What is the TikTok Algorithm and How Does it Work?

If you're a TikTok user, you've likely heard the wonders of TikTok's algorithm. See how this algorithm works to personally customize your "For You" page.

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Have you ever had the feeling your phone is listening to you? That your social media feed is based on your thoughts? You may be right, at least when it comes to the TikTok algorithm.

We’ve all heard of the infamous TikTok algorithm, but how much do we know about what it actually is? Let’s take a deeper look into this algorithm and how it works to generate everyone’s unique “For You” page!

@abrameng

kurt bobbing his head wit it 👀 #foryou #fyp #xyzbca

♬ Rock With Me – Inverse
This TikTok appeared on my “For You” page thanks to the TikTok algorithm!

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-sharing application that quickly rose to fame in recent years. It is one of the most popular apps among teenagers, but users of every age can be seen sharing and interacting with content.

The mission of TikTok is to “inspire creativity and bring joy” to its many users. TikTok seems to be doing something right as it boasts nearly one billion monthly active users.

The Rise of TikTok

Originally, TikTok looked and acted differently from the app as we currently know it. In its first incarnation, it was known as Musical.ly, a video-sharing application that allowed its users to create 15-second lip-syncing videos.

In 2018, ByteDance, a Chinese technology company merged two applications, TikTok and Musical.ly, into one, giving us the TikTok that we know and love today. By October 2018, TikTok became the most downloaded video application worldwide.

The Pandemic Effect

Perhaps we can credit the start of the Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 for the popularity of TikTok today. Social media has always been a place for people to share their opinions, feelings and interests with the world. In 2020, everyone displayed feelings on a whole new level. As lockdown trapped us all in our homes, we urgently searched for new ways to pass the time and connect with one another.

As lockdowns began and we all remained in our homes, any form of entertainment we knew before was no longer there.

TikTok users were eager to share ways they kept busy during those stressful times. In the United States, TikTok’s popularity rose by 180 percent among 15-25-year-olds in the Fall of 2020. People would share everything from cooking tutorials or DIY crafts to comedic skits or simply expressing their boredom. Whatever the content, TikTok allowed users to engage with the community during an extremely lonely period.

TikTok Today

TikTok continues to be one of the most-used social media platforms, engaging users from every imaginable walk of life. Even businesses are beginning to use TikTok to promote their brand! It only makes sense, seeing as the platform engages nearly a billion monthly users.

Thanks to the magic of its “For You” page, TikTok gives us the ability to follow and discover millions of users worldwide. What makes the “For You” feed unique among platforms is its knack for brilliantly targeting your likability.

What is TikTok’s “For You” Page?

TikTok strives to form a global community that can share and discover content with other users worldwide. It successfully does this through its well-known “For You” page or FYP. You probably know this page quite well if you are a fellow Tik-Toker.

Like the “Explore” page on Instagram, TikTok’s “For You” page is where most users spend their time on the app. The FYP acts as the primary feed, presenting each user with a unique stream of videos customized to each individual’s interests.

Do you think that’s cool? There’s more. Some users are likely to see similar videos appear on their “For You” page, but not a single feed is identical. It’s customized to fit your interest, so no two are the same!

But how does it know your interests? That’s something many users have wanted to know for a long time!

What is the TikTok Algorithm?

If you have ever used TikTok, you have likely heard many things about the infamous algorithm.

Once users recognized how well their “For You” pages aligned with their interests, theories spiraled from every direction.

For a long time, TikTok kept the algorithm quiet. A lack of information led users to form their conspiracies on how this perfect feed was formulated. Some TikTok users believed that videos appeared on the FYP by using trending hashtags. While others believed it had something to do with the number of shares a video received. Some thought the “For You” page was entirely random. However, it seems nearly impossible that each short video appearing on your feed somehow sparks your interest, but it does!

The TikTok algorithm determines which videos appear on your “For You” feed. TikTok left its users with this mystery for a long time until they finally shared pieces of the algorithm.

How Does The TikTok Algorithm Work?

