The TikTok Algorithm Explained, for Creators and Users

Written by: Gaia Zol, Italy


The social media platform, TikTok, launched in 2018. It is hard to believe that this social media outlet is only four years old. Not an infant, but a child. A child that has reached 1 billion monthly users in September 2021 and that was crowned the most downloaded app in 2020. Statistics point to two truths: users love TikTok and the pandemic pushed this app to the top of all charts.


This young platform consists of a majority of its users (35%) being between 19 and 20 years old. It’s also an equally sought after app, since 51% of users are male and 49% are female. On average, members of the app spend almost 90 minutes daily, while the youngest audience opens the app at least 19 times a day. So, people don’t just love it. They can’t be without it.


But is TikTok creator-friendly? The answer lies in the social media’s algorithm.


How does the TikTok algorithm work?


The goal of these recommendation systems is to bring you tailored and personalized content, as personal as possible. More than a suggestion on what to watch, who to follow, and when to engage, the social media algorithms are the truth. Or so it seems, especially to TikTok users.


The social media gives its own definition of an algorithm, “the For You feed reflects preferences unique to each user. The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors – starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you're not interested in – to form your personalized For You feed.” Factors include interactions with content, the use of captions, and language preferences.


TikTok wants to increase daily viewers by increasing retention and time spent watching.

However, this recommendation system doesn’t include data on duplicated content, content flagged as spam, and potentially upsetting videos (like graphic medical procedures). When someone opens a new account, the app recommends popular videos of different categories to check how the person responds to the topics.


Finally, TikTok doesn’t recommend posts based on views, likes, or performance. And that might be good news for creators, especially new ones.



Creepy, or useful?


Criticism of the TikTok algorithm abounds. Especially for younger users, who use this social media as their news source and encyclopedia.


Once [the algorithm] puts you on a side, it keeps you there,” said psychology professor Inna Kanevsky to Wired, “and it starts seeming like you’re diagnosed. “So, not just an encyclopedia but a doctor. Self-diagnosis seems to be a trend of this social media app, with users asking for help from people who are not qualified to give it. According to experts, the TikTok algorithm shows the real you, free of society’s norms. There are no rules, are there?


This system means that watch time is key. The algorithm tries to get people addicted rather than giving them what they really want,” said Guillaume Chaslot, the Founder of Algo Transparency, to the NYT. The longer the users stay on the platform, the better.


However, this could be an opportunity for creators and users alike. In fact, TikTok shows varied content, to make sure someone is getting the full picture. Perhaps even discovering new interests. So, is it creepy or useful?



TikTok algorithm for creators


Creators can take advantage of this social media platform. Since the recommendation system is also designed to suggest different topics, creators have a better chance of reaching outside their niche. Instead of a “filter bubble,” TikTok tries creating an unlimited experience. Since one of the main indicators is if the users finish watching the video, it’s important to keep the content straight to the point and clear.


Creators can benefit from this social media. For example, at the end of 2020, Tiktok made $115 million on in-app purchases from users. Plus, the platform offers five advertising tiers for big brands, aiming at more engagement and revenue. The Marketplace helps creators find business partners and sponsors and it features tools for campaign management and reporting. Opportunity indeed.


Tips to be successful


If you are hoping to jump on the TikTok train, it’s time to follow easy yet crucial steps.


● The pro account, is it worth it? It features analytics, including data on engagement and trending content. It also counts shares, likes, and comments. Just like the business account of Instagram, but in the TikTok version.


● Research the relevant hashtags before posting. Take some time to find hashtags related to your niche, save them in a note, and post. This way, your chances of reaching the ideal audience increases.


● The first seconds of the video are crucial, so focus on them. TikTok users scroll fast, and your intro has to catch their attention. Otherwise, they won’t engage with your content.


● Work on your caption. Instead of only adding hashtags, make sure you write an effective, short, and interesting caption. Ask questions, surveys, or different languages to reach more users.


● Use the analytics of your pro profile to your advantage. Since you can learn where your audience is from and at what time it engages with your videos, follow these stats to post at the right time and day.


Of course, there is no magical recipe to be successful on TikTok. But, if you don’t try, you will never find the right equation for you and miss out on the opportunity the platform might bring. The algorithm can recommend your content to more and more users. While there are contraindications to this system, it also brings new opportunities to creators. Since the app is available in more than 200 countries, there are no limits to your reach.


Do you use TikTok? Disney is also betting on digital content, read more about it here.



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