We previously learned how to use TikTok as a branding platform, but today we’re uncovering the truth about the TikTok algorithm, sharing the top tips you need to know as a marketer and content creator to help your brand’s videos go viral.
The Age of TikTok
But before we dive into the algorithm, let’s talk about why TikTok is such a big deal.
TikTok’s rise in popularity was fast and furious. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, the number of young people engaging with TikTok skyrocketed.
Time per day spent on the platform grew from 38 minutes in May 2019 to 82 minutes in February 2020, representing an increase of 116%.
Unlike other social platforms, when users open the app, they stay on the app. Users don’t ‘check’ TikTok, they ‘watch’ TikTok.
TikTok’s growing popularity also means there’s a growing opportunity for brands. So, with that being said, let’s get into the algorithm.
Secret #1: The TikTok Algorithm Tests
How does a video go viral on TikTok? Well, it’s not as mystifying as you may think. As it turns out, TikTok tests… a lot.
But, what does ‘testing’ mean on TikTok?
Whenever a user uploads a video, TikTok tests the video to a small group of people (referred to as tier 1). If enough users in this initial group positively engage with the video, it’ll move up to the next viewing tier, to bigger and bigger groups of viewers. In total, there are four viewing tiers.
Eventually, if popular enough, your TikTok may reach tier 4, where it can reach millions of potential viewers.
So, The Top Tier Is When A Video Goes Viral?
Yes! The top tier of testing is when a video goes viral. And yes, it’s possible for any video to go viral, no matter how many followers your brand’s account has.
Why? Tiktok values discovery. The platform doesn’t take follower count into the equation.
This means that an account with zero followers and an account with 1 million followers have similar opportunities at going viral. Of course, TikTok acknowledges that 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.” But the algorithm itself treats all videos equally.
As a brand, it’s your job to monitor which videos are getting more views from users. Don’t be afraid to test different video formats, lengths, and content ideas. This is how you can learn what types of videos appeal most to your target audience!
Secret #2: Uncovering TikTok’s Metrics
TikTok evaluates each video based on several engagement metrics to gauge the overall quality of the video. The videos with the most positive engagement reach the highest tiers.
Ways users can positively engage with your brand’s video (in order from most important to least important):
- Watch time completion/rewatches: When a user watches a video from start to finish, this shows TikTok that this is a quality video. The platform weighs this metric even more heavily when users rewatch a video over and over again.
- Shares: When users share a video with friends or family, it shows TikTok that the video is high-quality.
- Comments: Commenting on a video is a common metric to measure engagement.
- Likes: Users “like” videos that they want to save or see more of, communicating to TikTok that this is quality content.
Prioritizing the metrics above shows us just how much the TikTok algorithm prioritizes the user’s preferences. It’s designed to show users more of what they love and less of what they don’t love. As little as 10 minutes of engagement on the platform can transform the videos that appear on a user’s For You page.
Long story short: these metrics are a big deal, so it’s important that you understand them as a marketer.
As a marketer, you have to know which metrics TikTok values. Dive into the analytics on your past videos to see what’s working and what isn’t working so that you can create the most engaging videos for your target audience.
Secret #3: TikTok Wants to Label You
TikTok will label your channel. Based on what types of videos you post, the channel will be placed into a category anywhere from “cat videos” to “cooking videos.”
This might not sound that groundbreaking, but here’s where things get tricky…
Make Your First 5 Videos Count
There’s a theory that TikTok looks at an account’s first five videos when trying to categorize the account. If your first five videos happen to be about cats, TikTok will then deem you an expert in cat videos.
As a marketer, this means that your first five videos are not the time to test out random ideas.
Instead, you need to decide what kind of niche you want your channel to have and curate your first five videos to align with that goal. To learn more, this podcast episode explains this secret about the algorithm in more detail.
@marleymalin why does this fit so well 😩 #BoseAllOut #catsoftiktok #catlover #catvideos ♬ original sound – Stevie Mackey
exclusively posts cat videos, helping define the channel
Decide what kind of channel you want your brand to be, and make sure your first five videos reflect that.
Secret #4: TikTok Tries to Bring Old Content Back From the Dead
There’s this thing called ‘delayed explosion.’
Delayed explosion is when a video that doesn’t have many views suddenly gets a LOT more views, seemingly out of the blue. BUT, there’s a reason for this.
Never delete your videos － no matter how poorly they perform
TikTok believes in second chances (well, at least for poor-performing videos). Every once in a while, TikTok will send an old video through the testing process again, showing it to a new group of viewers for a second shot at stardom.
Besides this, deleting videos in TikTok can lower your channel’s authority score, which in turn, lowers your likelihood to go viral.
This is why you should never delete old videos.
Even old videos can reach virality, so never delete your brand’s videos.
Secret #5: Watch Time Completion is King
One of the best ways to propel a TikTok video into virality is when viewers watch the entire video, from start to finish.
How do you get a user to watch (or rewatch) your video? Some content creators’ strategies include:
- Create shorter videos
- Showing the final result/ scene for no more than 2 seconds so that people rewatch the video
- Using a “loop” sound (the beginning and end of the audio sound similar)
- Giving people a reason to watch the entire video until the end
- Create a video that loops (when re-watched, the ending seamlessly transitions back into the beginning of the video)
- Use trending music or hashtags
Sure, other factors like comments, likes, sharing, and following the video creator are also important, but the algorithm values watch time completion above all.
See which videos people are watching until the very end, and try and replicate these types of videos for your brand. Creating videos that people will watch over and over again is a brand’s ticket to success.
Secret #6: TikTok Rewards Those Who Embrace Its Culture
Every social media platform has it’s “vibe,” but TikTok truly has a unique culture.
What is TikTok’s culture?
TikTok’s mission statement is “to inspire creativity and bring joy.” The platform values creativity, expression, authenticity, and diversity, aiming to prioritize the user experience.
As a brand, this means that we need to embrace this culture to connect with our audience. This is how to get the most out of the platform.
When creating videos, don’t try to get fancy. This will do you more harm than good. Instead, participate in trends, get inspired by other creators, and put your own creative twist on videos you’re seeing. It’s not about replicating, it’s about making something ownable to your brand.
The more authentic you can be as a creator, the easier it will be to find a loyal community on TikTok to engage with your content.
This may be difficult as a brand, but throw out whatever rule book you have. TikTok doesn’t like rules. It likes fun, authenticity, and trends. Get weird, and let your brand voice shine.
Level Up Your TikTok Game
Congrats! You now understand TikTok’s algorithm a bit better. Well, at least for now…
On social media platforms, things move at a quick pace. Algorithms change, new features are added, and trends come and go. This is why, as time goes on, being authentic to who you are as a brand is the most important thing you can do to find success on TikTok. See what works and doesn’t work for your brand, not other brands.