The For You Page, commonly known as the FYP, is what distinguishes TikTok from other social media apps. In fact, it is the FYP that pushes some videos to millions of users. For reference, any video with less than 100 K views is not considered viral on TikTok, while some videos get only as little as 50 views. The FYP is described as an “endless stream of short videos that feel personalized just for you” on the app’s page on the App Store. So how does the algorithm behind TikTok’s FYP work? What feeds the algorithm and how does it choose which videos to surface?
Much like other social media apps, TikTok’s algorithm is a secret owned by the company. However, they recently released a press statement somewhat vaguely describing how the algorithm works. In this article, we take a look at what TikTok revealed about its algorithm and what us, the users are experiencing. This article is a compilation of what is known of the algorithm as shared by the app’s users on the internet.
We call the TikTok algorithm a matchmaker. It matches the right video with the right viewer. TikTok’s main aim as an app business is to maximize the engagement of its users with the app. To do that, it has to show the most engaging videos to the viewer.
The algorithm uses machine learning to process the data about the video and the viewer in order to calculate the compatibility.
What is the data available that may be fed to the algorithm?
The video may be classified with the following features, some of which are creator-specified and others that are calculated:
TikTok has two sets of data about the viewer: the in-app behavior and external behavior. In-app behavior data refers to all that the user does while on the app which are recorded by the app. This then may be fed to the algorithm.
In-app behavior data:
Video views and engagement metrics (percentage watched, re-watch rate, etc.)
Based on the reports shared by TikTok creators in Facebook groups and alike, the algorithm works on a cycle as shown in the flow chart above. This is called the small-batch theory, in which it is speculated that any video posted on TikTok is pushed to a small batch of random viewers. The interesting thing about the algorithm is that any video has a chance of going viral, regardless of the creator’s account and previous performance. This is proven by the reports of accounts whose first video went viral and received millions of views. Below is an example of @ali.shir, whose first video received 10.7 million views.
The algorithm calculates the performance of a video after the initial push and determines the next steps. Engagement metrics are the base of the performance evaluation. Although many users speculate on which metrics are more important and what the magic like/comment ratio to views is, no one knows what the actual criteria are. However, it seems that the algorithm favors re-watch rate (how many times a viewer watches the video in the loop) and the shares over likes.
After the initial push, the algorithm looks for viewers who are more likely to engage with your video. Another theory is that TikTok creates tribes of users with similar interests and affinities. The algorithm then uses the data obtained from the initial push to determine which tribes your video might do better with.
How does a strong following affect a post’s performance?
Depending on the creator’s past performance, the size and the affinities of the initial small batch may change. A creator that has a higher past performance has a higher chance in reaching more viewers with a new post. However, there is no guarantee. Even creators with a strong following may see their videos “flop” (a term frequently used by TikTok creators to describe a video that didn’t receive any substantial views).
If a video “flopped” today, may it get views again tomorrow?
Yes! Unlike other social media apps, TikTok’s algorithm may start pushing a video from a several weeks prior, even after it “flopped” after the initial push. This shows the importance of sticking to a certain niche and not deleting any of your older videos.
When a video goes viral, many viewers also visit the creator’s profile and watch the older videos. If the creator stuck to a specific niche, it is more likely that the viewer may engage with the older videos as well. When TikTok detects new engagement with the older videos, it starts serving them to similar viewers.
TikTok’s algorithm’s inner workings are a secret. The company won’t share details of how the algorithm works, much like any other social media app. However, we know that the algorithm is designed to match the right video with the right viewer and therefore maximizing the engagement. This is provided the algorithm does a good job of that, content remains as king, and high-quality content prevails.
With the best quarter for any app ever in Q1 2020 and surpassing 2 billion downloads globally, TikTok is the latest of the mainstream social media apps. You may be asking, what is TikTok? Who is on it and how can brands use it?
As an overview, here are some important TikTok statistics you should know:
1. TikTok is now the sixth largest social network in the world. It has 800 million monthly active users.
3. Monthly active users in the US were reported to be 28 million in November 2019, we estimate this amount to be over 80 million after the surge in the app’s popularity during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
4. TikTok has not disclosed the number of active users in the UK specifically. However, there are several TikTok influencers in the UK that have over 10 million follower counts.
