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A social media strategy that promotes English

Stewart Burnett is editor of Kivalliq News. Photo courtesy of Stewart Burnett

EDITORIAL: Undoubtedly, one of the goals of the Government of Nunavut is to promote Inuktitut and increase its use in the territory.

However, its current social media strategy may be working against that.

The GN has three versions of the same Government of Nunavut page on Facebook: one in English, one French and the other Inuktitut.

One can imagine the theory behind this: if you want all your GN updates in Inuktitut, here’s the page for you; and if you want English, go here; and so on.

That’s basically what the GN told Kivalliq News, too.

“The GN’s decision to separate the three languages on its Facebook pages is driven by our commitment to ensuring representation and accessibility,” stated communications officer Seporah Medwig. “The GN aims to provide each language its dedicated space, allowing for more focused and meaningful engagement with Nunavummiut.”

Medwig added that this decision was made in “adherence to the Language Law of Nunavut, ensuring that Inuktitut, English, Inuinnaqtun, and French each have their own dedicated channels.”

A noble goal, but it unfortunately fails to align with the nature of social media and its algorithm-based fundamentals.

‘Equal representation’ in the world of algorithms is not achieved by simply making multiple pages. Social media distribution is not the same as sending two versions of the same physical newsletter to mailboxes like in times past.

Currently, the English page for the GN has more than 21,000 followers. The Inuktitut page has just over 700. The two pages are not reaching an equally sized audience based on follower count, but it goes deeper than that. A post on the English page will reach more people than one on the Inuktitut page because of the number of followers, and then this is exacerbated by the fact it will likely get more likes, comments and shares due to its initial increased reach, further encouraging the algorithm to spread it. So, the real difference is more exponential than linear.

For a quick lesson, algorithms dictate most of what you see on social media platforms. They are complex calculations that factor in many things, but the ultimate goal is that you see content you want to see.

So how is that determined? Well, how does something go ‘viral’ and end up in everyone’s feeds? It’s because that piece of content is getting so many likes, comments, shares and eyes that the algorithm says, “People like this, people want to see it, let’s put it in more feeds” and it snowballs from there. Every time you share a post, you’re telling the algorithm that this is a good post and other people might want to see it.

That’s why you always see your friends’ baby announcements or wedding photos when you open Facebook. The platform knows that is content you want to see, it sees other people liking and commenting, it knows you have liked and commented on posts like this before, and it prioritizes it for you.

On the flip side, posts that perform poorly are punished by the algorithm and their distribution is reduced. So if you put up a boring post that everyone skips over and few react to, that post won’t be shown in many feeds, and it will negatively impact your next posts, because the algorithm is learning that you’re boring.

This is why it’s not enough for organizations to simply post on social media. If you post content that gets few likes, comments or shares, the algorithm will not promote it, and eventually, your page will enter a death spiral of very little engagement. On the flip side, if you post content that gets lots of attention, the algorithm will further promote it to more people.

The size of your reach is based on the quality – as defined by the algorithm – of your post. A successful social media strategy emphasizes quality of posts, as measured by audience reaction, not simply having a page and posting.

In the current ecosystem, the GN’s English page is promoted far more than the Inuktitut page, to the point the Inuktitut page appears lost in the algorithm, with hardly a like or share to be found on most of the posts. This is evidence that the page is simply not being seen and not being distributed.

If the GN wants to promote Inuktitut, it should amalgamate its Facebook pages into the English one, due to it having the biggest follower base. That means posting the English, French and Inuktitut all at the same time, on every post. As well, the social media managers should try their best to make the content they post worth sharing, as that will lead to increased distribution.

Social media is ubiquitous now, but understanding how it works isn’t, and even those who study it are regularly mystified by the algorithm.

Medwig said the GN is aware that there are challenges accessing the Inuktut and French Facebook pages.

“To address this, we are currently in discussions with various departments to evaluate whether consolidating all languages onto a single page or enhancing the promotion of links to the separate language pages would be more effective in ensuring the equitable access and representation,” stated Medwig.