Until recently, knowing how TikTok’s search algorithms worked was as unlikely to help you earn money as knowing how to sew buttons on eggs.
But in the past month, TikTok has launched Branded Mission, a new way for brands to crowdsource authentic and creative content from its community, and TikTok Pulse, a new contextual advertising solution that gives brands exposure in the top 4% of videos.
Suddenly, learning how TikTok’s search algorithms power content discovery seems a lot more likely to help content creators and social media influencers turn their side hustles into full-time gigs.
This seems like the right time for a comprehensive guide to how to get your videos found via the For You feed, as well as the Following feed, Search results, and Friends tab.
How TikTok Recommends Videos #ForYou
In June 2020, TikTok disclosed how its recommendation system selected videos in “How TikTok recommends videos #ForYou.”
Little has fundamentally changed since then, except the U.S. government is no longer trying to ban the Chinese social media platform.
So, here’s what creators and influencers need to know: TikTok’s For You feed presents a stream of videos curated to each user’s interests, making it easy for a user to find content and creators they love.
In other words, there isn’t one For You feed for over one billion monthly active TikTok users.
There are a billion For You feeds tailored to what each user watches, likes, and shares.
TikTok added, “This feed is powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.”
And several factors impact recommendations, including:
- User interactions include liking or sharing videos, following accounts, commenting on a TikTok, and creating related content.
- Video information, which can include captions, sounds, or hashtags.
- Device and account settings such as a user’s language preference, country setting, and device type.
Two years ago, TikTok also reveale
On the other hand, TikTok said at the time:
“While a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers, by virtue of that account having built up a larger follower base, neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system.”
In July 2020, TikTok followed up with a second post, “5 tips for TikTok creators.”
It told us, “For You feed recommendations generally pull from videos posted within the last 90 days.”
Now, I don’t mean to quibble, but I found 10 tips in this post that are still useful today:
- Make captivating videos that tell stories, engage viewers, and spark conversation.
- Create vertical videos which perform best on TikTok and videos that are more than five seconds long.
- Write great captions to add context and provide additional information about a video.
- Bring your content to life by using creative effects (e.g., freeze-framing or AR objects) and sound effects (e.g., voice-overs or duets).
- Look broadly at the high-level trends in your analytics, then focus on a single metric from one video to another.
- Measure the performance of newly uploaded videos soon after publishing because that’s when you will generally see a peak in engagement.
- Capture viewers’ attention early and keep viewers interested because watch time determines how a video is recommended.
- Add relevant hashtags to your captions so they’re more likely to be found by audiences interested in your content.
- Add music and audio to your videos to help viewers who love the dances and challenges that TikTok has made popular discover them.
- Experiment, get creative, and post different kinds of content to see what resonates.
TikTok’s second post also busted some myths, including:
- Lots of factors determine how content is recommended in the For You feed, so no one engagement metric (such as likes or comments) is necessarily more important than another.
- More hashtags don’t guarantee broader reach, and hashtags like #FYP, #ForYou, and #ForYouPage don’t work any better than other hashtags, so adding these to your caption won’t improve your chances of being seen in someone’s For You feed.
- The number of videos you post won’t impact how your content is recommended in the For You feed, so focus on making deeply engaging videos from beginning to end instead.So, does this two-year-old advice still generate results?
According to a post by Jacinda Santora on the Influencer Marketing Hub entitled, “Highest Paid TikTok Influencers of 2022,” Charli D’Amelio topped the list with average estimated earnings of $17.5 million.
She started posting dance videos on TikTok in 2019 and now has 141.3 million Followers, 10.9 billion Likes, and an Average Engagement Rate of 13%.
And her older sister, Dixie D’Amelio, ranked second on the list with average estimated earnings of $57 million.
Jim Louderback, the author of the “Inside the Creator Economy” weekly newsletter, recommended in “What’s The Alternative To Spending $7 Million On A Super Bowl Ad?,” “Partner with the D’Amelios and bring them on as creative consultants/part owners of your brand.”
So, do you need to sing and dance to succeed on TikTok?
Let’s look at the results generated by other creators and influencers who weren’t born in Norwalk, Connecticut.
