How the TikTok Algorithm Works and How to Leverage It

How The TikTok Algorithm Works In 2022

Struggling to get noticed on TikTok? Discover the secrets of the TikTok algorithm and how it can skyrocket your social media presence and user engagement.

In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most valuable platforms for marketers to win new customers and stay top of mind with existing ones.

TikTok boasts three impressive statistics: First, it’s the most downloaded app. Second, it is the most popular app for Gen Z and Millennials. Finally, it is considered to be the most engaging social media platform, with users spending up to twice as much time on it compared to other popular apps. It would be crazy to overlook TikTok’s social media marketing potential.

As marketers ourselves, we know how important it is to maximize the value of every dollar spent. With so many brands competing for users’ attention on TikTok, how do you maximize the value of your spending? How do you achieve the maximum return on your TikTok strategy?

The key to succeeding on TikTok as a marketer is pretty straightforward – once you understand the algorithm that powers TikTok’s recommendation system, you can then create and deploy successful content by leveraging its power to maximize your reach. If you are a TikTok veteran or if this is your first time considering the platform, this article will help you better understand how to succeed on the platform.

What Is An Algorithm?

An algorithm is a mathematical formula that tells a computer what to do with a certain data set. More simply, it is a set of instructions and rules designed to solve a specific problem or complete a specific task.

Algorithms can be created to identify the perfect egg based on color and shape, or a recommendation algorithm can be designed to create networks and recommend TikTok videos based on tastes and preferences as you see in social media and online searches.

Social media platforms like TikTok use algorithms to identify demographics, funnel desirable content to those demographics, and generate and disseminate new trends to different demographics across the platform.

Perhaps most importantly, social networks design algorithms to keep users on their platforms.

What Is the TikTok’s Algorithm?

TikTok’s algorithm is considered to be one of the best for social media platforms, surpassing competitors like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. While these competing platforms grapple with declining engagement and a disenchanted audience base, TikTok’s short-form video content continues to captivate and expand its user base.

In an article published in December 2021, The New York Times identified the four main goals of TikTok’s algorithmic code, thanks to a leaked internal document called “TikTok Algo 101” that was originally written by Chinese engineers in Beijing to explain to nontechnical TikTok employees how the video-sharing app makes algorithmic recommendations. These four main goals include: “user value,” “long-term user value,” “creator value” and “platform value”.

  • User Value: This goal focuses on providing immediate satisfaction and relevance to users. It aims to deliver content that resonates with the user’s current preferences and interests, ensuring their immediate engagement and satisfaction with the platform.
  • Long-Term User Value: This algorithm aspect looks beyond immediate user engagement. It seeks to understand and predict users’ evolving interests and needs over time, aiming to keep them engaged with the platform in the long run.
  • Creator Value: This goal is centered around content creators. It involves supporting and incentivizing TikTok creators to produce high-quality, engaging content. By valuing creators, TikTok ensures a steady supply of diverse and appealing content, which in turn benefits users.
  • Platform Value: This goal relates to the overall growth and sustainability of the TikTok platform. It involves optimizing the app’s performance, ensuring ease of use, and continuously improving the algorithm to serve the best interests of both users and creators, thereby enhancing the platform’s value and appeal.

This leaked document gave America and the rest of the world a full view of the mathematical formulas that keep TikTok humming along as the fastest-growing social media platform on the planet, revealing everything about what’s going on under the hood.

The ultimate goal of TikTok’s algorithm is driven by two fundamental metrics: retention and time spent. Retention measures whether users return to the platform, while time spent tracks the duration of their engagement. The algorithm’s strategic goals, underpinned by these metrics, aim to maximize the app’s daily active user numbers and engagement time.  

TikTok Algo Formula

So, how does this look in practice? How does it actually affect your content and your TikTok strategy?

The “TikTok Algo 101” document revealed a robust video weighting system integral to the platform’s algorithm. The success of content on TikTok hinges on user interaction, which is quantified using a formula:

Plike X Vlike + Pcomment X Vcomment + Eplaytime X Vplaytime + Pplay X Vplay.

In this equation:

  • Plike and Vlike represent the prevalence and value of likes.
  • Pcomment and Vcomment stand for the frequency and impact of comments.
  • Eplaytime and Vplaytime denote the extent and significance of video playtime.
  • Pplay and Vplay account for the total plays and their respective values.

This system prioritizes videos that garner more likes, comments, and longer playtimes alongside a higher number of plays. User account settings, including language preference, country settings, and device type, are factored in, albeit to a lesser extent than the above metrics.

