How Does TikTok Algorithm Work: The Myths And Best Practices
Social Media Marketing

How Does the TikTok Algorithm Work: Myths and Best Practices

14 July, 2022
9 min read
Tamara Biljman
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There are many unfamiliarities with the TikTok algorithm, but we do know one thing: it's highly personalised, and that's what makes it so addictive.

We'll try to cover as many questions as possible and share with you some of the alleged best practices to help you start experimenting with your TikTok marketing strategy:

How does the TikTok algorithm really work

In its own words: TikTok's mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.

"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."

The For You feed is one of the defining features of TikTok, and the true magic of this social media platform is that there are no two identical feeds.

While different users may come upon some of the same standout videos, each person's feed is unique and tailored to one specific individual.

Another thing that separates TikTok from other social media platforms is that the primary feed a user sees is the For You Page (known as #fyp) which includes videos from both creators you follow and those you don't.

This means that the TikTok algorithm is a complex and refined recommendation system and that multiple factors influence what shows on your feed.

But before we dive into how TikTok decides what to show users, we need to underline something you need to do as a marketer:

Before publishing your videos and writing a TikTok marketing strategy, you must curate your own feed.

Curating your For You Page has multiple benefits:

  • Getting to know your target audience's preferences
  • Learning more about what niche hashtags to use
  • Discovering content creators you can collaborate with
  • Figuring out what video content you should create
  • Taking notes on trends and how to adjust them to fit your brand
  • Understanding how the TikTok algorithm really works

Important note: Even if you curate your feed to perfection, this doesn't mean you'll limit yourself only to the content you know and love.

Every now and then, you might be recommended a video that's been well received by other users who share similar interests. That way, you'll always be able to expand your interests and learn about new things.

Win clients over with a strong social media proposal by Sendible

What factors affect the TikTok algorithm

A lot of content creators experimented with the algorithm and suggested various theories. But even though there are many unknowns, there are some factors that we know trigger the algorithm and get you in front of a bigger audience:

User interaction

Much like every other social media algorithm, the level of engagement your video gets is one of the two most important factors. The engagement metrics include:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Saves
  • Shares

Watch time

The second important factor is the watch time, even more precisely, the completion rate.

If you dig into the TikTok analytics (on the bottom right of your video, click More data), you'll see that the watch time is separated into three categories:

  • Total Play Time
  • Average Watch Time
  • Watched full video
Where to find more data in TikTok TikTok video watch time sections
The greater the percentage of the audience that watched the full video, the greater the chance your video will get in front of a bigger audience and potentially get viral.

Does rewatching a TikTok video count as a view?

When it comes to watch time and views, this is one of the most frequently asked questions. And the short answer is yes.

The very second your video starts to play, it's counted as a view. If the video auto-plays or loops or a viewer comes back to watch it multiple times, those all count as new views.

In the More data section, you can see the Reached Audience metric. Compare it to the number of times your video has been played, and you'll get the idea of how many times it has been replayed.

Even though the replay metric doesn't exist, it affects your video's overall performance, as it signals the algorithm that the audience finds your video interesting.

Video information

While not as important as the engagement rate and watch time, the information you include in your videos helps the algorithm show your video to the relevant audience, which can positively impact the number of interactions your video gets.

TikTok video information includes:

  • Copy
  • Audio
  • Hashtags
  • Effects (visual and audio)
  • Captions

Location and language

The algorithm takes into account your device settings such as:

  • Posting location
  • Language preferences

While you can work around the language by including closed captions, the posting location is a bit trickier, and it might take some time before your content gets in front of a global audience.

I have personally experienced the side-effects of this factor, as I live between Serbia and Italy.

When I posted videos from Serbia, my videos were presented only to the audience in the Balkans. When I was in Italy, my videos were seen by people in Italy and some other EU countries.

how-does-tiktok-algorithm-work-location-serbia how-does-tiktok-algorithm-work-location-italy

 

 

The positive thing is that when I came to Italy, my "Serbian" videos re-parted as if I posted them for the first time!