In July 2020, I taught a couple of the modules in the first Impact Digital Creator Program at the New Media Academy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
At the time, all 22 of the creators and influencers in the program had Instagram accounts, and several had YouTube channels.
But, their most frequently asked question was: “Should I get on TikTok?”
In September 2020, the New Media Academy partnered with TikTok to add a course to the curriculum designed to help empower current and upcoming content creators in the region to learn how to use the Chinese social media app effectively.
That course, not I, taught creators and influencers in the UAE the best practices outlined above.
Since then, several creators and influencers in the program have launched TikTok accounts, including:
- Nabaa Aldabbagh, better known as ISpeakFootballOnly, now has 657,100 Followers, 7.1 million Likes, and a 14% Average Engagement Rate.
- Maitha Mohamed, an Emirati animation artist, and storyteller, now has 438,200 Followers, 4.2 million Likes, and a 10% Average Engagement Rate.
- Saif Darwish, who isn’t your everyday doctor, now has 195,800 Followers, 1.1 million Likes, and a 2% Average Engagement Rate.
- Ahmed AlMarzooqi, a content creator with a finance slant, now has 167,200 Followers, 1.1 million Likes, and a 6% Average Engagement Rate.
- Zainab AlSawalhi, the inspiration behind The Picture Happiness Project, now has 141,800 Followers, 2.3 million Likes, and a 6% Average Engagement Rate.
- Marwan Alwadhi, better known as DJ Bliss of Dubai, now has 43,000 Followers, 221,900 Likes, and a 2% Average Engagement Rate.
- Ghaith Al Falasi, an Emirati certified race car driver, self-taught off-roader, and drifter, now has 38,400 Followers, 318,100 Likes, and a 4% Average Engagement Rate.
So, yes, this two-year-old advice still generates results, but results can vary.
How TikTok recommends videos for the Following feed, Search results, and Friends tab
In August 2021, TikTok published the third post in the series, “Discover more of what you love on TikTok.”
So, how does the Following feed work? TikTok said,
“As you follow new creators, their content will start showing up in your Following feed, which surfaces some of the latest and most relevant content from accounts you follow.”
You should create entertaining, inspiring content targeted at one of the many communities on TikTok.
Because you need to enchant viewers to do more than just “Like” your videos.
You need them to “Follow” your account.
And trying to be all things to all people rarely triggers the kind of emotional response needed to get viewers to do that.
What should creators and influencers do with this scant amount of information?
Well, there’s only so much space in your captions, and more hashtags won’t guarantee a broader reach.
So, optimize your captions to add context to your video.
And along with adding hashtags that are relevant to your content, you might consider tagging another creator who inspired your content or use hashtags for trending topics or video challenges.
Or, you could leverage this insight from eMarketer: The #tiktokmademebuyit hashtag has 8.8 billion views on TikTok to date.
You should also optimize your selection of free music clips and sounds.
Although TikTok curates music and sound playlists with the hottest tracks in every genre, you need to find out if your audience responds to Hip Hop, Edm, Pop, Rock, Rap, Country, or other original sounds?
In addition, TikTok’s machine learning is shaped by an individual user’s search results over time.
So, consider focusing on specific affinity segments who search for videos on popular topics again and again.
Affinity segments like gamers, foodies, beauty mavens, pet lovers, or sports fans have interests and habits that enable you to make an ongoing series of short-form videos that they will find exciting, spontaneous, and genuine.
Finally, TikTok started rolling out a “Friends” tab last month, replacing the “Discover” tab.
According to a Tweet on May 5, 2022, by TikTokComms, the Friends tab:
“will allow you to easily find and enjoy content from people you’re connected with, so you can choose even more ways to be entertained on TikTok.”
So, who are these “Friends” and how do they differ from the accounts that you are Following? It’s simple. They’re the accounts you follow that follow you back.
So, the “Friends” tab will enable you to see what’s currently capturing the interest of your community – from trends to effects and sounds on the rise.
And while you are out looking for inspiration, you might also want to use TikTok Insights, a new tool that surfaces insights marketers can use to target different demographics worldwide.