Ever scrolled through TikTok and wondered why certain videos gain meteoric popularity while others, seemingly of equal quality, barely get a glance? The answer isn't just in the dance moves or catchy tunes. It's in the mysterious underpinnings of the TikTok algorithm.
The uncannily accurate recommendations are powered by an algorithm that delivers hyper-relevant content that’ll make you wonder if they’re tracking you. Many creators find it mystical and feel the need to “hack” or “game” the algorithm, but that’s unnecessary.
In this article, we’ll dive into the TikTok algorithm and how you can work with it to enhance your visibility and engagement on the platform.
Decoding the TikTok algorithm
TikTok's 'For You' page, often abbreviated as FYP, has undeniably transformed how we consume content. The For You page is the first page you encounter on TikTok and is filled with recommended content and videos that get more accurate as you spend time on the platform.
Unlike the algorithms of YouTube and Instagram (but similar to LinkedIn), TikTok serves a mix of content from creators you follow and those you've yet to discover from one page. The blend of familiar and new content is tailored meticulously to user preferences, making the platform addictive and fresh.
But how does this curation work? Why is it so accurate? That is all thanks to TikTok’s powerful recommendation algorithm.
At its core, the TikTok algorithm prioritizes a few key elements:
- Engagement: This includes likes, shares, saves, and comments. The more engagement a video gets, the higher its chances of being showcased.
- User interactions: Who your audience follows and engages with can influence the content they see.
- Video information: Details like whether the video was created natively on TikTok, the information in the caption, and any embedded details within the video.
- Device & account settings: Factors like location, language preference, and device type also play a (less important) role.
Each one of these factors is in pursuit of one goal: to help users discover new, relevant content. One of the standout features of TikTok's algorithm is its emphasis on content relevance over creator popularity. This means that even if you're new to TikTok, your content can still get significant visibility if it resonates with users. Key tools in this discovery process include:
- Common search phrases
Finally, TikTok won’t recommend certain content on your For You page if:
- It’s too graphic or endangers the safety of users,
- It’s tagged as “not interested,”
- You’ve seen it already
This focus on ensuring its users get the most relevant content is one of the best (or not great) things about TikTok because audience size doesn’t matter for your discoverability. Whether you have an existing platform or not, TikTok is an equal playing field for creators.
4 tactics to help you thrive in the TikTok algorithm
Understanding the TikTok algorithm is the first step, but how does it translate into actionable advice for creators? Here are some ways to harness the algorithm's nuances to enhance your content's reach and engagement.
Follow the rules to increase your reach
You should be making relevant and engaging content, but that only works if your content is seen in the first place. By keeping to TikTok’s rules of reach, you can ensure your content is always optimized for reach so you can focus on posting. Here are some evergreen tasks to consider as you make your next TikTok:
- Use relevant hashtags. Three to five hashtags are recommended as the sweet spot for boosting discoverability.
- Incorporate trending audio from the TikTok Audio Library (this user has a great video on finding evergreen sounds to use).
- Add captions to your videos and sprinkle in relevant keywords.
- Embrace native TikTok features. Whether it's filming directly within the app or using features like Stitches or Duets, staying native can give you an edge. For more robust editing options, use CapCut, which is owned by TikTok’s parent company Bytedance.
Once you’ve built a considerable content library, dive deep into your analytics to understand what performs best. Which videos do your viewers rewatch? Which ones do they share? At what times are they watching your videos? Use this data to refine your content strategy.
Publish content consistently
TikTok's ecosystem thrives on rapid content consumption – if you miss a day, you might miss a whole trend. That’s why the most popular advice is to post frequently and consistently.
However, it’s important to balance that with the knowledge that while regular posting can boost visibility, it's crucial not to sacrifice quality for quantity. A well-thought-out video that taps into a trend or resonates with an audience can perform better than multiple hastily-made ones.
There’s a lot of advice for what makes the most engaging content – use a hook! Hop on trends! However, your goal is to find a relevant audience, just as much as the algorithm’s goal is to deliver relevant content. So, you need to be making content that resonates with your audience.
Consider creating a signature so you’re instantly recognizable to your audience, even if they’ve never met you. For example, Notion creator, Easlo, starts most of their videos showing their laptop, which they then open. The videos all have a muted tone in their signature black and white, along with text on the screen that tells the viewer what to expect.
Nikita Redkar makes videos breaking down complex topics in more approachable ways for her audience, usually while wearing pink and walking down the street. She’s become known for this style to her 700k+ audience.
More than anything, apply indicators from your analytics to future content. If there’s a particular style of video you try that people always watch to the end, that might be a good focus point for you.
Niche down to reach your target audience
TikTok offers a diverse creative playground, but if you have a goal you’re trying to achieve as a creator (awareness for your business, for example), defining your niche can help you stand out.
Niching down doesn’t have to make your content boring – it just means you know how to frame your content for the audience you’re targeting, and every additional follower outside that group is a bonus.
Ayomi Samaraweera started posting career-focused content on TikTok, which won her a brand deal with only a few thousand followers. Doubling down on a niche early on allowed her to grow quickly.
One way to take a list of content ideas to new heights is by starting a content series. Fashivly’s Ashlyn Greer makes videos creating outfits based on coffee orders, usually from suggestions commented from their followers.
Whether you're into DIY crafts, dance, or digital marketing tips, honing in on a specific niche can help you build a dedicated and engaged audience.
Balance creativity with conformity
There are two sides to the TikTok creator coin.
Every creator brings a unique voice and style to the platform. While being aware of prevailing trends is essential, this uniqueness will set you apart. However, while you can make whatever you want (within the guidelines), you should also look to fit in by creating content that looks like everything else on the app.
This doesn’t mean copy-paste someone else’s creation style but focusing on creating what the person scrolling through the app expects from the next video on their page. For example, Mitra, Buffer’s social media manager, makes TikToks that feel natural to TikTok but also show who we are as a company.
One of the charms of TikTok – and the expectation from its users – is its raw, unfiltered vibe. Users often resonate more with content that feels genuine. Many creators – especially brands – struggle on TikTok because they’re replicating the polished look of the content they create for other social media platforms.
Think of it as a dance between fitting in and standing out. You want to be recognizable as part of the TikTok community but also offer something fresh and unique. You have to meet them where they are while using the app.
This doesn't mean you can't produce high-quality, polished videos. Successful creators have learned how to create content their audience wants to see, even if it has an elaborate style. Their success comes from the fact that the content still feels personal as if a real human is sharing a moment of their life behind the screen.
Go beyond virality to build genuine connections
Viral content can boost visibility, but what happens after the virality fades? Building genuine connections ensures long-term engagement and growth. Some ways to do that include:
- Engaging with your community: TikTok isn't just a platform to broadcast; it's a community. Engage with your followers, respond to their comments, and collaborate with fellow creators. These genuine interactions can foster loyalty and turn casual viewers into dedicated fans.
- Collaborate with other creators: Speaking of collaborations, you should explore this often-overlooked strategy for growth on TikTok. Working with other creators, especially those in complementary niches, can introduce your content to a whole new audience.
- Leverage TikTok success off-platform: If you've built a substantial following on TikTok, consider directing them to other platforms. Whether it's your blog, email list, or another social media channel, diversifying your audience ensures you're not putting all your eggs in one basket.
The TikTok algorithm, while intricate, is not insurmountable. Remember, in TikTok's vast, dynamic universe, authenticity and genuine engagement will always shine brighter than fleeting virality. So, creators, roll up your sleeves, tap into your unique voice, and let the TikTok journey begin!
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