The posting location factor is significant if you're a digital marketing agency or a social media marketing expert with international clients.

Not Interested feedback

Remember how we told you that every now and then, TikTok presents you with a video that covers a topic different from those you're used to seeing?

Well, each user has access to the option "Not Interested". This means that one can let the algorithm know that they don't like a particular type of content, which helps TikTok understand better what content is appropriate.

Not Interested option on TikTok

But, what does this mean for you as a marketer?

It means you really need to consider the information you include in your video and how it relates to your target audience.

Avoid adding non-relevant trending hashtags and hopping on viral trends that your audience doesn't find value in only for the sake of increasing reach.

What factors don't affect the TikTok algorithm

There are two factors that don't directly impact the recommendation system:

  • Number of followers
  • Whether the account has had previous high-performing videos

While a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers, by virtue of that account having built up a larger follower base, neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system. - TikTok Product blog

And this right here leads us to various theories and best practices when it comes to beating the TikTok algorithm.

Algorithm myths and best practices by TikTok content creators

There's a lot more that we don't know about the magic behind the TikTok algorithm than we do know.

We know that you can increase brand awareness much faster on TikTok than on any other social media platform because you don't need followers to get your content in front of viewers. But then again, the people behind the algorithm say that the follower count does impact the algorithm indirectly.

We've also seen numerous videos that were getting thousands of likes and then just hitting a wall. I've personally experienced it.

There are many theories out there that can offer possible answers. But, the problem is that some are based on the algorithms of other social media platforms, and others are downright ridiculous.

Fortunately for you, we did manage to find some that seem plausible, and you can use them as a starting point for an experiment.

The Ratio and Milestones theory

TikTok content creator @feliciaforthewin is a software engineer who took it upon her to figure out how the algorithm works.

Feliciaforthewin content creator and social engineer's ratio theory about tiktok algorithm Source: @feliciaforthewin

She ran an experiment from the 8th of February to the 30th of March when she posted her findings. Not only did her account grow by over 165 thousand followers, but she also came to some interesting conclusions regarding the following:

  1. The ratio between views, likes, and comments. According to Felicia, for your video to perform well, your views to likes ratio needs to be at least 10% and the ratio of likes to comments around 2%. If your video gets 1000 views, 100 likes, and two comments, you can be "sure" that the algorithm will push your content to a greater audience.
  2. Reaching milestones. This theory is all about the tempo of posting TikTok videos. When Felicia analysed her content, she realised that every 10th, 50th, and 100th video got pushed to a greater audience. In her opinion, the more you post, the quicker you'll reach those "milestones".

My verdict:

The ratio theory is very plausible, as the engagement rate is one of the most significant factors. This theory could also explain why some videos that get thousands of likes but millions of views simply stop getting in front of the audience - there's not enough engagement happening.

As for the milestone theory - take it with a pinch of salt. While posting more frequently is advised, publishing quality content is a must. Focus on how can you help your audience, not how often can you spam them with irrelevant information.

The Batches theory

There were a lot of content creators that reposted this theory, so its origin is unknown. But it surprisingly makes sense.

how-does-tiktok-algorithm-work-batchesSource: @sociallykels

This theory suggests that once you publish your video, it gets shown to a small group of users (primarily to your followers) for around two hours. The algorithm then tracks the level of engagement. If your content passes this first test, it will get shown to a "medium-sized" audience where it will continue to follow how many likes, comments, shares, and saves you got, as well as how many people watched the entire video. In case it performs well, chances are it will become viral.

My verdict:

Even though it's a bit vague, I can confirm from personal experience that this theory holds water. I've carefully tracked the performance of content I published, and I noticed that the first likes and comments mainly came from my followers before being shown on the For You Page of unknown users.

This theory also ties in nicely with what TikTok said about the follower count and its indirect impact on the algorithm. Yes, you might have 200,000 followers, but if a small percentage of them like what you posted, it's entirely possible your content won't get to the second batch of audience. On the other hand, you could have two followers, and they could love it, and your TikTok video could get millions of likes.

