A Complete Guide To Understanding TikTok: Algorithm, Content, And More
Everything you need to know to make it big on the world's hippest platform
More than 1 billion videos are viewed on Tiktok per day. Yes, you read that right per day, not per month or per week, but per day. The app has 689 million monthly active users and is used in 155 countries around the world.
Tiktok has become so popular for many reasons, however, one of the most important reasons to many of its users is that Tiktok still allows users to organically grow their platforms. Due to the algorithms that Facebook and Youtube use now, it is nearly impossible for a new user to make it big.
With so many social media creators flooding the app and its user numbers continuing to rise, many people want to know more about the app - who owns it, how it works, and how someone can establish themselves as a creator on this platform.
This is what we are going to cover today. By the time you have finished reading this article, you will understand how to use the app safely and how you can start to build a following on the app.
The Evolution Of TikTok
Tiktok wasn't always what we know it to be now, the social media was originally called Musical.ly and was created to allow people to make lip-syncing content. This rebrand took place in 2018 after the app was brought by a Chinese company called ByteDance. At the time the app had 100 million monthly users.
Musical.ly allowed users to upload 15-second clips of themselves lip-syncing to popular songs and grew in popularity after the app Vine closed down. As time has gone on, Tiktok has become more and more like Vine - as its content has moved away from lip-syncing to including sketches and more original content.
What Is TikTok?
Tiktok is a social media platform that allows its users to create, discover, and share videos between 30 seconds and 3 minutes long. These videos can include dancing, lip-syncing, singing, life hacks, art creation, comedy sketches, and much more. The app is set up in a way that allows users to share these videos with people who have similar interests to them.
Tiktok is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance and was originally known as Musical.ly. When it first began, videos could only be 15 seconds long, Tiktok currently allows users to make videos that are up to 3 minutes long.
Tiktok was originally created to share lip-syncing videos, however, the unique algorithm that the app uses has allowed its content creators to create unique videos that they can share with their niche audiences.
Tiktok keeps track of what you watch, how long you watch it for, what you interact with, and your general interests. The app then uses this information to show you videos that it thinks you will like.
For example, if you spend 20 minutes watching videos about BTS then it will start showing you more BTS videos on your For You Page (known as FPY by users), and you may end up being shown exclusively BTS content.
The app limits the length of the videos you create. They must be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. It expects content creators to be making multiple videos a day.
This short-form content means that users can consume more videos in a shorter amount of time than they could on other platforms, like Youtube. This means that the users are exposed to more advertisements and the platform can make more money, even if users don't spend a lot of time on the app.
TikTok User Profile
TikTok is a social media platform that targets young users. Half of the active permanent audience is teenagers aged 16-24 years. In terms of the number of users, India is in first place (41.7 million), followed by the United States (16 million).
Science University of Malaysia's investigation showed that TikTok users' activity is associated with their personal qualities. Thus, the need for escapism predicted TikTok content usage while self-expression was associated with both, participation and production behavior. In particular, young people use TikTok to position themselves in the group of agemates and to understand their place in that group. Therefore, TikTok is a platform that allows young people to shape their identities and receive feedback from themselves.
How To Create An Account
Users can sign up using their Facebook, Instagram, email, or Twitter login details.
Step 1 - Downloading the app
You will need to start this process by visiting the app store on your tablet or phone and downloading the app. Depending on your internet connection, this could take up to a minute.
Once you have downloaded and opened the app, you will be prompted to sign up for the app.
Step 2 - Creating an account
The app encourages you to attach your Tiktok account to an already existing account that you have on another platform - this will allow the app to have more access to information about you.
If you like to keep your information private then we suggest that you create an account from scratch rather than attaching it to another social media account you own.
However, if you are looking to build a social media presence across multiple platforms then connecting your accounts will make the process a lot simpler for you.
Step 3 - Personalizing your account
Finally, once you have created your account you will be asked to do two things (1) customize your account homepage, and (2) choose the type of content you want to see on your For You Page.
You will be given a homepage that shows how many videos you have uploaded, how many followers you have, and how many likes you have. You will be able to customize your user name from here and upload a profile picture. Everyone will be able to view both of these unless you block them. So make sure they are appropriate.