As it turns out, some of the conspiracies were not too far from the truth. Let’s examine how this algorithm provides us with the perfect feed.

tiktok algorithm
What my TikTok algorithm probably looks like.

Getting Started With the TikTok Algorithm

When you download TikTok, the algorithm begins its magic. New users are prompted to select categories they have an interest in. This acts as a foundation for a customized “For You” page. TikTok shares videos from your selected categories and gradually enhances the feed to better match your interests.

Interacting With Others

One of the ways the TikTok algorithm works is by monitoring your activity. It records each post that you view, comment on, share and like. TikTok uses your interactions to form a feed that you are likely to enjoy and interact with. It will include similar content throughout your “For You” page and remove anything that did not spark an interest.

But how does it know if you were interested or not?

Viewing Content

In my opinion, this is one of TikTok’s most significant tools. TikTok monitors not just whether you view a post, but how. If you re-watch or skip a video, it will modify future posts that appear.

Does it seem weird that it knows how you watch your videos? You likely agreed to this in the TikTok Platform Cookies policy.

Another way that TikTok determines the videos it shares on your feed is through trending media. Often, audio clips and hashtags will be popular throughout TikTok.

If you engage with a trending sound, you will likely see it reappear as you continue to scroll.

Location

Another one of the features that you likely enabled while setting up your TikTok account is access to your location. How might this affect your “For You” feed? Other users nearby are likely to appear as you scroll through your feed.

Sharing Your Un-Interests

Similar to likes, you also have the ability to mark a video as Not Interested. This notifies TikTok that you wish not to see similar videos by long-pressing on a video.

Brands Have Potential on TikTok

Having a specified “For You” feed gives upcoming brands huge potential on TikTok.

As we know, finding an engaging target audience on social media can sometimes be challenging, especially on a video-based platform, but by using their fancy algorithm, you can appear on the FYP of a TikToker who is likely interested in your brand.

Now there are a few things important to know about starting your brand’s TikTok.

Branding on TikTok

Advertiser Accounts

Of course, TikTok must have seen the potential for brands all along! Similar to Instagram’s business profiles, TikTok offers a similar account option.

To begin a TikTok Advertiser Account, create an account by filling out your personal information.

create advertiser account on tiktok

From there, TikTok will use its database to connect you to an ideal target audience.

TikTok Ad Manager explains everything you may need to know, which means you can rely on their technical marketing expertise instead of building your own.

launch ad on tiktok algorithm
Post an ad easily using TikTok Ad Manager.

Many brands have shown success on TikTok’s platform. It is important to remember this platform is video-based. Try and determine how your brand would be represented best through videos.

Consider whether your brand’s video image is best served by product placement, personality-based marketing, or enhancements like pop-music earworms or playful dancing trends. Remember, TikTok is fast-moving and all about fun. Keep it playful and creative, and stay in touch with how people are using the platform this week. It’ll change before you know it.

Work Alongside the TikTok Algorithm

After learning about the different tricks this algorithm utilizes to personalize each user’s “For You” page, consider which audience will be likely to view your posts.

Since TikTok’s algorithm is constantly working, it is important to portray your brand’s personality the entire time you’re engaging with the community. Remember that not every person enjoys every account they scroll upon. Interact with individuals you feel would be interested in what your brand has to offer. Leaving comments that stand out, or liking their content increases the chance they will engage with yours! Be unique, be creative, but determine WHO it is that you are trying to reach.

You may want to try using trending audio or hashtags. This gives your brand the potential to appear on other users’ “For You” feeds. Keep in mind that just because something is trending does not mean every audio or hashtag will fit your brand. Get creative, but keep in mind what your brand is, and what it represents.

What’s Holding You Back?

Starting a new social media account for your brand can be intimidating. That’s a good thing – it shows how much passion you have for your brand!

If this seems like too much to handle, no need to worry. All of us at SH1FT are ready and willing to lend our expertise to help you out!

Our team of friendly designers are always eager to take on another task. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us here.

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