As a source of viral video content and internet trends, TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media platforms in just a few years. In 2021, it even surpassed YouTube in terms of monthly time spent on the platform, with people using it for an average of 24.5 hours each month. This is largely due to the addictive nature of the platform that entices people to keep consuming content – the result of its strategically-designed algorithm.\nDue to the high levels of engagement the platform sees, many brands are leveraging TikTok to raise brand awareness and connect with younger audiences. But how does the TikTok algorithm work exactly and what makes it so addictive? More importantly, how can you make this algorithm work in your favor? Read this article to find out.\nWhat Is the TikTok Algorithm?\nThe TikTok algorithm is a system that decides which videos to display to users on their For You page depending on their individual preferences. In other words, it’s the system that determines which videos you’d be interested in seeing.\nAs a result, the For You page is highly personalized for each individual user, and no two users will see exactly similar pages. It gets extremely specific by narrowing down the recommendations to niche interests, which means NFL fans will see football-related videos and not generic sports content.\n \nThis also means that the types of videos you see can also change as your preferences and state of mind change over time. The TikTok algorithm will quickly pick up on your behavioral changes to recommend the most appropriate content in the current moment.\nFor example, you may see a lot of cooking TikToks on your For You page as you develop a new cooking hobby and start to watch more videos related to food. But once you lose interest a few months down the line, you might see a decline in these types of videos as you begin to interact less and less with the cooking videos recommended on your For You page. \n \nFactors that Influence the TikTok Algorithm\nSo how does TikTok know which videos to recommend? According to TikTok, there are several factors that the algorithm takes into consideration:\n\nUser Interactions\nThe TikTok algorithm is very similar to the Instagram algorithm in that it places serious weight on how users interact on the platform. In other words, it looks at how you behave on the platform to understand what you might like. It considers key data signals like:\n\nVideos you like\nVideos you share\nAccounts you follow\nContent you create\nComments you post\nVideos you add to your favorites\nCreators you hide\nVideos you flag as “not interested”\n\nTo further narrow down on your interests, TikTok also considers how much of the video you watched. Watching a video in its entirety is a strong sign that a user is interested in the content, meaning that it carries more weight in the TikTok algorithm. Additionally, the algorithm also favors creators whose content you regularly engage with over ones that you follow but often scroll past.\nVideo Information\nIn addition to your activity, TikTok factors in the information on the video to identify the subject matter and then assess which ones you’d be interested in. It often looks at details such as:\n\nCaptions to identify any keywords that could inform the algorithm what the content is about\nHashtags to categorize the content and/or inform the algorithm what the video is about \nAudio such as sounds and songs to identify trending audio content and serve it to a larger audience \n\nDevice and Account Settings\nTikTok also puts your device and account settings into consideration, although not to the same level as user activity and video information. It uses these factors more as a way to optimize performance and less as content recommendation signals because users don’t explicitly express them as preferences. Some of the device and account settings TikTok considers are;\n\nDevice type\nCountry setting\nLanguage preference\n\nWhat the TikTok Algorithm Doesn’t Show\nIn an attempt to constantly optimize the user experience, TikTok excludes some content from showing up on your For You page to ensure that you don’t keep seeing the same videos or videos you’ve explicitly expressed a disinterest in. That means the TikTok algorithm will not recommend the following types of videos:\n\nContent you’ve already watched\nSpam content\nDuplicate content\nContent you’ve marked as “Not Interested”\nPotentially harmful/upsetting content\n\n \nGoing Viral: How to Make the TikTok Algorithm Work for You\nWhether you’re a content creator that wants to make it big on the platform or a brand that wants to expand its reach through TikTok, understanding the algorithm gives you much-needed leverage. It helps you understand how you can create content to gain more exposure and eventually attract more TikTok followers. Here are a few tips for creating videos that the TikTok algorithm will prioritize:\n1: Focus on a Subculture/Niche\nAs subject matter holds weight in the TikTok algorithm, it’s important that you consistently create content in a relevant niche. The more videos you create in your niche, the better your chances of showing up in the For You pages of the right users.\nSo it’s crucial that you first decide on a subculture or niche to focus on, which will allow you to tap into an existing community and boost your content visibility with the right audience. This is pretty straightforward for brands as they already have products in place and industries defined. It’s all a matter of figuring out what types of content are popular within those industries and niches and using them to inspire your TikTok content strategy. \nFor example, Elf Cosmetics uses the platform to share bite-sized tips, customer reviews, tutorials, and relatable videos.