TikTok, the wildly popular micro video platform, is taking the world by storm. While many of TikTok’s reporting and engagement metrics may look familiar, the TikTok algorithm is, not surprisingly, different from that of other social media platforms. We break down how to understand the TikTok algorithm, the differences between TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, as well as what to look for when casting TikTok influencers for brand campaigns.
How the TikTok algorithm works
Upon opening the TikTok app, you’ll see two different tabs–or feeds–of video content. The feed on the left tab is labeled “Following.” This feed will only show videos from users that your account is following. The other tab is labeled “For You.” Similar to Instagram’s Explore page, the For You tab is an infinite stream of content that is heavily influenced by videos you’ve liked. When you press “like” on a video, TikTok will do its best to show you similar videos in your For You feed.
To reach new followers, you need to make videos that do a great job at landing on as many For You pages as possible. Luckily, TikTok takes some of the guesswork out of determining what kind of videos to make with its built-in tools. In the app, you can easily check on trending hashtags and sounds, which can be used to round up a ton of views quickly. Like Instagram, you want to make sure that the content you’re posting actually matches the hashtag that you’re using. It may be tempting to use trending hashtags on any and all of your videos, but remember to be more strategic with the kinds of people you are trying to reach. There are hashtags named for the For You page, like the #fyp and #foryourpage hashtags, but using them does not guarantee that your video will be placed on millions of For You pages.
If you have a Pro account, you can also check your TikTok analytics to see the best time to upload content, as well as recent sounds and videos your followers have interacted with. These metrics can also better inform your TikTok content strategy and help you reach as many people as possible.
TikTok vs Instagram vs YouTube
Once your video has finished uploading to TikTok, TikTok will display it to various users across the platform who are not already following you. From this initial distribution, your video has the potential to compound hundreds and thousands of views based on how much engagement your video garnered initially. As more and more people watch your videos to completion, you’ll start popping up in more and more For You pages. Similar to Instagram engagement, comments and likes also have the power to boost your videos in the algorithm.
Interestingly, TikTok videos have also been prone to what we’ll call a “slow burn” phenomenon. Some TikTok videos that failed to gain traction within the first 24 hours they were posted have been known to gather thousands of views weeks or months later. The exact reasons why this occurs is not yet clear. In a similar vein, videos have also been known to experience “re-viraliations” in engagement. Videos that successfully garnered traction within their first 24 hours of being live may experience bursts of views and engagement again weeks or months down the line.
Instagram, instead, relies largely on hashtags and tagging other users to increase reach and views. The shelf life of an Instagram post is only about 24 hours, and content does not experience any slow burns or re-viralization. YouTube content largely relies on SEO (search engine optimization), clickbait copywriting, and eye-catching graphic design to rack up views and subscribers.
Content and format-wise, TikTok has drawn a lot of comparisons to Vine, another short-form video app that was discontinued by its parent company, Twitter, in late 2016. TikTok has essentially expanded on many of the features that made Vine hugely popular. The biggest differences between TikTok and other video platforms are:
- The length. TikTok permits videos up to a minute long. However, due to the fact that completed views are a positive signal in TikTok’s algorithm, it’s best to make them on the shorter side. For the best chance at going viral, we recommend making videos that are 9 to 15 seconds long.
- The shareability. What makes TikTok content especially unique is that it’s extremely shareable and replicable. TikTok users can create videos using the same sound bytes and visual effects, leading to the never ending cycle of trending dances, songs, and formats.
Most TikToks are shot and edited on iPhone or Android. No fancy cameras, lenses, or software is necessary to make a viral hit or to be taken seriously. TikTok profiles do not have the same level of curation and design as Instagram or YouTube.
TikTok’s user base skews tremendously towards younger audiences (Gen Z and younger millennials). 60% of US-based TikTok users are between the ages of 16-24. However, that’s not to say that older folks don’t enjoy the app – Comscore found that roughly 25% of US-based TikTok users are 45-64 years old.
TikTok has the largest user base in India, where it was downloaded 227.6 million times in 2019. China, which is where TIkTok’s parent company ByteDance is based, had the second-most downloads last year at 45.5 million. The US saw 37.6 million installs, but that figure is likely to be much higher for 2020.
What brands should look for in TikTok iInfluencers
When scouting influencers for TikTok campaigns, remember that because of the algorithm, follower count has no bearing on a video’s potential to reach thousands of viewers. Accounts with low amounts of followers can still produce great content that reaches the masses. As with any social media platform, focus on casting TikTokers who create videos that align with your brand’s values, tone of voice, editing style, and aesthetic. Ideally, the “right” influencers should already be creating the videos that you want your product to be featured in.
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