July 23, 2024

TikTok’s Unpredictable Algorithm

By Breann Miller

It’s a common occurrence to see comments or posts questioning how you somehow got onto a certain ‘side’ of TikTok. Right now, I’ve found myself on the dancing kid from The Lorax side of TikTok. With one like or random search you can find your whole page shifted to a certain interest that you might not even understand it knew about you. So, how does this work and how does it change a brand’s ability to go viral?

Your For You page (FYP) is catered to you personally based on your recent likes, comments, shares, and more. While you might have a similar FYP to your friend, there’s never an exact replica of your FYP out there. This has made it hard for brands to go viral and stay consistent, because of the confusing algorithm. Research has found that there are certain aspects that help you beat the algorithm, but in reality, it is usually random.

User activity is how your FYP knows what type of content you enjoy, so it pushes similar content. They can also push content that relates to your location or places you interact with through your activity. Certain keywords play a role, whether you like a majority of videos with the keywords “#grwm” or “#booktok”. Both of these help push videos to the audiences that engage with them.

Researchers have tried to help brands “hack” the algorithm by giving them tips and tricks. Some of these include using trending audio or trending keywords. Certain lengths of time, such as videos under 15 seconds, will perform better because they can engage users who will watch the whole video. Finding a niche and exploring that will also help you gain an audience that will continue to get those reoccurring videos on their FYP. Some brands have done this well and continue to have good engagement and success with the algorithm. Duolingo, an app that helps you learn languages, has 6.6M followers and a combined 139.3M likes. They have done a great job at connecting with popular audiences, such as engaging with content around the Eras Tour, which has been a popular side of TikTok recently.


Taylor tricksey Swift don’t play with my heart erastour swifttok duolingo

♬ original sound – Matthew

TikTok has become the outlier platform for a lot of brands because of its inconsistent algorithm. A brand that might before very well on Instagram, might not have the same success on TikTok. Follower count and past viral videos play no role in pushing further content from that account, which means every post could go viral or every post could flop. This has made TikTok a platform that people find trustworthy but also more connected to personal interests rather than advertisements.

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3 thoughts on “TikTok’s Unpredictable Algorithm

  1. I totally agree with your take on TikTok’s algorithm and how it affects brands trying to go viral. The personalized For You page makes it difficult to target a broad audience, but it’s interesting how certain tactics like using trending audio and short videos can help brands beat the algorithm. I loved the example of Duolingo’s success in connecting with popular audiences through exploring niches and engaging with trending content. It’s true that TikTok feels more trustworthy because it’s personalized to our interests, but it can also be a challenge for brands to cut through the noise. Overall, great analysis!

  2. I agree with you and what you are saying about Tik Tok’s confusing algorithm. I always think about how odd the tik tok algorithm is. Sometimes I will watch tik tok off someone else’s phone, and their FYP differs from mine. But, at the same time, it makes sense because the content caters to their interests. This is why Tik Tok is so addicting. This platform takes in your likes and comments data, then spits similar videos into their infinite scroll app for you to watch. Great blog post!

  3. I immediately was drawn to your article because personally I feel like from a user standpoint, the TikTok algorithm is extremely predictable. It gives you exactly what you want to see. Thats why TikTok is so addicting. I never thought though how it might be unpredictable for brands. Because it’s true, the TikToks that go viral tend to be pretty random. And viral-ness can happen to anyone on TikTok. So there’s no sure-fire way to know wether or no your brands account or videos they post will do well on TikTok. Great article and analysis!

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