5. According to a leaked TikTok pitch deck, the average American user opens the app 8+ times and spends over 46 minutes on the app daily.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a short-form mobile video-sharing app, as described on their website. It allows users to record, edit, and share videos while watching what other users created.
The Content on TikTok
The range of content on TikTok is diverse. The users on the app create videos of a length of 15 seconds up to a minute. Typical content found on TikTok is as follows:
· Users acting, playing short scripts of jokes.
· Dance videos
· Lip syncing
· Artists such as comedians, photographers and painters showcasing their skills.
· Pet videos
· Cooking videos
· Educational videos
Along with many more.
The FYP Page
TikTok’s homepage is called the For You Page. The FYP is described as an “endless stream of short videos that feel personalized just for you” on the app’s page on the App Store. The FYP is algorithmically personalized for each user based on the user’s past engagement, interests and demographic. The users don’t need to follow anyone on the app, the algorithm populates the FYP page automatically.
Thanks to the algorithm, the FYP shows popular videos to millions of users and keeps other videos to very limited audiences. The number of views a video gets on the platform may change from as low as 50 views to hundreds of millions. In fact, there is a record holding video that hit a view count of 1.7 billion views.
How do users engage with one another?
Users on TikTok can like videos, comment on videos and share videos. Users can share videos on the app, or across different platforms on apps like WhatsApp, Instagram or even Twitter.
Users can even use the same soundtrack, record reaction videos or duets with one another.
User with over ten thousand followers can do live video sessions, where they can interact with their followers on a more personal basis.
Video Editing, Effects and the Music Library
TikTok has over a hundred effects, transitions and stickers. Users can use these tools to make their videos more engaging, more creative and express their feelings or a story.
TikTok has a huge licensed music library. Users can add the music over to their video or dance over the music. They can even incorporate the lyrics into their story play.
Each user has a TikTok profile page. On this page, the number followers and the number of accounts followed are shown. Users can add a link to their Instagram and YouTube account on their TikTok profile.
If you like a video on your FYP page, you can go to the creator’s profile page, follow them and watch other videos they created.
How is TikTok different from other social media apps?
Tiktok is different than Facebook or Instagram as it puts the focus on creativity rather than being social. As described by Josh Constine of TechCrunch, TikTok created a new category of social apps – social entertainment, rather than competing with other social media apps.
Unlike Instagram, TikTok isn’t about sharing what you’re up to on spontaneously captured stories. TikTok is about entertaining your audience – and whatever that takes. To get a piece of TikTok fame, ordinary people from all around the world invent characters, create storylines and act.
Who uses TikTok?
TikTok has reportedly over 800 million monthly active users in the world. TikTok is available in 150 countries in the world. TikTok has the most users in India, followed by China and the US.
According to a leaked TikTok pitch deck dated 2019*, the audience stats are as below:
· Age 16-24: 69% vs Age 25+ 31%
· Female 60%:40% male
· Android 46% – Apple 54%
· Age 13-17: 27%
· Age 18-24: 42%
· Age 25-34: 16%
· Age 35-44: 8%
· Age 45-54: 3%
· Age 55+: 4%
*The current data is not readily available. However, we estimate that the average age of the user base has grown, as the older generations started adopting the app.
Rise in TikTok’s Popularity During Covid-19 Lockdowns
By November 2019, TikTok already hit 1.5 downloads worldwide. At that point, the growth came from countries such as India and Turkey. The app also had 28 million users in the US. It started gaining traction by the promise of fame, as some users such as @charlidamelio had already over 10 million followers. Luring in many more users, especially from the Gen-Z population, the app continued its growth in to 2020, when something much unexpected happened: COVID-19 lockdowns.
As the COVID-19 breakout caused many major cities around the world to be under lockdown, the interest in TikTok grew. Check out the graph above taken from trends.google.com showing the interest in worldwide searches containing the keyword, “tiktok”. The leap on the graph coincides with the dates lockdowns around the world started.
Lockdowns were great for TikTok’s organic growth, as it kept different generations under the same roof for extended periods of time. Empty nesters had their households full again as college students went back home. It wasn’t long before there were several videos showing parents with their kids doing their takes of popular TikTok dances.