For marketers, this understanding of TikTok’s algorithmic function is key. The platform’s emphasis on interaction mirrors that of other social networks, consistently elevating content that resonates and engages users most effectively.

By mastering this algorithm, content creators and marketers can strategically tailor their TikTok strategies to align with the platform’s ultimate goals – maximizing user engagement and satisfaction.

How To Succeed On TikTok

So that’s the nitty-gritty of how TikTok’s algorithm works. 

How can you, as a marketer, utilize this information to hack the algorithm and propel you to success on the app?

Hyper segment!

TikTok’s algorithm allows for microcultures to grow and subsist – which means you can, and should, laser-focus your approach to TikTok content.

Drill down into your customer data and look for comparable subcultures on TikTok; the more directly you can speak to your customers, the more they will respond. Hashtags like #cottagecore and #momsoftiktok are great examples of ways to slide into already-defined markets. 

Consistency, consistency, consistency

TikTok rewards consistency. As we know from their leaked algorithm document, the app aims to keep both TikTok users and creators on the platform by rewarding them for consistent usage. If you’ve got an organic account for your brand, posting daily will help expand your reach as the algorithm gives you more weight as a creator. TikTok even recommends you post 1-4 times a day

Deliver value

Since view time is a huge part of the algorithm, creating valuable content is key to winning the TikTok algorithm game. You simply need to be providing your audience with something they find valuable. Lucky for us, on TikTok, “valuable” usually just means something entertaining – but it can be educative, relatable, trending, musical, or just aesthetically pleasing.

Focus on engaging hooks

If viewers don’t watch past the first second, your watch time will go down (and therefore, your video score will go down), so make sure that your opening is eye-catching and entices the viewer to NEED to see what comes next. We know the power of a strong hook across social media, but for TikTok especially, with its already-bite-size format, a strong and meaty hook is crucial for beating the algorithm. If your followers are uninterested within the first few seconds, you lose them.


Part of your TikTok marketing strategy should be devoted specifically to user interactions. This one might seem pretty obvious as it has been true of social media platforms since the very dawn of time – but engaging with other users on the platform will also increase your visibility. You don’t always have to be making the content. Sometimes, it’s best to engage with other users and creators to develop legitimacy in the eyes of the algo. 

Not only does this approach give you the opportunity to meet your customers on a (digitally) personal level, but it also increases your profile’s weight in the algorithm. Spend some time each day just interacting with your followers (or even better, followers of followers!), and you’ll receive a bit more love from the algorithm – and see your follower count skyrocket.

Use hashtags

You may have heard that hashtags are dead, especially among younger users. That is becoming increasingly true on most social media platforms, but not TikTok. Weirdly, TikTok’s algorithm still strongly weights hashtags.

That’s probably because hashtags are more useful and flexible on TikTok than on other platforms. You can use them to attract a specific demographic to check out your post or find new partners for your content. Trending hashtags and hashtag challenges are the perfect way to get in front of the right audience. Users explore new content via hashtags on the Discover Tab, making them an ideal venue for you to find new followers to engage with.

The trend is your friend

More than anything, TikTok is the platform of the trend. In regard to trends, TikTok moves faster than any other social media platform in history. Cultural trends appear in a matter of hours or days and expand across demographics, saturating the platform. Then, a few days later, that trend is dead, and a new one has replaced it.

The ease with which trends proliferate on TikTok might be the most powerful tool for marketers. We can quickly create a short video that plays on a current trend, and if it’s entertaining enough, it could easily make it into your target audience’s For You Page (FYP) and go viral from there.

When participating in a hot TikTok trend, it’s crucial that you use trending sounds or songs (a list of trending audio can be found on the record page under sounds) and that your caption and hashtag games are on point.

It takes a village

As marketers, we need to be masters of the dark arts occasionally. If TikTok’s video scores are weighted towards interaction, we must increase interaction. Having a number of accounts ready to boost your video when it goes up could be the key to the success of your videos on TikTok – so gather your team and make sure they’re commenting, liking, and interacting with your posts as soon as they go up!

Create Winning TikTok Strategies with First Media

The TikTok algorithm – for all the technical plaudits it has received – is not that complicated, and it is probably the easiest platform for marketers to find success on.

The low cost of entry, the ease of market penetration via trends, and the general addictiveness of the platform means that creating and deploying a successful TikTok strategy is probably easier than Facebook, Instagram, and X (Twitter) combined – but only if you know what you’re doing.

If you need a partner when it comes to finding growth on TikTok, First Media has a long and successful track record of creating and deploying video content of any kind. No matter your vertical or goals, we can work with you to create a winning TikTok strategy in just weeks.