TikTok has captured the imaginations of people and organizations all over the world, inspiring quite a few dances and ‘challenges’ along the way. From its humble beginnings in 2016, to securing its spot as the second most downloaded iPhone app in Q1 2022, the platform has certainly come a long way.
TikTok is expected to reach 84.9 million users by the end of 2022. As of April 2022, almost half of TikTok users in the U.S. were between 18 and 34 years, making up the largest demographic group for the platform. TikTok also notably has the highest engagement of any major social media platform, including the percentage of followers who engage with influencers.
While the highest number of TikTok users fall within a decidedly younger age range than many other popular social platforms, the overarching audience is not without variety. Users are still spread across a wide range of age, location, and gender boundaries, with each individual user having their own preference for what type of video content they are most interested in seeing. As for determining what content to show which users and when? That’s where the TikTok algorithm comes into play.
What is the TikTok Algorithm?
The TikTok algorithm determines what shows up in your “For You” feed. The TikTok formula, based on our research, indicates that the videos a user will see in their “For You” feed will change over time based on their viewing preferences and habits.
This is how TikTok defines the “For You” page algorithm:
“A stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content and creators you love … powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.”
How the TikTok Algorithm Works
TikTok has been secretive about its algorithms in the past, which has led to much speculation about the factors that affect how the For You Page (FYP) is populated. That changed in June 2020, with TikTok publishing a blog post detailing how the For You Page recommendations are generated.
According to TikTok, the For You Page’s algorithms are based on the preferences and activity history of individual users. That means no two For You feeds are going to be exactly the same, due to the sheer number of factors and variations involved; as the name implies, these recommendations have been carefully curated for you.
The 3 main factors that influence your TikTok recommendations include:
- User interactions
- Video information
- Device and account settings
User activity plays a significant role in determining which videos TikTok shows, with the following heavily influencing your For You feed:
- Video likes
- Video shares
- Accounts followed
- Comments posted
- Videos created
The algorithm also takes into account how far a user got in the video, and whether or not they watched it in its entirety. Watching a video from beginning to end is a strong sign of interest and carries greater weight in the TikTok algorithm than some of the other contributing factors.
Regularly showing up in users’ feeds goes beyond them simply being a follower. Users will see more content from creators that they engage with than those they simply follow but scroll past.
This encompasses video attributes and data specific to individual videos, including:
Hashtags in particular are a major component of which videos are recommended. Any user that watches or creates a video with a specific hashtag will be more likely to see videos that use that hashtag in the future.
Device and Account Settings
TikTok has confirmed that its algorithm takes device settings and account settings into consideration, but clarifies that these factors are not given as much weight as stronger, preference-indicative measures—such as likes and video plays—and that these factors are primarily tracked to optimize app performance.
Examples of device and account settings considered include:
- Language preference
- Country setting
- Device type
5 Reasons Why the TikTok Algorithm Wouldn’t Recommend Content
According to TikTok, to keep your “For You” feed interesting and varied, their recommendation system works to intersperse diverse types of content along with those you already know you love. For example, your For You feed generally won’t show two videos in a row made with the same sound or by the same creator.
Content the TikTok algorithm prevents from appearing in users’ ‘For You’ feeds including:
- Users flagged content as “Not interested”
- Content is flagged as spam
- Duplicate content
- Seen content
- Potentially Safety-compromising content
What Doesn’t Influence Your TikTok ‘For You’ Feed?
The number of total followers an account has does not result in their posts surfacing higher, or more often, based on the functionality of the For You algorithm. Naturally, those who have a higher number of followers will have more overall visibility, but their posts are not given preferential treatment based on their popularity. Your track record of high-performing versus low-performing videos also does not affect placement.
This means that a TikTok video from a creator with a high number of followers—and/or with a history of high-performing videos—will not, based on those factors alone, get recommended more often than a video from a newer creator with less followers, and/or lower-performing videos.
Videos are measured and recommended based on their own merits, not the merits of their creators.
The relevant passage in TikTok’s blog post states:
“While a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers, by virtue of that account having built up a larger follower base, neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system.”
How Does TikTok Calculate Effect?
Although TikTok shared some information regarding algorithmic functions, they didn’t share everything, leaving some answers up to anecdotal speculation.
The “Batch Effect” is a popular theory among TikTok creators. In the Batch Effect, TikTok essentially shows your video to different batches of people at different times. The way users react determines whether or not your content gets shared with more people. The more views and interactions your video gets, the bigger—and greater number of— batches see it down the line.
The time lag between different batches can take up to several days. Creators have observed that their video views often “jump” significantly after plateauing. This is speculated to be because the next “batch” has launched and their content has been exposed to more users.
Beating the TikTok Algorithm: 13 Best Practices to Try
Now that we have more insight into how TikTok’s algorithm works, the next step is to leverage that information to design videos poised for maximum exposure.
1. Use TikTok Pro
A TikTok Pro Account gives you access to reports that tell you when your audience is the most engaged. You can find this under the Follower Activity report in the Follower tab. By analyzing this report, you can discover what your audience considers high quality content, helping you create more effective TikToks.
2. Focus on Community
TikTok knows their content is only as valuable as the communities that create, participate, and share in it. TikTok does a great job of curating video content based on specific hashtags that a user frequently engages in.
