How the TikTok Algorithm Works in 2021 (and How to Work With It)

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While there’s no magic recipe, coming to grips with the TikTok algorithm can help you work with it and improve your odds of success.

The highly personalized TikTok algorithm that fuels the For You feed is what makes the app so addictive. Here’s everything brands need to know about how the TikTok algorithm works in 2021.

Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2021.

What is the TikTok algorithm?

The TikTok algorithm is a recommendation system that determines which videos will appear on your For You page.

No two users will see the same videos on their For You page, and the videos you see might change over time based on your viewing preferences and even your current state of mind.

For example, here’s Amy Poehler talking about how her For You page can alert her she’s getting a little bit down:

Here’s how TikTok itself defines the TikTok For You page algorithm:

“A stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content and creators you love … powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.”

How does the TikTok algorithm work?

Social platforms originally kept their algorithms secret. This makes sense, since the recommendation system is a proprietary technology that helps make each social network unique.

The algorithm is a key reason social networks can draw us in and keep us paying attention. TikTok doesn’t want spammers and other shady characters to be able to game the algorithm to get more attention than they deserve.

However, as people have become more skeptical about the inner workings of social networks, most platforms have revealed the basic workings of their algorithms.

Fortunately, that means we now know some of the key ranking signals for the TikTok algorithm, straight from TikTok. They are:

1. User interactions

Much like the Instagram algorithm, the TikTok algorithm bases recommendations on a user’s interactions with content on the app. What kind of interactions? Anything that offers clues about the kind of content the user likes, or doesn’t like.

For example, your For You page recommendations are based on:

  • Which accounts you follow
  • Creators you’ve hidden
  • Comments you’ve posted
  • Videos you’ve liked or shared on the app
  • Videos you’ve added to your favorites
  • Videos you’ve marked as “Not Interested”
  • Videos you’ve reported as inappropriate
  • Longer videos you watch all the way to the end (aka video completion rate)
  • Content you create on your own account

2. Video information

While user interaction signals are based on the way you interact with other users on the app, video information signals are based on the content you tend to seek out on the Discover tab.

This can include details like:

  • Captions
  • Sounds
  • Hashtags
  • Effects
  • Trending topics

3. Device and account settings

These are settings TikTok uses to optimize performance. However, since they’re based on one-time settings choices rather than active engagements, they do not have as much influence on what you see on the platform as user interaction and video information signals.

Some of the device and account settings included in the TikTok algorithm are:

  • Language preference
  • Country setting (you may be more likely to see content from people in your own country)
  • Type of mobile device
  • Categories of interest you selected as a new user

What’s not included in the TikTok algorithm

The following types of content will NOT be recommended by the algorithm:

  • Duplicated content
  • Content you’ve already seen
  • Content the algorithm flags as spam
  • Potentially upsetting content (TikTok gives the examples of “graphic medical procedures” or “legal consumption of regulated goods”)

And here’s the good news for all new TikTok users, or those who haven’t yet built up a large follower base. TikTok does NOT base recommendations on follower count or on previous success with a high-performing video.

Sure, accounts with more followers will likely get more views because people are actively seeking that content. However, if you create great content that speaks directly to your target audience, you have as much chance to land on their For You page as even the biggest TikTok stars.

Not convinced? Here’s the scoop straight from TikTok:

“You may come across a video in your feed that doesn’t appear to … have amassed a huge number of likes…. Bringing a diversity of videos into your For You feed gives you additional opportunities to stumble upon new content categories, discover new creators, and experience new perspectives.”.

Your goal is to be one of those new creators for your target audience. Here are 9 tips to help you do just that.

9 tips for working with the TikTok algorithm in 2021

1. Switch to a TikTok Pro account

TikTok offers two types of pro accounts, depending on whether you’re a creator or a business. Having a Pro account in itself won’t help get your videos on the For You page, but switching to one is nonetheless an important part of mastering the TikTok algorithm.

That’s because a Creator or Business account gives you access to metrics and insights that can help guide your TikTok strategy. Understanding who your audience is, when they’re active on the app, and what kind of content they enjoy is critical if you want to create content they like and engage with.

9. Use trending sounds and music

Two-thirds (67%) of TikTokers said they prefer brand videos featuring popular or trending songs. And, like we’ve already said, participating in any kind of trend is a good bet when aiming for the For You page.

So, how do you find out which songs and sounds are trending?

From the TikTok home screen, tap the + icon at the bottom, then tap Sounds on the Record Video page. You’ll see a list of top trending sounds.

To find out which sounds are trending with your particular audience, you’ll need to check TikTok Analytics. Find this data in the Follower tab.

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