Guest post, by David Klein. David is a NYC-based actor, producer and creator. He also works on special projects for Jay Palter Social Advisory as a digital content strategist. Find him on TikTok.
TikTok is a rapidly growing social media platform whose mission is to be “the leading destination for short-form [vertical] mobile video – to inspire creativity and bring joy.” I’ve created this guide to TikTok best practices to help you understand and navigate this new creative platform.
What is unique about TikTok?
TikTok stands apart from other social networks in the following ways:
- It will help you meet the next generation: With the majority of TikTok’s users being highly-engaged Generation Z and Millennials based in major cities around the world, brands can instantly connect with the next generation of consumers.
- You can get unique engagement on posts: Whether it’s through an idea, tool or the hashtag challenge, brands can convert users into ambassadors through the power of shared experience on the platform.
- You can drive exponential growth on the platform: TikTok’s intelligent content discovery process allows users to discover fresh content based on their viewing preferences and habits, helping brands achieve fast growth and maximum visibility.
- It has highly engaged and passionate users: Be entertained and inspired by a global community of creators.
- It’s a fully-immersive vertical video experience: TikTok provides a variety of full-screen vertical short-form video content, pioneering the trend of video consumption around the world.
Facts about TikTok
- In terms of number of users and growth, TikTok is the top social media application right now. Total number of monthly active users: 800 million.
- Urban Generation Z and Millennials are the top demographics using the platform (source):
- 41 percent of TikTok users are aged between 16 and 24.
- 56% of TikTok users are male and 44% are female.
- Roughly 50% of TikTok’s global audience is under the age of 34 with 26% between 18 and 24.
- Chinese users account for 80% of the total time spent using TikTok in 2019.
- 43% of new TikTok users are from India.
- TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the app.
- 26.5 million monthly active users are from the USA
- In less than 18 months, the number of US adult TikTok users grew 5.5 times.
- 90% of TIkTok users visit the app more than once per day.
- The platform is a cultural generator that circulates viral songs, trends, hashtags, memes ideas, and more.
- The platform boasts sophisticated editing suite, with many features and tools (i.e. this is Vine 2.0).
- By upgrading to the pro account users can access helpful user analytics.
- The trends and types of content you would find on TikTok include: Dance, Lip-sync, Talent, Comedy, Meme videos, and Hashtag challenges.
Anecdotal Advice from Top TikTok Influencers
- “There is no such thing as posting too much on TikTok…if you can post three TikToks a day you are gonna grow quicker than someone who posts once a day.“
- You have to post videos every day, even if they don’t reach many people. Consistency is key.
- Knowledge about TikTok’s algorithm is sketchy at best, but unlike Facebook, it doesn’t punish users for frequent uploads.
- TikTok is oversaturated with wannabe influencers: “you need to have something unique about you” to succeed. Personality is key. Create a unique brand.
- “One thing that I started to do quite quickly was to establish a personality. It’s the one thing people don’t tend to do – they tend to just make videos of them dancing or miming words, and that’s not something most people can connect with. It’s not something you can humanize.”
- Use the tools the app gives you, especially if they’re recent additions.
- “When you’re using effects people are seeing for the first time, they’ll probably see more videos of you, then they’ll go to your profile.”
- Showing people “something they haven’t seen” is part of what’s made [top influencer’s] growth so explosive… be creative and weird.”
- “Optimize for a high re-watchability, completion, and share-ability. Suspense, understanding, and anticipation are the new clickbait.”
- Make sure videos have a “plot twist,” i.e. formatting your video so the laugh out loud moment comes right at the end, so users can’t help but stick around.
- “You can’t be scared to be cringey…cringey is good because that’s what sells. People wanna watch you do that video because they’re too scared to.”
- “Strange and relatable resonates.”
- TikToks that you don’t expect to blow up/don’t put that much effort into…often are the ones that blowup.
- Pay attention to novel trends and capitalize on them (remix trends with your own twist, use popular songs and sounds, ride the timely wave of trending hashtag challenges).
- “Maintain mobile-first, but maximize video quality (lights, sound, mise en scene). Consider using the back camera, professional equipment, editing software as you grow if it’s right for your content.”
- If a new song is used only one or two times on the ‘for you’ page, it will probably start blowing up
soon. You want to take advantage of this as it is time-sensitive.
- Overthinking can kill you on TikTok. Don’t “over-optimize” your videos to the algorithm. You have to be authentic/real/spontaneous.
