Sahail Ashraf posted on 8 July 2020
TikTok has not discussed it’s algorithm until now. It makes for interesting reading, and shows marketers the way forward.
TikTok is very much the social media platform of the moment, and it has plenty of people across the globe excited about it. This sometimes makes for quite strong disconnects, where brands that really don’t need to be on TikTok spend money trying to prove they do. But most of the time, the right people end up on the platform, building its reputation for entertaining and viral video work.
Up until now, it has seemed like TikTok is run by a group of invisible aliens. The company has not said much about anything, even as it’s service has been taking over the world. However, the one topic every marketer wants them to discuss has finally been covered. At last, TikTok has released a statement about it’s algorithm.
This is good news, especially for social media marketers. Any marketer who is trying to break out on the platform will need to be aware of what the algorithm entails. By then creating content according to TikTok’s stated rules, it should give content the best chance of making it big.
TikTok runs a recommendation system, just like pretty much every other social media platform that provides users with a personalised feed. This recommendation system runs in a certain way though, which is where the algorithm moves in.
The ‘For You’ page of a user’s experience is built up through recommendations and other elements, all of which are carefully stored within the algorithm.
At its basic level, For You uses the following formula, as described by TikTok itself:
“On TikTok, 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, too – to form your personalized For You feed.”
TikTok creates and uses those preferences by combining a number of different elements.
User interactions are what the user does while actually using TikTok. This is an important part of the equation and drives much of the algorithm itself. The activity the user undertakes while on TikTok builds the ‘preference’ part of the system. If you create content, TikTok sees it and assumes you like that type of content. If you follow accounts, again TikTok assumes a preference. Basically, your behaviour on the platform allows TikTok to identify what you want to see in the future.
Video information is another area that TikTok has put forward as a preference factor. This one is a little harder to get our heads around, but it does suggest that TikTok looks at the videos you watch, including sounds, captions and so on, and makes a judgement around what kind of stuff you like to see in the For You feed.
The final factor in the algorithm is your settings, especially around device and language settings. TikTok knows this isn’t actually a real preference but it does add some weight in the algorithm.
Like pretty much every other social media giant since social media began, TikTok asks you to set interests right from the very first moments of you using the app. This gives the app information immediately, a building block in the preferences area, if you like.
A lot is reliant on the user, actually. TikTok says that when a user long-presses on video and states that they do not like that video or genre, it uses that information to identify future videos that a user will see. Essentially, the more a user interacts, the more information TikTok has to work with.
Interestingly, TikTok says it ‘aims’ to not show content from the same creator twice in your feed. In other words, not two videos in a row from the same creator. This all hints at a platform that is working very hard to make the content varied and fresh.
Marketers already know that TikTok is huge. They also know that it is still very much focused on a younger demographic. If that demographic is one that a team needs to reach, then that team has to take the above into consideration. Focusing on creating quality content is the only way to go. The algorithm is obviously based on user interaction. This system cannot be ‘gamed’ in other words.
Moving forward, marketers and brands on TikTok need to see what gets the demographic excited, and produce more of that kind of content, with a view to still developing a voice.
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