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How Does the TikTok Algorithm Work?

October 28, 2021
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Since its creation in 2017, TikTok has evolved from a lesser-known social media platform to the number one app on the app store. With its vast array of content, easy-to-use interface, and personalized video curation, it’s no surprise that TikTok has risen to such a high level of notoriety.

Of course, not everyone has experienced the same virality that creators like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae have achieved through TikTok. The key to ensuring your TikTok video lands on everyone’s for you page (FYP)? Understanding TikTok’s algorithm. 

If you’re interested in maximizing your outreach, read on for everything you need to know about the TikTok algorithm.

The History of TikTok

Before we can dive into what TikTok is, we’ll need to start with the platform’s first evolution: Musical.ly. 

Musical.ly was an app created in 2014. The format of Musical.ly was fairly similar to our current version of TikTok. Users would create videos centered around a chosen audio clip. Audio clips were typically popular songs, and videos usually portrayed users lip syncing and dancing. 

Musical.ly had a small user base compared to larger social media platforms at the time, such as Facebook and Twitter. That isn’t to say Musical.ly was a completely unheard-of app, however. By 2016, this platform had approximately 70 million downloads under its belt.

In 2017, a Chinese company known as ByteDance created an app called TikTok. With its similar structure and quick rise to fame, TikTok soon merged with Musical.ly to create the current version of the app that we use today. This merger came at a hefty price tag of nearly $1 billion dollars—but it’s no surprise that this cost paid off in the long run.1

While TikTok’s initial release in the U.S. wasn’t the smash hit ByteDance was hoping for, the app became a household name in years to come. Most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic brought hoards of users to TikTok, with an 800% increase from 2018. 

Today, TikTok has been downloaded approximately 2 billion times, with nearly 50 million daily users in the United States alone.2

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How to Use TikTok

Figuring out how to use TikTok can be a little complicated for new users. In order to master the app’s algorithm, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of using TikTok and creating content.

Once you’ve downloaded the app and created an account, you can begin perusing everything TikTok has to offer. When you open the app, there are five main pages you can select:

  • Your profile – First, you have your profile. This is where videos you create and like will appear. You’ll also have access to your followers list and any private videos you’ve uploaded, as well. 
  • Your inbox – Next to your profile page is your inbox. This is where you can exchange messages and videos with other users. This page also shows you any notifications you’ve received, like likes and comments on your videos. 
  • Create – In the middle of your screen you’ll see a black plus sign. This button allows you to create a TikTok. Here you’ll have access to your camera to record or upload footage, and you’ll also have the option to add audio clips and visual effects. 
  • Discover – On the discover page, you can scroll through a trending hashtag, audio clips, or search for specific videos and users.
  • For you page – Finally, we have the star of the TikTok app (and also the main topic of today’s article): the for you page. Colloquially referred to as the FYP, this is your main feed of videos from both people you follow and strangers. If you select the “following” part of your for you page, you’ll only see videos from users you follow—but most people utilize the “for you” category, which shows you viral videos from all over the world. This element of TikTok is what makes the app truly unique, and it’s all thanks to the algorithm. 

The TikTok Algorithm

Whether you’re an avid content creator or simply a casual viewer, you’ve probably asked yourself this question at least once: how does the TikTok algorithm work?

The reason so many users find themselves curious about the TikTok algorithm is because it’s fairly complex. When you scroll through and like certain videos, you’ll find that TikTok curates a unique FYP with videos you enjoy. Tailoring your TikTok FYP is fairly easy—all it takes is a few strategic likes and comments. This is the reason why so many relatable videos on TikTok are peppered with comments like “wow, this really is the for YOU page, huh?”

While creating a newsfeed that’s perfect for each individual user is pretty remarkable, it takes quite a bit of programming to achieve. The TikTok algorithm is influenced by three main factors:3

  • User interactions – This portion is all about the content you interact with, including videos you like, share, and comment on. For creators, this also includes the type of content you make yourself.
  • Video information – Certain attributes of the videos you interact with will also influence your feed. This includes hashtags, audio clips, and keywords in captions. 
  • Account settings – Finally, your FYP will also be influenced by specific settings on your account. These include location services, language preferences, and the type of device you’re browsing from.