Speculation about TikTok’s algorithm
The “for you” page is the key to discovery and virality on the platform. No one – outside the company itself – knows how the complex algorithm that pushes content onto the page works. However, based on my research and experience using the platform here are my best educated guesses on how the algorithm works:
How TikTok’s Algorithmic AI Initially Analyzes a Post
Another Visualization of a TikTok Post Life Cycle
Breaking Down The Batch Theory to Understand TikTok’s Algorthim
If we use The Batch Theory visualized above then TikTok algorthim may work in the following ways:
- Each new post is pushed to a small batch of users’ For You pages during the first two hours after posting, based on users’ viewing preferences (these are matched based on the AI’s initial analysis of the video’s content).
- After this initial test batch, the AI assigns the post a performance rating. The key factors that influence a successful performance rating in ascending order of importance are as follows:
- Watch time: what is your video’s completion/rewatch rate?
- Shares: how many shares, relative to views?
- Comments: how many comments relative to views?
- Likes: how many likes relative to views?
- Depending on the performance rating of your post after the first batch, it will then either:
- Fail: your post will stop being pushed to the For You page.
- Succeed: your post will be pushed to a second, larger batch of users. The process repeats with larger batches and new performance ratings.
At some point in the medium to high-tier batches, a real TikTok employee will personally watch the video to determine if it is appropriate, not hateful, not breaching terms of service, not infringing copyright, and so on. Following this, the video will either be removed from TikTok or promoted to become what they call “super viral.”
How TikTok Profile Authority Ranking Works
While making good quality content that is optimized for the review process is important, there is one other major factor to TikTok growth. According to the authority ranking theory, TikTok generates a ranking of each user’s profile based on the following factors:
- The first 5 videos you post to your profile. TikTok analyzes these 5 videos to determine:
- The value of your profile, based on views and engagement. You are then ranked in Tier 1, hundreds of views or less per video; Tier 2, 1,000-3,000 views per video; or Tier 3, 10,000+ views per video. The better your first five videos perform, the better your authority ranking.
- The type and category of content you produce. TikTok wants to easily sort your profile into a neat and consistent vertical. For example, meme account, makeup tutorial, trending dances, and so on. TikTok wants verticality, not experimenting with different forms.
- I recommend that you don’t use the first few videos to play around, test, and experiment. Hit the ground running with best videos possible and use specific videos that have a clear and consistent vertical.
- Theme uniformity. As stated above, it is important to stick to a theme or niche.
- Number of deleted videos. TikTok perceives deleting videos as indicative of unsuccessful content and penalizes this behavior.
- Note: TikTok will occasionally flag posts for “delayed explosion” and old videos will be randomly and periodically be nominated for recycling into the For You page batches, so don’t delete your flops.
- Number of accounts associated with a device. Don’t run more than one TikTok account on a device. TikTok recognizes this as a “business” setup and the algorithm penalizes you for it.
Best Practices for an Optimal TikTok Video Post
Based on the research above and my experience on the platform the videos that perform the best on the platform are:
- 10-15 seconds long
- have a distinct beginning, middle, and end
- necessitates watching until the very end or even better, requires re-watching
- incentivizes sharing, commenting, liking and following
- are posted at peak times for your followers and the general population
- Note: 6 p.m. and 12 p.m. have been shown to be the best posting times
- are posted at least 3 or4 hours after your previous post.
- Note: back-to-back posting is penalized by AI
- uses 6-8 hashtags max that use a mix of popular, trending hashtags and niche hashtags relevant to your video
- uses popular, trending music and sounds that are relevant to visuals (when applicable)
- aligns with chosen and clearly articulated vertical theme and aligns with chosen articulated persona and character
- uses new editing tools and features (when applicable)
- uses the optimal film, audio, editing quality and techniques to tell the story
- As stated in the TikToks mission statement you want your video to “inspire creativity and bring joy”
- incentivizes rewatching
- videos that are part of a series or follow-up on a theme or idea generally do quite well
How Influencers are Making Money on TikTok
- Live streaming: this is available to users who have 1,000 followers which allows viewers to send money in real-time through the application
- Brand deals: number of sponsored “ambassadors” can be discovered on the app
- Selling merchandise: once you have a known brand
- Being discovered: Influencers are discovered on TikTok platform because of their influence value and can evolve into other aspects on the industry
Additional Reading on TikTok
- How to crack the TikTok algorithm to create viral videos, by Henry and Emma
- Reverse engineering how TikTok algorithm works , by VEED
- Leveraging TikTok for growth , by Geneviève Patterson and Hannah Donovan
- The TikTok algorithm: How it works, by Bobby Owsinski
- TikTok algorithm: How to go viral in 24 hours by Jade Darmawangsa
- How does the TikTok algorithm work? [5 Secrets You Need To Know], by Brady Shearer