At the same time, millennials started discovering the app and started flocking to the app. #millenial got over 1 billion views.
How can Brands use TikTok?
There are three main ways brands can use TikTok:
1. Building a page on TikTok and posting videos
2. Paid ads
a. Performance marketing
b. Brand marketing
3. Influencer marketing
Building a TikTok Page for Your Brand
Due to the nature of the platform, great and well-crafted content can reach millions. However, creating great content for TikTok is a challenge.
TikTok is a platform where having a great number of followers does not guarantee great reach. If your content doesn’t gain attention from viewers it will surely “flop” (a term used by TikTok creators to describe videos getting very little views).
Using existing assets to create TikTok content
The branded content you use on your Instagram page or Facebook page won’t work on TikTok. TikTok context is entirely different than that of IG’s and FB’s.
A brand may boast their product’s function or benefits in Instagram and gain reach to their followers, but that same content in TikTok may get as little as a few hundred views. TikTok is a platform where people tune in to be entertained.
In order to reach hundreds of thousands of viewers on the platform, you will need to repurpose your existing assets to include the entertainment element. Your content needs to show the fun side of your brand.
You can also create new content by having your brand hop on one of the ever-changing trends on TikTok. Every week a new trend, challenge or song is popular on the app. You can create content adapting to these trends and maintain a fresh, up-to-date brand image on the platform.
Watch below a piece of content by Boss, where they showed the fun side of the brand by surfing in a suit:
TikTok has a self-service ad platform just like Facebook and Snapchat. The ad platform is pretty new and it has a lot of catching up to do to get on the same level of functionality like that of Facebook’s. However, we have seen that it is quickly developing by adding new features onto it every day.
The ad platform lets you run ads in the in-feed video placement of the TikTok app. The platform also has a few more placements from other media channels ByteDance, TikTok’s owner company, has. The ads are 5-15 seconds long, auto-play, and audio-on. The ads are designed to feel like native advertisements. This is accomplished by the ad looking just like another video in the feed and the call to action appears only after the 9th second.
TikTok lets you run ads to interest-based audiences and choose from available demographic options. You can also create lookalike audiences as well.
TikTok also has the conversion ads feature, where you can set up a TikTok pixel on your website or use measurement partners’ data to feed in-app events to TikTok. TikTok has the ability to optimize these ads based on the conversion data from the client-side.
TikTok has additional ad products for brands. These ad products have minimum budget requirements. There are three main products:
1. Brand Takeover
2. Hashtag Challenge
3. Branded Lens
A Brand Takeover ad appears upon opening the TikTok app. It is the first screen users interact with as they open the app. It can be a 3-4 second long GIF, image or video. Brand Takeover ads start from $50,000 for 1-day buy.
A Hashtag Challenge is a sponsored hashtag, where users are encouraged to create their own content. This package starts from $150,000.
A Branded Lens is a sponsored special effect added to the effects toolbar of TikTok. Users are encouraged to use the effect and create their own content. This package ranges between $80,000 to $120,000.
The price ranges for the Brand Marketing packages are included in this article only as a reference. These prices were taken from a leaked TikTok pitch deck dated 2019.
TikTok is already a viable platform for influencer marketing. There are hundreds of TikTok influencers with following counts ranging from a few thousand followers to millions of followers.
The TikTok influencer with the highest follower count to date is Charli D’Amelio, @charlidamelio. Charli is a teenage dancer who has over 50 million followers. She’s already struck several deals with brands, including Prada, Sabra Hummus and UNICEF.
There are several challenges with influencer marketing on TikTok. One is that many influencers struggle with getting consistent views. Since TikTok is a platform that focuses on content, an influencer’s video’s views may tank when they try and promote a brand. For this reason, influencers on TikTok are experimenting with new ways of monetizing their audience without hurting their reach.
TikTok also launched a marketplace for influencer marketing. The platform is called “Creator Marketplace”. The marketplace helps brands and agencies contact select TikTok creators. The marketplace is beta-invite only for now.
TikTok is distinguished from its competitors and has become a mainstream and up and coming channel. Monetization of the channel has allowed more and more advertisers and marketers to start utilizing this channel. As many brands aren’t there yet, it is an opportunity for brands to hop on this new channel and gain a competitive advantage.