\n \n\n \nFor content creators, this step may be a bit more overwhelming because there are so many options to choose from. Since you have a knack for comedy, perhaps you’re considering the entertainment subculture. But you’re passionate about skincare and makeup so you also want to do a bit of beauty TikTok too. \nThe good news is you don’t have to pick just one. You can even narrow it down to a few subcultures and mix them up a bit. Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s true to your heart so your content is always authentic.\n\n2: Keep Your Videos Short\nRemember when we said that the TikTok algorithm places weight on whether or not users watch a video in its entirety? This could be played to your advantage if you create shorter videos that are easy to finish in just a few seconds. \nWhile TikTok lets you create videos of up to 60 seconds, you’ll have to aim for a much shorter video duration if you want higher video completion rates. Try to keep most of your videos between 15 and 20 seconds long to increase the chances of users completing them. \nHowever, make sure you’re not compromising the quality of your content. Rather, aim to keep your videos punchy and straight to the point. This will help you engage your audience and get your message across more clearly.\n\n3: Make the First Few Seconds Count\nWhile the goal is to get people to watch the entire video, you still have to make sure they’re watching your videos in the first place. With short attention spans, people are quickly going to scroll past your videos if the first few seconds don’t captivate them. This is why it’s important to make the first moments count so your audience is instantly engaged and keen to keep watching.\nMake sure the first 2-3 seconds of the video can instantly hook in your audience using text overlay, visual elements, and audio. Cut out any unnecessary sections and get straight to the interesting part.\nFor example, Levi’s has a huge brand presence on TikTok with 434.4k followers and 11.4 million total likes. The secret to their success is short and engaging videos that instantly captivate the audience in the first few seconds. In the TikTok below, the first scene immediately shows the reward – why they should watch the rest of the video – using text overlay.\n \n\n\n4: Leverage Popular Hashtags\nUsing popular hashtags in your TikTok videos is a great way to improve your chances of showing up on the For You pages of relevant users. Since those popular hashtags are already seeing tons of engagement, they could help significantly boost your content visibility. \nLook for trending hashtags under the Discover tab and see if there are any opportunities for your brand. Even better, be on the lookout for hashtag challenges you can participate in. Trending challenges not only give you content inspiration but participating in them improves your chances of getting discovered. In fact, TikTok reports that 61% of users like brands that participate in a TikTok challenge. \nFor example, the New Story Charity account used the #LearnSomethingNew hashtag to raise awareness about social housing projects gone wrong. The video received 20.9k likes and 265.6k views, while most of their videos usually see about 500-700 views.\n \n\nYou can even take this approach to the next level and create your own trending hashtag. Brands like Guess, BMW, Elf Cosmetics, and Samsung have all launched highly successful TikTok challenges that got their branded hashtags trending. Pepsi also created the #pepsicanbalance challenge where, as the name suggests, users were challenged to balance a Pepsi can. The hashtag became immensely popular, garnering a total of 12.2 million views.\n\n\n\n\n5: Use Trending Audio to Your Advantage\nTikTok isn’t just limited to hashtags when it comes to content discovery features. It’s a place where audio elements can be used to find popular content. As you can see below, TikTok lets you conduct a search using trending songs in addition to hashtags.\n\nSource: TikTok.com\nSo to improve your content visibility, make sure you leverage trending songs and sounds in your videos. In fact, the TikTok report cited above also found that 68% of TikTok users remember a brand better when it uses a song they like in its video. Plus, 58% feel more strongly connected to the brand while 62% are more curious to learn about the brand. This speaks volumes (pun intended) about the power of trending audio elements on TikTok.\nBrands can even create their own sound and try to get it to trend to gain further visibility. For example, Fabletics partnered with Kevin Hart to create an original sound that other users can use in their videos. The video promoting this original sound got 34.8k views and 4,875 likes.\n \n\n\n6: Make Your Captions Relevant and Engaging\nSince the TikTok algorithm factors in video captions, this is another opportunity you can leverage to improve your content visibility. You can now add a caption of up to 300 characters, which gives you plenty of space to write a relevant and engaging caption that describes your video or adds context. \nYou can use this space to insert relevant keywords but make sure you’re not just stuffing it with random keywords in an attempt to “game” the algorithm. Keywords should be used naturally as part of a phrase or sentence to help draw in your viewers and get them to engage with your videos. You could write funny and relatable captions, ask questions, or prompt them to take some sort of action. \nFor example, Buxom Cosmetics created a TikTok comparing their various products to “Euphoria” characters. They used the caption space to ask their viewers a simple question – “Who are you?” This is a great way to get people to engage with the video and leave a comment.\n \n\n\nWinning at the TikTok Game\nUnderstanding how the TikTok algorithm works is one of the key ways to win at TikTok. So if your brand is planning to leverage the platform, take advantage of the tips above to make the algorithm work in your favor. This is also an effective way for content creators to gain visibility and build influence on the platform.