Tiktok will also ask you what your interests are. You will have the choice to choose from vague and popular topics - like makeup, gaming, and Marvel, or you will be able to type in more specific interests that you have - like Dungeons & Dragons, Young Adult Fiction, and Running.
You will not be stuck with these topics, but they give Tiktok somewhere to start from as it collects content that it thinks you will like. The more you use the app, the better it will be able to guess the kind of videos you want to watch.
You eventually will find yourself in certain communities based on the things that you like to watch - you may find yourself on "Taylor Swift Tiktok", "Star Wars Tiktok", or "Love Island Tiktok".
When finding content that you might want to watch, Tiktok also takes into consideration where you are from, how old you are, what your gender is, and your political views. The more you interact with certain types of content the more you will see it.
Tiktok will also show you content that people with similar interests to you have liked. For example, if you are a big fan of the Wheel of Time novels, and TikTok discovers other fans of the Wheel of Time like Brandon Sanderson, you might start being shown content on that author too.
Understanding TikTok’s Latest Algorithm
We mentioned above that TikTok has a unique algorithm, unlike any other social media platform.
This algorithm allows users to be able to watch exactly what they want to and it also allows creators to experience organic growth of their following - i.e. if they create content that appeals to more people, they will have a bigger audience. This sets it apart from other social media platforms that tend to support pre-established creators over new ones.
If you are looking to become successful on the app then you will need to understand how the algorithm works. But, if you are just a casual user of the app then you will also benefit from learning more about the algorithm, as it will help you to get the most out of the app. Alternatively, a faster solution would be to buy TikTok followers to increase your audience, buy TikTok likes to improve your engagement rate as well as buy TikTok views to increase the number of video views of your posts.
“There are four main goals for TikTok’s algorithm: 用户价值, 用户价值 (长期), 作者价值, and 平台价值, which the company translates as “user value,” “long-term user value,” “creator value,” and “platform value.” - The New York Times
You will find that the TikTok app does a fantastic job of discovering what your interests are and what you would like to see - and it does it in an uncanny amount of time.
The more videos you watch, the better the app gets at discovering what you want to see - be that sports results, content from celebrities that you fancy, or even tips on the stock exchange.
Many people have found that the app has also helped them to discover interests that they didn't even know they had. It might be Excel spreadsheet hacks that make your work easier, it might be that you find watching people paint relaxing, and it might even introduce you to your next favorite book.
Other social media apps only show you the people that you choose to follow, Tiktok takes things much, much further.
How It Works
You are probably wondering how the app is so good at doing everything we talked about above. Well, it is thanks to the algorithm that the whole platform is based around.
Many companies like to keep the algorithms they use secret. However, there are some laws that mean social media sites have to disclose what they are doing with our data. We can use the information that they release to get a better understanding of how the app and the algorithm work.
Let's learn a little more about this algorithm.
The algorithm is driven by machine learning and user behavior
According to TikTok: “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.”
TikTok has created an algorithm that studies how we use the app and predicts what we will want to see next.
This algorithm collects data and learns as it goes. Therefore, the more time you spend on the app and the more you interact with it, the more it will learn about you, and the better at predicting you it will get.
TikTok has taken into consideration that people's interests change and they change quickly. This is how the app has managed to stay so relevant over the last 5 years.
When you follow someone on Instagram, you will see their content until you unfollow them. So, if you follow an athlete because they play for your favorite team, you will keep seeing that content even after they leave the team.
The TikTok algorithm, however, will notice that it is the team you are interested in and show you the most relevant content.
Predicts what videos to show first/at the beginning of the for you page.
Video likes, comments, shares, watching the video to completion, and re-watches - i.e how you interact with the video - perhaps the most important factor in this list is if you finish a video or watch it multiple times
Subject Matter - i.e the topic of the video
Device Settings - i.e location and language
Trending audio - i.e videos that capitalize on trending songs and audio are more likely to be shown
Trending hashtags and caption keywords - i.e like with sounds, videos that use trending hashtags (even if they have nothing to do with the video) are more like to appear on a For You Page
- User Activity and "Not Interested" Feedback - i.e. when you reject the content or block users
We do not know exactly what the TikTok algorithm is. This is a key part of their business, so they do not have to share it.
