TikTok 🤝 🌎
It seems like just about everyone is on TikTok. (Don’t worry. If you aren’t on TikTok yet, it probably means you’re getting a lot of things done, catching up with family and friends, enjoying nature, etc. — unlike me.)
If you’ve moved beyond TikTok addiction and into the world of managing a brand account on TikTok, you might be interested in learning more about how the app’s algorithm works and how you can best optimize your brand’s content strategy.
If so, continue reading 👀
Let’s start with TikTok’s algorithm. You likely know TikTok’s algorithm is unique, to say the least, and in the best way possible.
In the past, social media platforms have typically fed users content based on accounts they follow and engage with. This could be your mom, your college roommate, that influencer you love, etc. But, social media feed curation was based on people and brands you chose to see content from.
TikTok took a new approach to its feed, and actually created two separate feeds within the app:
- The “Following” feed is curated with content created by the users you follow, much like you would see on Instagram a year ago.
- The “For You” feed, which is what you see when you first open the app, is curated by TikTok based on what it thinks you’d like to see, regardless of whether you follow that content creator or not.
At the time, this was much different than most other social media platforms. (Though, Instagram, being the social copycat that it is, started making huge changes to its algorithm to also select content it thinks you want to see on your home feed, and even just recently added two new feeds for users: Favorites and Following.)
The For You feed on TikTok ensures that really anyone can go viral at any time because anyone can see your video, even if they don’t follow you. Creators don’t have to build up millions or even thousands of followers before their content can be seen by the masses. In fact, there are many creators with less than 1K followers who go viral overnight with one video.
Kind of like this.
As you can see, this was the first video Chelsea posted to her TikTok account. When I first saw the video, she had less than 2,000 followers (and that number was probably closer to 0 before she posted the video). The video now has more than 9 million views. It goes to show that strong content is what drives the app.
TikTok’s algorithm is quite smart (maybe intimate is a better word for it?), often making me question if it knows me better than I know myself. After a few weeks of using the app, TikTok started feeding me content that was eerily relatable to my life. TikTok knew I was working from home, trying new at-home workouts during the pandemic, planning a wedding, and way more.
So, what goes into TikTok’s algorithm? Here are a few factors:
This should come as no surprise, considering user interactions play a big role in all social media platforms’ algorithms. What user interactions inform TikTok’s algorithm? Some include:
- Accounts a user follows
- Comments a user has posted
- Videos a user likes
- Videos a user shares
- Video completion
- Content a user creates
Learn about more user interactions that impact TikTok’s algorithm.
Captions and hashtags
Captions and hashtags help inform TikTok on what your video is actually about, which then helps TikTok determine which of its users might like to see your video.
This means including rich keywords and industry/brand hashtags are vital to getting your video out to your intended audience.
In other words, think SEO. But really, take this to heart, because TikTok (and Instagram) could become one of the main ways your audience discovers your brand. According to a Google senior vice president, younger users are turning more and more to social media for their search and discovery purposes instead of Google.
According to the Tech Crunch article, younger users (18-24 year olds) want visually rich content in their search results, making them treat apps like TikTok like a search engine. TikTok content creators need to start thinking now about how they can create searchable content that helps their audience solve a problem or answer a question.
Captions and hashtags aren’t the only indicators TikTok uses to categorize your content. Sounds, effects and content (video transcriptions) also play a big role.
“Not interested” feedback
This is a biggie. When users are scrolling through videos and come upon a video they don’t like (for whatever reason), the user can send feedback that they’re not interested in the video, and TikTok will serve them less content like that.
While you definitely don’t want to be on someone’s “not interested” list, there have been questions as to whether TikTok’s algorithm actually shows users less content they deem as content they want to see less of.
Location and language
The settings a user selects when they first set up their account also play a part in TikTok’s algorithm, though to a lesser extent. These include settings like the user’s preferred language and the location they say they live in. For example, I’m probably seeing a lot more Colorado-based videos in English than someone from France or Ecuador.
However, since these account settings are made once, the algorithm doesn’t give as much weight to this as, say, “not interested” feedback.
NOT: Follower count or previous video performance
TikTok has repeatedly said your follower count and previous video performance don’t impact your video’s virality or whether it will be featured on the For You page. And they prove it time and time again (like in the video example I shared earlier).
Winning on TikTok really boils down to how entertaining your content is. Which means your content strategy has to be 🔥
TikTok content strategy tips
Here are a few content strategy tips I’ve found while perusing the www.
- Consistency is key: Quality over quantity, of course. After all, if you’re making a ton of videos nobody wants to see, that’s not going to help you build an engaged community of followers. But, consistency is important, too. I’ve seen recommendations for aiming for 3-4 videos per week to start off with, and then ramping that up to once a day. That can sound a bit daunting (I know it does to me!), especially for those team-of-one social media managers. Just try to post as frequently as you can.
- Grab users’ attention…fast: This isn’t new. We’ve been living by this video principle for years. But, as fleeting as TikTok trends are, you really need to give viewers a reason to continue watching your video in the first few seconds.
- Shorter video: I’ve read that many of the highest performing videos on TikTok are in the 15-30-second range. Since video completion factors into TikTok’s algorithm, you want to create shorter videos that people are more likely to watch the whole way through.
- Write fun and informative captions: Fun captions can entice users to continue watching a short video, whereas informative captions can encourage users to watch longer videos. Remember to also include strong keywords and hashtags that help TikTok’s algorithm understand what your video is about so it can help share it with your intended audience.
- Tailor your content for TikTok: TikTok has a very different culture than other social media platforms, so it’s important to create content that is specific to your TikTok audience. This isn’t a place to recycle videos from Facebook or Instagram. Your TikTok content strategy really has to be for TikTok. Further, TikTok wants you to use its features (sounds, effects, text on screen, etc.). The more you can incorporate TikTok’s features into your videos, the better chance you have at TikTok serving your videos to more people.
- Post when your audience is online: This also isn’t new for social media managers. Use TikTok’s business insights to determine the best time to post your content based on when your followers are online the most.
- Don’t delete old content: I found this to be a great tip. While TikTok trends are fleeting, there are some videos that go viral weeks or months after they’re posted. So, even if you think your video has tanked, don’t delete it.
- Engage: This is just what it sounds like. Respond to comments. Like and comment on other videos (when it makes sense for your brand). Duet. Stitch.
- Design your videos for sound on: Remember when everyone was consuming video with the sound off? Those days are over. Sound is a huge part of the TikTok culture and is often what drives a video’s storyline or purpose. Maximize sound by finding trending audio that fits with your brand.
- Make your content accessible: TikTok, like other social media platforms, has a long way to go to make all of its content accessible for everyone. But, here are a few tips to make your content as accessible as possible for your users:
- Auto captioning: Even though we’re designing TikTok videos for them to be played with the sound on, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still caption your videos to make them accessible.
- Text-to-speech: TikTok has an awesome text-to-speech effect. Got text on the screen? Use the effect so people with visual impairments can still enjoy!
- Include audio descriptions in the comments or through audio overlay.
- As with all visual media, focus on large and readable fonts, high color contrast, and appropriate placement of text
- Provide warnings for strobing and other creative effects that might be harmful for people with photosensitive epilepsy and light-induced migraines.