they enjoy. Content around these Topics are compiled using machine learning and more topics are being generated on a regular basis. 

As you create this content, remember to keep it relevant to your brand. Don’t just tweet random things to force a reaction. Stay true to your brand’s personality and customer interests. 

  • Inspired by Instagram Stories, Fleets are short videos that only stay online for 24 hours. 

As we said above, recency is crucial to getting seen, as it applies whether the user is using Top Tweets or Latest Tweets. Use analytics software like SproutSocial to determine what times of day give you the best engagement, and schedule your tweets accordingly. 

  • Twitter has removed the visibility of Liked By and Followed By recommendations from its timeline. Specifically, it has removed these recommendations from showing up from people and topics that users don’t already follow.  

Twitter Analytics

Twitter has been around for nearly two decades. As you can expect, the Twitter timeline algorithm has changed quite a bit since then. Below are some of the most significant Twitter algorithm changes that have occurred and how they’ve led to what it is today. 
These modes can be changed by clicking on the Stars icon at the top right of your timeline feed. 

28-day summary 

Twitter Video Ad (Credit:Twitter Business)

  • Number of Tweets
  • Tweet impressions
  • Profile visits
  • Mentions
  • Number of followers

2020 – Fleets

Monthly summary

2016 – ICYMI

  • Top Tweet
  • Top Follower
  • Top Mention
  • Number of Tweets
  • Tweet impressions
  • Profile visits
  • Mentions
  • Number of followers

2014 – Recommended topics
For example, a user is more likely to see a tweet on their timeline if it comes from another user they engage with often, and if that tweet has a high number of likes and replies. 

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