The TikTok Algorithm and How it Works

With over 1 billion monthly users, active users in 155 countries around the world, and the average time spent on the platform at 52 minutes, it’s fair to say that TikTok is doing pretty darn well as the new kid on the social platform block. 

The short-form video-sharing app has become intensely popular over the past few years for many reasons. But one of the top reasons why it has captured the attention of social media managers, creators and brands alike is the platform’s ability to allow its users to more easily garner engagement and grow a following. Older and more established platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have become notorious for how challenging it can be in today’s age for a new, budding user to grow a large following and make it big. On TikTok, however, pretty much anyone has the power to become an overnight sensation.But how?!” we hear you ask…Well, the not-so-secret recipe to an increased chance of social media success all lies with TikTok’s unique algorithm. Keep reading to find out more!


What is the TikTok Algorithm?

The TikTok algorithm is a machine-learning system that makes personalised content recommendations per user. This is what forms the curated feed you see on your ‘For You’ page. No two people will see the same videos on their For You page since the videos presented here change constantly based on the viewing preferences of the user. The complex system is designed to serve users content that it believes to be of high interest to them. So, someone who watches lots of videos on social media marketing will be served up more content around this niche. But a friend who mostly watches sports videos will rarely come across the same videos as you.As we mentioned, the types of content you are presented with will change over time depending on your viewing habits. Plus, TikTok likes to throw video content that isn’t strictly in your niche every now and then to ‘diversify recommendations’ and offer users opportunities to “stumble upon” fresh content.Maybe a recipe video on “how to make the best avocado toast” one day makes it onto your feed. You like the look of it and save it. The following day you are served more cooking content… excuse the pun. The more you engage with a niche, the more TikTok will present you with similar content. According to a leaked internal document reported on by The New York Times outlining how the TikTok algorithm works, the main goals of the video-sharing social network's algorithm were said to be:


  • User value: Providing value to the platform’s users

  • Long-term user value: Keeping users coming back daily 

  • Creator value: Giving value to the platform’s creators

  • Platform value: Using the algorithm to improve the TikTok app as a platform


So now we have a brief understanding of what the TikTok algorithm is and its overall objectives, let’s take a look at how the TikTok algorithm actually works.


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How the TikTok Algorithm works

We now know that the TikTok algorithm is a complex system with multiple factors influencing how content is served to its users. In this next section, we’re going to break each of these factors down.

#1 — User Activity

The TikTok algorithm makes its recommendations based on a user’s interactions with content on the app. These interactions basically act as indicators of what a user likes or dislikes. Positive indicators that impact the algorithm include:

  • Likes

  • Comments

  • Shares

  • Video completions and re-watches

  • Videos added to favourites

  • Accounts followed

  • Content created

#2 — Video information

As well as taking a user's activity into account when making content recommendations, TikTok factors in information on the video to help understand the subject matter. The following video details are taken into account:

  • Captions (picking up on keywords that help decipher the subject matter)

  • Hashtags (again, helping to categorise the content)

  • Audio (sounds that help identify trending audio content and serve to relevant audience)

  • Effects (helping to identify tending themes)

#3 — Device and account settings

The TikTok algorithm also uses the device and account setting of a user when deciding what content may be of interest to them. However, while these are definitely taken into consideration, it is not at the same level as user activity and video information mentioned above.  Some of the influencing settings included in the algorithm include:

  • Language preference

  • Country setting (i.e. you are more likely to see content from users in your own country)

  • Mobile device type

  • The ‘categories of interest’ you first selected when setting up the account

#4 — User feedback

In addition to taking in positive indicators of a user’s content preference such as likes, comments and shares, the TikTok algorithm also takes into account the following feedback:

  • Video content marked as “Not Interested” by a user

  • Other TikTok creators you have hidden

  • Video content you skip through


What factors don’t influence the TikTok algorithm?

So we’ve discussed the factors that work together to influence how the TikTok algorithm serves its users with content. Now we’re going to talk about a couple of factors that do not have influence — which we think social media marketers and creators will like to hear!

  • Follower count (The platform does not base recommendations on follower count)

  • Whether the user has previous high-performing content (the virality of a user’s past content doesn’t impact the recommendation system)

This is awesome news for new TikTok users or those who are yet to build a large following.  Even TikTok says this itself:“You may come across a video in your feed that doesn’t appear to … have amassed a huge number of likes…. Bringing a diversity of videos into your For You feed gives you additional opportunities to stumble upon new content categories, discover new creators, and experience new perspectives.”.This intentional component of TikTok’s system means that any creator or business has the opportunity to “go viral”. This means that as long as the content speaks directly to the audience it intends to target, a new user has as much chance of landing on someone's For You page as some of the biggest TikTok stars.


A couple of quick TikTok marketing tips:

Now we’re clued up on which factors impact the TikTok algorithm, we’re going to leave you with a few ‘hacks’ on how to get the TikTok algorithm to work in your favour in terms of building your content creation strategy and boosting your performance. Now… don’t say we don’t treat you!Start with a strong hook: With TikTok explaining that video completions are a strong indicating factor of user interest, ensuring your video has an intriguing hook to keep viewers interested is vital. TikTok moves fast, and if you aren’t instantly grabbing the attention of viewers, you risk your content being lost in the deep depths of a scrolling session…Focus on a niche: The more content you are creating around a certain niche or subculture, the more likely it is that the TikTok algorithm will recognise your account as an expert in it, thus serving your content to users who have shown an interest in that niche. To further help TikTok categorise your content, ensure you are incorporating keywords related to your niche into your captions and video content.Use trending sounds: The platform has made it quite clear that the use of trending sounds helps to expand reach. And with two-thirds of TikTok users reporting the preference for brand videos featuring popular or tending sounds, this is a factor you simply cannot ignore. Keep on top of trending sounds and themes, and think of creative ways to apply these to your niche in a way that will resonate with your target audience.Switch to a Pro account: Whilst this isn’t directly related to the TikTok algorithm, having a pro account will give you access to heaps of valuable metrics and insights that will help you understand who your audience is, when they’re most active, and what content they are finding most engaging. We’ve written a whole blog on important TikTok metrics to track — check it out here.


Social media has become saturated with brands competing for your target audience’s attention. If you want to get your social media posts noticed, you must find ways to stand out from the sea of posts from better-established brands.


Learn more about how Slate can help transform your social media content and schedule a demo today.

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