However, it is believed that it looks something like the following
Indication of videos to be played: P-like X V-like + P-comment X V-comment + E-playtime X V-playtime + P-play X V-play
Videos are then ranked according to this algorithm.
Scores videos based on the above equation
This equation is used to assign a score to a video based on your personal preference. What makes TikTok so unique is that the algorithm is personalized. What you are shown is based on your interests, not what the people in your area or age group are watching.
It is almost the exact opposite of the "people also purchased" recommendation section on Amazon. You are shown what the app thinks you will like based on your own habits and not the habits of those around you.
The videos on Tiktok are then ranked according to the algorithm score and are shown to you in that order. As you watch these videos you will be continually changing the algorithm and the scoring system. So it will be constantly evolving to keep up with your interests.
Understanding TikTok’s Latest Content
Now that we know why TikTok is showing you the content that it is, let's learn a bit more about the content you can view on the app and why it is made that way.
There are many different reasons why people might choose to make content on the app - they may be inspired by a dancing trend, want to talk about an issue that is close to their heart, may want to use TikTok to advertise their business, or they may just be doing it to have fun.
Here is a guide to the content that is produced on Tiktok.
Choosing Your Preferences
As we mentioned above, one of the biggest selling points of TikTok is that your feed is completely personalized and evolving- on your For You Page.
But you are also given the option to only be shown the accounts that you choose to follow - on your Following page.
There is a huge amount of freedom surrounding what you interact with on the app and what the app shows you.
How does this happen?
When you create an account, the app allows you to choose what topics you are interested in
In the section above about creating your account, we talked about how TikTok asks you to pick a few topics of interest when you first join the app.
This is the foundation on which it builds all its knowledge about you and your preferences.
The For You Page is then personalized to these preferences
When you first start using the app the For You Page will be based on these initial choices that you make, but the app will learn more about you as you use it more.
When you follow a content creator, their videos will start to appear less on your For You Page and will move over to your Following page. This is more similar to a traditional social media feed.
For You Page
The more time you spend on TikTok, the more you will realize what an incredible tool the TikTok algorithm is. We have honestly never used social media like this before.
The more you use the app, the more the app will get to know your preferences and it will start to show you things it thinks you will find interesting. And it gets it right most of the time.
Displays an endless amount of videos and content - unlike any other social media platform
Another unique element of the For You Page is that it will show you an unlimited number of videos if you have the time to keep scrolling.
The more you scroll, the more it learns about you and the more videos of interest it can show you. If you are not careful, you can spend hours consuming new content on your For You Page. It can be hard to keep track of time when you are using it.
Between 15 seconds - 3 minutes
When TikTok began life as Musical.ly, all videos on the platform were 15 seconds long - just like Vine - but over time it started allowing creators to make videos for 30 seconds, and then a minute.
Most recently, the platform has started to allow creators to make videos that are up to 3 minutes long. With this extension of video length, Tiktok also rolled out a new feature that allowed creators to use 3-minute clips from the most popular songs in the app's music library.
However, it is worth noting that shorter videos have a higher chance of being spread around the app thanks to the algorithm. This is partly due to the fact that TikTok likes people to watch the whole video.
If you want to make a viral TikTok, it is best if you make it 30-60 seconds long.
A key part of the algorithm is the classification of content. It needs to know what the topic of a video is so that it can show it to the right people.
The more time you spend on the app, the more TikTok will narrow down your topics of interest.
A range of topics is available to watch on TikTok.
From; pets, food, cooking, exercising, cleaning, dancing, craft, toys, and more
Here are a few of the most popular topics on TikTok:
Dancing - TikTok started life as a lip-syncing app, but over time it became taken over by dance trends. We have seen many TikTok stars - like Charlie DeMillio and Adison Rae - make their name on the site purely through dancing.
Pets - Since the dawn of the Internet, people have used it to share pictures and videos of their pets. TikTok is no different. Most recently TikTok went crazy for Noodles the Pug who created a self-care trend called No Bones Day.