While this may seem simple, the techniques used to calculate these preferences are actually pretty high-tech. The most notable example of TikTok’s unique algorithm is known as “interest level.” This is how the app indicates what types of videos a user is interested in seeing. 

For example, if a user finishes watching a video from start to finish—or watches a video multiple times—it’s more likely that this video will influence their FYP. Compare this to a video that a user skips past after a few seconds, which will be classified by the algorithm as uninteresting to the user. 

So, the bottom line is: it’s not just about likes and comments. TikTok monitors your activity far more closely than you may even realize. That is the true key to creating such a personalized FYP.

How to Use the TikTok Algorithm to Your Advantage

Now that you have a better understanding of the TikTok algorithm, it’s time to talk about how you can take advantage of it. Here are some tips and tricks for getting your video on the FYP:4

  • Hashtags – Hashtags play a major role in getting on the for you page. Most users add the hashtags #foryoupage and #fyp, but you can also add trending hashtags to your video to boost your chances of going viral. 
  • Trends – Following trends is a great way to increase your audience and get on the FYP. Most TikTok trends will follow a similar format while using the same audio clip. If a trend is frequently popping up on your FYP, it may be wise to recreate it with the same audio if you’re looking to gain more viewers.
  • Quality – The TikTok algorithm tends to prioritize clear, high-quality videos. If you’re looking to get on the FYP, it’s recommended to film in a well-lit area with a newer device. Audio quality is also important if you don’t plan on using a pre-existing sound. 
  • Use analytics – For serious creators, utilizing TikTok analytics can do wonders for your visibility. The analytics page will show you what time of day your followers are most active, what TikTok demographics your followers belong to, and what countries your videos are being viewed in. 
  • Engage with other users – At the end of the day, TikTok can be used like any other social media app. By engaging with other users, following different accounts, and responding to comments, you can slowly build up your following over time and ensure more views per video.
  • Don’t break the rules – Since TikTok has a larger audience of underage users (compared to other social media platforms) the app tends to take its community guidelines pretty seriously. If you want your video to go viral, you’ll want to avoid any topics or images that could be flagged by the app’s moderators. The community guidelines for TikTok restrict any videos with the following content:5
  • Violent extremism
  • Hateful behavior
  • Illegal activities, weapons, drugs, gambling, and personally identifiable information
  • Violence and graphic content
  • Suicide, self-harm, and dangerous acts
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Nudity and sexual activity
  • Unsafe treatment of minors
  • Spam, misinformation, and impersonation
  • Viruses and hacking of the platform

Promoting Videos

If you’re using the algorithm tips listed above, and you still find that your TikTok content isn’t reaching a large enough audience, there is the option of promoting your videos. 

TikTok Promote is an advertising tool that users can pay for in order to have their videos displayed on the FYP. This service does, however, cost money—$0.10 per thousand views, to be exact.

PDM: The Secret to the TikTok Algorithm

Using the TikTok Promote feature can only take your content so far. With our team at Power Digital, you can unlock your true potential as a creator. 

Here at PDM, you’ll have access to digital marketing professionals who are ready to help you grow your brand and go into depth on how to advertise on TikTok. By creating a unique and multifaceted TikTok marketing strategy, you’ll gain a following that’s deeper than a few thousand views. 

Start using TikTok to your advantage today, with us. Learn more about our digital marketing services today.

 

Sources:

  1.  Christina Gayton Medium. The Origins of TikTok. https://christinagayton.medium.com/the-origins-of-tiktok-5efa7da4b3e6 
  2.  CNBC. TikTok Reveals Detailed User Numbers for the First Time. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/24/tiktok-reveals-us-global-user-growth-numbers-for-first-time.html 
  3. Later. This is How the TikTok Algorithm Works. https://later.com/blog/tiktok-algorithm
  4.  JungleTopp. TikTok Algorithm: How it Works and 7 Tips to Hack it. https://jungletopp.com/tiktok-algorithm/  
  5.  TikTok. Community Guidelines. https://www.tiktok.com/community-guidelines?lang=en#29 

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