TikTok For Dummies
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Knowing a little about the TikTok algorithm can help you better understand what makes a video go viral. An algorithm is a calculation that search engines and social media platforms use to rank content — in the case of TikTok, to rank videos and customize "For You" page results.

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The algorithm is basically the “secret sauce” of how TikTok decides what videos to show each user. If you understand the basics of TikTok’s algorithm, you can understand how to create content that shows up more often on the For You pages of people who don’t follow you. Knowing this secret sauce gives you the ability to gain more followers and views.

A disclaimer: The actual TikTok algorithm — the inner workings of how TikTok surfaces content on the For You page — is a secret. It also changes frequently, and what might work today may not work tomorrow, so test your content often. That said, I and other creators have discovered basic principles that seem to result in more followers and views. The tips I share here are based on what I’ve found to be effective.

Here are a few principles to remember as you create videos. These could help make your videos more likely to show up on the For You page:
  • Focus on engagement first. Remember, on TikTok, content is king, but engagement is queen and wears the pants. Focus on engagement first. A video that moves its audience to take action — like, comment, duet, or stitch — will see far greater views and new followers than a well-produced video that took hours to create. I have almost 15 years’ experience creating content for social media — trust me, this is true!You want your audience to feel something quickly — within the first five seconds of your video, if you can manage it. They hear a voice saying, “I just have to say something!” and then leave a comment, create a stitch, or duet your video. Success!TikTok and most social media platforms favor lots of engagement on videos, especially when users are willing to take the time to have a conversation. This is why even controversial content tends to see more views.
  • Make your content king. A well-produced, well-lit video with good sound and good editing gains some level of favor in the TikTok algorithm.
  • Find out what's trending. You probably discovered TikTok because someone close to you — a child, niece, nephew, or friend — shared a funny video. These days, a lot of Internet trends begin on TikTok. Much of TikTok culture centers around one large, connected community, all talking about the same things. The TikTok algorithm highly favors content that remains a part of this “town gossip.”

Want to double your video views? Find a popular TikTok influencer who’s participating in a popular trend, and duet or stitch that person's content with your own twist on the conversation. Even if the creator doesn’t notice you, TikTok’s algorithm tends to favor videos that duet or stitch the videos of popular creators. When I do this in my videos, such as the one in Figure 8-1, I always see significantly more views, especially when I’m creative with my response.

Screenshot on cell phone showing Jesse Stay on TikTok ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Duetting my popular videos on @tiktokfordummies generates more views because that account has more followers.
  • Attention spans are short! Focus your content. Although engagement trumps content and length, TikTok’s For You page algorithm tends to favor content that is short. People on TikTok have short attention spans.In addition, TikTok favors videos where most of the viewers watch the entire video. Unless I'm doing something to engage my audience, such as a duet or stitch, I keep my content shorter than 15 seconds. This makes it more likely that my viewers will watch the entire video, giving an added bump to the video's chances of being seen on the For You page of potential followers.Because TikTok gives a boost to videos that get more viewers to watch to the end, consider splitting a long video into segments. Make sure each segment starts with a new hook to keep the viewer interested.

    Watch your numbers! TikTok is constantly changing, and what works for me and other accounts on TikTok today might work differently for you later. See Chapters 7 and 11 for more about which numbers to track (likes, followers, and so on).

  • Time your messages carefully. When you post a video, TikTok looks at the video's content, description, hashtags, sounds, and other details, and determines its ideal audience. First TikTok shares the video with a small, targeted audience. If they respond well, it increases the audience — and continues to do so as long as viewers react favorably. However, TikTok’s algorithm needs time to get your video to that full audience.If you post a new video targeting the same audience as the last-published video too quickly, it confuses the algorithm. Your original video will not be able to make it to as many people as it could have. I’ve found no established guidelines on how soon is too soon to post, but pay attention to this issue as you publish videos and see what works best.
  • Consistency is your key to the kingdom. If you haven’t done so already, think about what you want your TikTok account to be about. What goals do you want to accomplish with it? What topics do you want to focus on? Who’s your target audience? Take some time to answer those questions.Next, make sure every video you create matches the answers to those questions. If you keep all your content consistent, TikTok knows immediately what audiences to send your content to, and you’re more likely to see higher growth more quickly. Maintaining consistency is keeping a promise to your audience: They come to you looking for specific content, and you deliver it.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Jamie Crager is the CEO and founder of Crowdshifter.com, a digital media consulting firm providing social media services and strategic advice. Scott Ayres has been addicted to social media since before MySpace. He is currently the “Ambassador of Awesomeness” for the Facebook Scheduling app PostPlanner.com.

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