Toys - Many of the toy review and toy playing channels on Youtube have also migrated over to TikTok. However, this is not an app designed for children and there is no child safety mode.
Exercising - TikTok has created many exercise and lifestyle trends - such as the girl and the ab dance. People have been using the app to share their fitness journey and to show off their bodies in equal parts.
Cleaning - If you like to learn more about the world of cleaning, if you enjoy cleaning hacks, or if you just like watching dirty things getting cleaned - then you are going to find all the content you could ever hope for on TikTok.
Small Businesses - TikTok is an amazing platform for small businesses to grow. The organic growth on the site means that they can create targeted advertisements without having to pay high prices like they would on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
How To Build A TikTok Strategy
If you are someone who is looking to build a social media career then TikTok is a great place to start. It is much easier to grow an audience as a new creator on TikTok than it is on any other social media platform.
We know a lot about how the TikTok algorithm works and what kind of content the app wants to be produced. They want content that is advertiser-friendly and will help them to attract new users.
You can use this information to your advantage to help grow your audience even more quicker. Below you will find some tips for getting started on the platform and how you grow your audience on it.
Develop A Content Strategy
TikTok itself recommends that you start your channel with a content strategy online. The app will find it easier to deliver your content to new audiences if you are consistent, regularly create videos, and your content has an overall theme or topic that it follows.
Here are three questions that you can ask yourself before you get started:
Who is your target audience?
The first thing you need to think about is who you want to make videos for - who is your target audience? If you want to grow a large audience then this cannot be too niche a group, you want to be able to appeal to as many people as possible.
What topic are your videos considered to be?
Now that you know who your audience is, it is time to think about the videos that might be most interesting to them.
You may find that you need to answer these two questions the other way around. You might think of a topic first and then work out who your audience is afterward.
How long are your videos?
You do not need to make all your videos the same length, in fact, mixing up the length of your content can be good for the algorithm. As it shows that you are producing new content.
We recommend that for every 3-minute video that you produce, you make 4-5 that are under one minute. This will help your content to reach a wider audience.
It is worth noting that TikTok is a social media platform that requires you to produce more than one piece of content a day if you want to stay on the right side of the algorithm.
To be successful on TikTok you need continued success and interaction with your audience. You want to make sure that people are coming back again and again to watch any new video you post.
One of the best ways to do this is to create a sense of community among your viewers.
This is an old trick that has been used by musicians for years, then Youtubers, and is now making its way over to TikTok.
You can start by giving your viewers a group name. Then you should make sure to interact with them when you can, allowing them to have input on what you create and when, and listen to their feedback when they give it to you.
If you want to have a social media career then your communities are going to be the most important thing to you - make sure that you respect your audience and look after them.
You will most likely have a lot in common with your audience and talking with them and taking their content suggestions won't feel like a chore - it will most likely be delightful.
Define Your Brand
You want to make sure that your brand and your content are recognizable.
You want people to be able to know that they are watching one of your videos within 5 seconds of clicking on the video. You need to make sure that you are using consistent aesthetics and sounds, and sticking to fairly similar topics.
For example, if you want to be known as the "doughnut expert" then you need to make sure that people can tell your content apart from all the other doughnut reviewers on the app.
Understand Your Analytics
If you are looking to grow your audience quickly then you need to know how to make sense of your analytics and how to use them to your advantage.
TikTok will tell you how successful each of your videos is. You can use this information to make sure that you are making videos that will be popular. Let's look at an example.
You may have been making content on Frogs for 3 months and only got 17 likes across 30 videos. One day, you upload a video of you going on a hike because you also like hiking. This video gets 600 views in an hour and 220 likes.
This information will tell you that people are more interested in watching videos about hiking than frogs. This doesn't mean you have to make fewer videos about frogs, just more videos about hiking.
Tiktok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world right now. If you are someone who is looking to start a social media then Tiktok is the perfect platform to do that - as it is one of the only social media platforms that still allows organic growth.
The app is built around an algorithm that does two things - keeps users on the app so that they are more likely to buy something, and shows the users the kinds of content that they like to see.
Everything you need to know about the app is in the article above and in other TikTok articles as well, so what are you waiting for? It's time to start making videos.