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How the TikTok Algorithm Works

By Athena Alexander

TikTok is a relatively new, widely used social media platform that has quickly gained a large following over the past few years. This app shows short videos ranging in length from a few seconds to a minute, where users can scroll through a curated feed. As on Instagram, TikTok users can like, comment, and share videos that appear on their feed. What sets TikTok apart from other social media platforms is its algorithm that controls the kinds of videos that pop onto users’ feeds. This personalized feed is called the “For You” page, and it’s where TikTok’s algorithm carefully selects videos it thinks the user will enjoy based on previous use. How does this algorithm work and how can users curate their pages so more videos they enjoy pop up?

What is TikTok?

TikTok is globally ranked 6th in use. This platform has a unique history, with multiple app transformations and rapid success due to its algorithm. TikTok first began as Music.Ly, a similar platform where users would create short videos with audio. This app was popular in the US and China. In 2017, Music.Ly was bought by Chinese tech company ByteDance, which had a similar app called Douyin, launched in 2016. After the purchase, ByteDance decided to merge Music.Ly and Douyin and create TikTok, which launched in 2018.

Any user can create a video on TikTok about almost anything. TikTok videos range from dance moves to home décor, comedy skits to cooking. Community guidelines must be followed; videos with inappropriate content, such as excessive nudity, violence, or cruelty, are removed.

The TikTok Algorithm

The “For You” page is a seemingly never-ending feed of videos TikTok thinks a user will enjoy based on their past use of TikTok and videos the algorithm predicts will become viral. This fast-acting algorithm is what initially set TikTok apart from other social media platforms. It is also personalized for each user, so no two users have the same feed.

Most social media platforms keep their algorithms secret to protect their app’s success. Sadly, TikTok protects its algorithm as well. Despite this, the basics of the algorithm have been released. According to TikTok HQ, the factors that make up the algorithm are user interactions, video information, and device and account settings. Any sort of user interaction factors into creating their feed. A user does not have to like or interact with a video; even a full watch or multiple watches are noticed by the algorithm. Sometimes the “For You” page may include some random videos, but these are intentionally included to enable users to find new content.

How to Create a “For You” Page That is for YOU!

A great way to find videos on TikTok is by searching for trending audio. Videos on TikTok are posted with the audio of a song, movie line, or other sound bite, and the user can click on the audio and view other videos that include that sound. Some users make original sounds of themselves talking, singing, or making their own music. One of the ways TikTok is different from other social media platforms is the way videos start trending. The algorithm will place videos that it believes will go viral, but popular audios have a large influence on trending videos. Some users make videos with viral audio tracks to increase the interaction rate of their videos. This cycle keeps the audio trending as more people use and contribute to the sound.

The easiest way to make a “For You” page with videos you like to see is to use the app. Fully watch and interact with the videos you enjoy, and quickly scroll past the ones you don’t. Within a few days, your TikTok feed will be filled with videos and content you enjoy. Try searching for creators and topics that you want to see more of on your feed and see what happens.


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