How the Twitter Algorithm Works in 2021

By Tinuiti Team

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. 

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. 

Twitter Timeline Options – Top Tweets and Latest Tweets

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

These modes can be changed by clicking on the Stars icon at the top right of your timeline feed. 

Top Tweets

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. 

Latest Tweets

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 Timeline Algorithm – Ranking Signals

Ranking signals for the Twitter timeline algorithm include:

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. 

What are Twitter Topics?

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. 

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 Video Ad (Credit:Twitter Business)


How Do Lists Work on Twitter?

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. 

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. 

How to increase visibility on Twitter [5 expert tips]

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:

1. Be consistent

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. 

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. 

2. Find the best times to post

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. 

3. Include rich media content

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. 

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. 

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:

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. 

5. Use hashtags strategically

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. 

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. 

Twitter Algorithm Changes – A Timeline of Key Updates

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. 

2006 – First release


2014 – Recommended topics


2015 – While you were away


2016 – Relevance model


2016 – ICYMI


2018 – Top Tweets and Latest Tweets


2019 – Lists


2019 – Topics


2020 – Fleets


2020 – Liked By and Followed By 


Twitter Analytics

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

The Analytics homepage has 2 primary sections:

28-day summary 

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

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

Monthly summary

The Twitter Analytics homepage gives you a monthly performance report with the following information:

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

Want to learn more, be sure to check out our recent blog post on the value of running Twitter ads.

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