TikTok also provides a layout for their “Community Guidelines” which set the standards for what is and is not allowed on the platform.
“Within these strict policies, we understand that people may want to avoid certain categories of content based on their personal preferences. Or, for our teenage community members, some content may contain mature or complex themes that may reflect personal experiences or real-world events that are intended for older audiences. Recognizing this, we are working to build a new system to organize content based on thematic maturity.”
3. Hook the Viewer Immediately
You might be surprised to learn that you only have about three seconds to hook a viewer on TikTok. With that being said, you’ll need to test and explore captivating ways to get [and keep] your viewers attention. The good news is that if you are able to grab a user’s attention, you might be able to keep them for up to 10 minutes.
“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience. Last year, we introduced longer videos, giving our community more time to create and be entertained on TikTok. Today, we’re excited to start rolling out the ability to upload videos that are up to 10 minutes, which we hope would unleash even more creative possibilities for our creators around the world.” – TikTok, March 2022
4. Write Engaging Captions
Although TikTok is a video-based platform, users should be mindful of creating clever and engaging captions such as “we understood the assignment” or “the party doesn’t start till I TikTok”.
TikTok also has a feature which automatically adds captions for TikTok videos. To activate closed captions, a user simply creates their videos within TikTok and then clicks on the ‘Captions’ button. Although initially designed to help those who are deaf or hard of hearing better access and understand the video clip, some reports indicate that users who include TikTok closed captions have seen an improvement in social media engagement and overall discoverability.
5. Keep Frequency in Mind
Another tip to keep in mind is that once you get the ball rolling, you have to keep the content flowing.
According to TikTok, “In order to captivate new audiences, the key is to continuously share fresh and diverse content. Aim to post 1-4 times per day to test how different types of content are received. You can then add a paid boost to get the most out of your top-performing content.”
6. Make Your Videos Accessible
If you’re interested in making your content more accessible, you might want to consider best practices as it relates to inclusivity. Features like text to speech or auto captions will expand the opportunity for more people to enjoy your videos. For example, someone who is hard of hearing may have a better experience with captions, while another person may appreciate captions because they want to quietly browse TikTok in a public place.
7. Create Shorter Videos
The algorithm rewards videos that are watched from start to finish, so aim to keep at least some of your videos short to increase your chances that users will complete them. About 15 to 20 seconds is a good target to shoot for.
A side benefit to shorter videos is that you’re trimming your content to be punchier and more concise. This can improve the quality of your videos and increase its chances of getting attention.
8. Use Trending Features & Effects
Increase your visibility and video shareability by using effects. Trending effects should have the greatest impact due to their popularity among the user base, and because TikTok will be actively promoting videos that use those effects.
Filters and effects are used to make your videos more compelling and engaging for viewers. TikTok offers creators and brands a wide variety to choose from, and regularly releases fresh, new options. Its vast library of effects and filters is a big part of what sets it apart from competitors like Instagram Reels.
Some analysts have noted that TikTok appears to give greater priority to videos that use effects—specifically, effects that are currently trending.
9. Use Popular Hashtags
Most TikTok creators already know the value of #hashtags, but popular hashtags and hashtag challenges can have a significant impact on your video’s visibility. Prioritize hashtag challenges that use trending effects for best results.
If you’re looking for popular hashtags to use, you can hop to your Discover tab and see what’s trending.
10. Engage with Other Creators
Don’t just sit back and pump out videos—this is “social” media, after all! TikTok is a community, and showing others’ support can go a long way toward helping them, and you.
Like and comment on videos from other creators; engagement is the most important factor in TikTok’s algorithm. Creators are likely to benefit from your contribution and appreciate your efforts – they may even return the favor when you publish new videos!
11. Use Trending Songs and Sounds
Whenever a user likes a video, the TikTok algorithm shows you other videos that use the same music or sound. This means that sounds can trend the same way that hashtags and effects do.
Unfortunately, finding trending music isn’t as simple as discovering a popular hashtag; it’s not going to be listed on your Discover or For You feed. But one way you can access this info is to open your video editor, and click on the Sounds tab. Here you’ll see trending sounds as you scroll through the list.
12. Post When your Audience is Online
Try to publish videos when your followers are most active. This will help your videos generate more engagement faster, which will increase the velocity of the video and get it shown to more users. You can access information about your audience’s activity by checking your Followers tab.
13. Don’t Delete Old Videos
Unless you have a specific reason for deleting old videos, we recommend keeping them around, even if they haven’t earned the same exposure as more recent content. Because the TikTok algorithm does not use data from the creator’s other videos to determine ranking for new videos, each video is evaluated on its own merits. In short, your weaker videos are not “dragging you down.”
In fact, older and/or underperforming videos may have a chance of going viral. The Batch Theory implies that videos are still going to be shared among different groups; if this theory works the way many users expect, it would only take one new click for the video to start gaining potential velocity. There is anecdotal evidence of videos going viral after extended quiet periods.
Conclusion: Don’t Sleep on TikTok
As large a social force as it may seem TikTok already is, they are still a newer platform by comparison, with an abundance of opportunity on the organic and TikTok advertising front. If Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are the “senior class” of social, TikTok might be considered a popular, ambitious sophomore.
Want to learn more about how to make the best use of TikTok for your brand? Contact us today to ‘tok’ with an expert!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2021 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.