The Watch Time theory

Social media coach and content creator @coachstone ran an experiment on both of his TikTok accounts. The goal was to build a community of followers that knows, likes and trusts him. His experiment resulted in over 150,000 followers on each account in less than three months.

coachstone theory of watch time percentagesSource: @coach.stone

Here are some of his conclusions:

  • Nobody cares when you post your video
  • The most important factors are watch time and engagement
  • People want value in the form of education, entertainment, or inspiration

He then confirms the batches theory before laying out the "success metrics" from most to least important:

  1. Watch time
  2. Shares
  3. Saves
  4. Comments
  5. Likes

According to him and many other marketers, the algorithm prioritises watch time because it wants to keep people on the platform. And considering the average watch time per user and the fact that short-form videos became the leading social media trend because of TikTok, it's pretty safe to presume that this is a valid point.

The most exciting part of this theory is the percentage of people who watched the entire video you need to have for your content to be seen as successful by the algorithm:

  • 15-second video or less: 100% watch time
  • 16-30 second videos: 75% watch time
  • 31-60 second videos: 50% watch time

My verdict:

We all witnessed that the most viral videos are one of the following:

  • Very short
  • Extremely valuable
  • Tutorials
  • Entertaining (in both, a good and a bad way)

Why?

Because you watch them until the end. And sometimes, the creators make such perfect loops that you don't even notice that the video has restarted.

And while the percentages suggested by coach Stone are pretty rough, they do make sense. For example, consuming super-short videos is easy, and most of us will stick around for those few seconds. That is why the percentage goes as high as 100% and why you'll see so many "trending" 7-second videos with no value whatsoever.

10 hacks to beat the TikTok algorithm in 2022

To wrap up this article with style, here are some TikTok "hacks" to help you get started with experimenting:

Hack #1: Do extensive research as soon as you open a TikTok account 

Find out what your target audience likes, make a list of TikTok influencers from your niche, and start engaging with their content.

Hack #2: Curate your For You Page

This will help you understand how the algorithm works and enable you to be on top of the trends in your niche.

Hack #3: Hook your audience within the first seconds of your video

Full watch time is the strongest indicator that your content is valuable, but first, you must ensure the viewers start watching it. Likely, practically no one on TikTok has ever heard of you (unless you're already famous), and you'll have only a couple of seconds to tell them why should they stick around and watch your video until the very end.

Hack #4: Use niched hashtags

The algorithm uses bits and pieces of video information to deliver your content to the right audience. Remember - TikTok wants its users on the platform all the time if possible. So it's in both your and its interest that you use relevant hashtags.

Hack #5: Use trending audios

TikTok offers an extensive commercial music library, but it would be best to get started with trending audios. Not because they'll immediately get you in front of a vast audience, but because the viewers will know what to expect from your video from the first sound of it. Trending audio paired with a catchy intro might just be your ticket to the For You Page of your new audience.

Hack #6: Add captions to your video

Adding subtitles and captions can increase video views by 80%. Why? Because they help you communicate your message better, highlight the most significant bits of information, and make it more engaging and accessible to everyone.

Hack #7: Experiment with short-form and long-form videos

TikTok videos can be as short as 6 seconds and as long as 10 minutes. So make sure not only to experiment with the length but also the format.

Hack #8: Focus on creating a community

Building a strong community is essential for every brand that uses social media marketing to promote its business. Instead of accumulating thousands of irrelevant followers that won't engage with the following video you publish, try to find a way to create a meaningful relationship with your target audience.

Did you know TikTok changed how community management is done? Find out how and discover useful tips on how to build a community on this social media platform with our article Game changer: How TikTok Reshaped Community Management

Hack #9: Invest in creating valuable content

TikTok demographics are changing in favour of millennials that are searching for valuable content that can either help them resolve a problem, learn more on a topic of interest, or simply take their mind off everyday stress.

Hack #10: Adjust trends to your brand

Don't copy - focus on giving a unique touch to viral trends. And more importantly, use them to present a different side of your business while staying on brand. 

 

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