What Small Businesses Owners Need to Know About the TikTok Algorithm

Ever since I accidentally went a little bit viral on TikTok I’ve been fascinated with figuring out how it works and how a small business could use it to grow their brand.

TikTok is at the forefront of the new style of entertainment-based and interactive content creation. If your business is still focusing on static content such as photos and posts, this new focus on quick video content is going to quickly leave you behind, making it more and more difficult to reach your target audience. After all, who doesn’t prefer a quick, pointed and entertaining video that teaches them something, when compared to a static photo and an update you need to read (there is still a place for that, too).

TikTok is quickly becoming the social media platform of choice for small businesses, especially those who are selling a product, or for whom the target market is millennials and GenZ. If you’re seeing what I’m seeing and agreeing with me about the growing importance of TikTok, here’s what small business owners need to know about the TikTok algorithm before jumping in.

How the TikTok Algorithm works

TikTok has perhaps been the most open about how its algorithm places content in your feed since they’ve written about it on their own blog for all to see.

Recommendations are based on a number of factors, including things like:

  • User interactions such as the videos you like or share, accounts you follow, comments you post, and content you create.
  • Video information, which might include details like captions, sounds, and hashtags.

It’s pretty clear: they will show you more of what you interact with and that could be based on words or hashtags in the captions, the accounts you follow, or the sounds/effects used. This is why hashtags and planned content are so important on the platform. A small business owner needs to understand the hashtag system, trending content, and algorithm in order to get any traction.

The TikTok algorithm depends on engagement.

Yes, most platforms encourage engagement, but they tend to include simple likes on content as engagement. TikTok is built to heavily weigh video completions. If you want your content to be seen by more people, you have to get the first people who see it to watch the entire thing. A high play-though rate increases the chances TikTok will show your content to more people.

This is why we see a lot of very short content around seven seconds long. It’s easier to get a high play-through rate when your content is short. If you’re hanging around on #SmallBusinessTok you’ll also see a lot of posts encouraging comments and shares, because these are important signals to TikTok about the quality of your content.

The TikTok algorithm builds confirmation bias.

The TikTok algorithm is so good at finding content you will enjoy and interact with, they’re now selling the algorithm to other apps.

TikTok is all about discovering new creators, new topics, new vendors and new interests. Because of its dependence on topics and hashtags for determining what to show you, it shows you more and more content you are most likely to agree with. If you interact with a post about white fragility, you’re going to receive more content about white fragility. If you interact with a bunch of half-naked dancing girls, you’re going to see more of that. If you interact with posts that include #SmallBusinessTok you’ll see more content including that hashtag.

Before you start commenting on people’s content that “nobody” agrees with them you should check on that. TikTok isn’t going to easily show you views you oppose. It is going to mostly show you content you agree with, and occasionally throw in something you might not agree with because people you follow commented on it.

The TikTok algorithm creates intense addiction

TikTok has figured out that it’s the content, not the creator that matters when the goal is keeping you on the platform longer.

Think about it. If every video you are exposed to is telling you your view of the world is right and good, you’re going to want to see more, aren’t you? If every video makes you laugh, or entertains you in some way, you’ll want to see more. TikTok has gotten so good at figuring out what you want to see it keeps people on the platform for an average of 52 minutes per day, which is higher than both Facebook and Instagram.

In fact, they’re so good at it they’ve made special “Interrupter Ads” to encourage people to GET OFF the platform.

YES, they have a series of ads that will pop up after one hour of scrolling to tell you to go do something else. There’s also a built-in screen time tracker that asks for a pin code after a set amount of time. But if you want to use that, be sure to give the pin code to someone else to control 🙂

@tiktoktipsWait a minute! When was the last time you went outside?♬ original sound – TikTok Tips

It’s time for small businesses to start using TikTok

Sometimes I jump right on a new platform and sometimes I don’t. There are a lot of things to evaluate when deciding whether or not to start a new social profile: time, creativity, personality fit, audience fit, technology availability. About FOUR YEARS AGO I had a conversation with a friend who had joined and built up a good following by lip-syncing and dancing. I told him in no uncertain terms that I would never join because I just couldn’t see the business use for silly dances.

I reserve the right to change my mind. As the platform has grown and diversified, I started to see the business case for creating this type of content to build a personal brand and a small business. Once small business owners understand the TikTok algorithm and platform, I believe they will agree it can be a very useful place to support and build a small business brand.

Understanding how the algorithm works on TikTok, and actively working with it will help you

  • Reach new audiences;
  • Create more creative content;
  • Build your personal or business brand.

And those are three very good reasons to consider it as your next platform if you have the capacity to start using a new one.



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