The TikTok Algorithm: An Explainer

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The TikTok Algorithm: An Explainer

If you have not realized the value of TikTok in marketing, you are letting the big fish get away. General awareness of TikTok started growing in 2017, but in the initial half of 2021, TikTok mentions rose 61% year-over-year. After that, it hit 3 billion global downloads, becoming the first non-Facebook app to do so.

While the platform may seem like a simple, fun app for the young (and it is, make no mistake about that), dismissing it will be very unwise. TikTok is a powerful marketing platform, and your business can use it to spread awareness about your brand and expand your market.

However, to succeed at it, you must first learn how it works. In short, you must understand the TikTok algorithm. This guide from a digital agency in UAE talks about the TikTok recommendation engine.

The “For You” Feed

For the TikTok user, the app’s core is the For You feed.

The For You feed where a TikTok user lands when he loads the mobile app. It is one of the two feeds on the app home screen; the other is the Following feed, providing quick access to creators the user has followed.

A video automatically plays in the For You feed, so a TikTok user needs only load the app to start consuming content. Then, if he wants to watch another video, he can scroll down, loading other recommended content. So, in theory, he can scroll down infinitely, and TikTok will continue showing him videos he might like.

Users can also find more content through the Discover tab. However, the For You feed remains the primary means by which app users consume videos on TikTok.

The incredible thing about the For You feed is that no two persons’ For You feeds are the same; the app tailors them according to individual interests and preferences. Its ability to curate content according to personal tastes makes TikTok so effective as a platform for social engagement.

The TikTok Recommendation System

What drives the personalized For You feed? The answer: the TikTok recommendation engine.

The TikTok algorithm decides which videos a TikTok user will see on his For You feed, and according to TikTok, it is based on several factors, including the following.

User Interactions

TikTok tracks a user’s app interactions to personalize his For You feed. Interactions include all the actions one does on the app, particularly anything that the Tiktok recommendation system can use to gauge the app users’ interests.

User interactions include:

    • The videos the user viewed
    • How many seconds or minutes he watched these videos
    • The videos he liked
    • The videos he shared
    • The videos he added to his favorites
    • The comments he left on these videos
    • The creators he follows
    • The content he created
    • The categories in which he explicitly expressed interest

This means if one watches X Factor audition videos, adds them to his favorites, and likes, shares, and leaves comments on them, TikTok will probably deliver more X Factor videos. For good measure, the app may also show him video clips of similar talent shows.

Likewise, videos with a higher completion rate — videos the user finishes watching — will positively influence that user’s video feed. Thus, if he completes X Factor United Kingdom videos but watches only a few seconds of X Factor the United States videos, then that’s a solid indicator that the user prefers X Factor U.K. content.

TikTok’s algorithm also takes account of negative signals to refine video recommendations. Such negative signals include:

    • The videos the user immediately cut off or refused to watch
    • The videos he marked “Not Interested.”
    • The videos he reported for inappropriate content

Video Information

TikTok considers the metadata or the information about the videos the user watched, created, rejected, reported, sought, and clicked on TikTok to refine For You feed recommendations. Such metadata include:

    • Hashtags
    • Captions
    • Music
    • Effects

Trends are also considered. Trending content’s video information (especially if the user shows a tendency to click on trending topics in the Discover tab or screen) influences For You feed recommendations.

Device and Account Settings

TikTok also considers device information and account settings in deciding the content someone sees on his personalized video feed. Such factors include:

    • The user’s language settings
    • His country
    • His device

TikTok considers device settings to ensure all videos the app users see are optimized for their gadgets. Showing videos according to language and country settings also influence the likelihood an app user will interact with the content he sees on the platform. After all, someone is much more likely to interact with a video he can understand.

That said, device and account settings don’t have as much weight as other feed ranking factors, such as user interaction and video information.

The TikTok Algorithm: Implications for Brands

Now that you know that TikTok users get a video feed based on the types and categories of videos they have been consuming on the platform, how can you leverage TikTok’s recommendation engine for your benefit?

The answer is a matter of a different post. For now, suffice it to say that you must create videos that will move your target audience to favorite, like, share, and comment on them.

Thus, if you are a clothing brand that makes and sells modern abayas, you can create short office-to-evening abaya transition videos or abaya accessorizing and styling tutorials. You can create any content you want. Remember to make your content according to your audience’s (i.e., potential customers) tastes and video-consumption preferences.

So, what will make your brand, product, or service click on TikTok? If you base it on TikTok’s algorithm, you must create content that:

  • your intended audience will love it so much they will watch it till the end, tell their social network about it, and interact with it;
  • is optimized for your target demographics’ gadgets (this involves research on the types of devices your market use); and
  • is in the language your target audience prefers or uses.

The TikTok Algorithm: An Explainer

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