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TikTok's 2022 Algorithm

Jacob Cardwell
Jacob Cardwell

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Ahhh the question we have all been asking recently… how does the TikTok algorithm actually work??? As with any huge question (from philosophy to mathematics), the answer involves a bit of science, a bit of guessing and a bit of luck.

At Spin, we have a team of TikTok experts who constantly communicate and collaborate in order to attempt to crack the elusive TikTok algorithm. Whilst we can’t produce a perfect equation for you (yet!), here are our combined thoughts:

TikTok’s algorithm is known to be highly personal, and seemingly somewhat handcrafted to each user. It shows recommended videos to users on the For You page (often abbreviated as the fyp) – which change over time depending on the users viewing preferences. This leads to weirdly accurate and relatable videos being fed to your fyp – which is, in part, responsible for the success of the app.

3 Key Factors:

As a creator or brand, there are three key factors to be aware of when posting/producing TikToks. Video information, User interactions, and Device/Account Settings:

📹 Video Information: TikTok assumes the user’s upcoming action by studying the content they view and seek out on the discover page. For example, this considers everything in your videos: captions, sounds, hashtags, effects/filters and trending topics.

👯‍♀️ User Interactions: like most social media platforms, TikTok tracks how a user interacts with the content they are shown on their fyp. This includes comments, likes, shares, favourites, follows, ‘not interested’ flags, reports and video completion rates.

⚙️ Device and Account Settings: These are the more bureaucratic (and boring) features such as language preference, country setting and the device type. These are embedded into the algorithm from the get-go. They aren’t a huge deal – but are something to bear in mind if you are trying to reach a more localised audience.

These three factors combine to control how far the video is pushed by the algorithm. Want to be that video that is popping up on everyone’s feed? Well, listen up. Here 5 knockout tips to help you utilise the algorithm for your gain. You will be an expert in no time:

Know Your Subcultures

If you have sharp eyes and a keen mind you will have noticed the importance of personalisation in the three above factors. Yes, it’s, of course, true that every social media (From MySpace 🪦 to TikTok) have been somewhat defined by an algorithmic personalised experience; but, it’s important to know that this is now a more crucial factor than ever before. Finding a niche subculture to join, connect with and communicate with is vital in this giant app. The user base is so fragmented that there isn’t always a point in trying to be totally wide-reaching. You can’t please everyone – so why try?

TikTok has, ultimately, taken this aspect one step further in its very programmed affordances – by encouraging users to predominantly reside/scroll on the fyp over their curated-by-following timelines.

This means that ‘TikTokers’ spend a majority of their in-app time on the fyp instead of connecting with the plethora of accounts they already follow. Begging the audience to follow you thus isn’t very relevant anymore.

This means it is absolutely vital to reach the correct audience through tapping into an existing digital community – or subculture. Understanding your brand’s most valued and relevant subculture will help you develop truly interconnected content for TikTokers, resulting in more trust, brand loyalty, and visibility.

From #DracoTok (yes that was a thing), #Cottagecore and #SpinTok (okay, we made that one up) – there’s a whole lot of subcultures to interact with. Go to the app and have an exploration to see which best fits your brand archetype.

Example – #CorporateTikTok

Size Matters, But Retention Matters More!

All those long video essays have had their time in the spotlight (looking at you, 8-hour video essay on the failure of Victorious), and TikTok posits a new model of video creation that favours shorter videos.

Shorter TikToks have, without a doubt, received a higher watch percentage – which is one factor that the algorithm heavily pushes when distributing TikToks to suitable audiences. Longer videos, don’t always have this perk.

If a user views a good percentage of your video – this signals a good sign for the algorithm. Better yet, if a user watches your video multiple times it is incredibly more likely that your video will spread across the fyp pages of similar users (through the key factors we spoke about above).

To ensure this attention and retention, it is a good idea to build a TikTok strategy around encouraging the viewer to watch your TikTok multiple times. Thus, a focus on shorter, digestible and engaging content is key (a perk of this is it can be quicker to produce large batches of content). We would say the sweet spot is around 10-15 seconds.

Length is not the only way to push for this outcome, however. By utilising in-app affordances (such as in-video text or sound choices) you should focus on hooking your audience from the get-go. The first few seconds of your video is vital: make it thumb-stopping.

A quick hack to help with this is using long in-video text compared to a short video – so a viewer will have to watch multiple times to read the text.

Example – @laraadkins

Hook ‘em in with a Caption

150 characters: it’s not a lot. To complicate the matter further – this includes hashtags (pretty mean of TikTok!). Captions on TikTok are a tricky topic – but you definitely should not ignore this potential real estate.

Like all good copy, a solid caption can win over the user to view the entirety of your video. Be creative and use a great caption to pique people’s interests. On TikTok a CTA becomes less about asking people to interact through comments and likes, and more about convincing them to watch a video.

Captions that could be considered a form of clickbait are, honestly, the best way to go. “Can’t believe what happens next!” or the good old “Watch until the end!”. Whilst clickbait may seem a tacky route to go down, as long as your content is solid enough to follow through on such promises, you should get out the other end unscathed.

(keep your eyes peeled for a Spin blog post on the best TikTok copy practices! 👀)

Example

Be A Trend Chaser

67% of TikTokers prefer brand videos that creatively tackle trending topics and trending sounds. Choosing to participate in a trend may seem scary at first – but it is a great opportunity to connect with a whole new audience and will, ultimately, spread your brand’s reach on the fyp.

These trends can be localised (impacted by location settings etc.) and still incredibly personal (interlinking between many subcultures) – so thinking about how to create an original take on each trend is key. Nothing a little brainstorming session can’t fix.

Want to know how to scout out what tunes are popular at the moment? It’s pretty easy. Just tap the plus symbol at the bottom of the app, then tap add sound – a list of the current most popular sounds will appear. Happy listening!

Want to see how other brands tackle this? Here 6 Brands that are doing it right on TikTok.

Example – Reading Rainbow

Just Make Something!

We said at the beginning of this blog that TikTok is part science – which makes for a pretty easy blog post read. However, we also said it was a mixture of luck and guessing. This is important to remember.

TikTok is a platform where you have to learn what is best for each account by simply creating and posting – just keep your eyes on the numbers. So what are you waiting for? Get recording, editing and posting. We can’t wait to see the viral videos you all create 😉.

Example – Duolingo

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