I can’t be the only one whose eyes bulge a bit when they scroll down their Instagram feed to the suggested posts. Nothing makes me want close the app faster than watching all my daily SportsCenter clips, just to get those same highlights a few posts below.
Many social media platforms have adapted some form of this system, but it’s TikTok, the latest social media craze, that does it best. Users can follow, like and comment on their favorite creators like more traditional social media, but the main attraction is the For You page – a seemingly endless wave of suggested posts based on what users watch and interact with.
TikTok peeled back the curtains a bit in a blog post released in June 2020, where they said, “On TikTok, the For You feed reflects preferences unique to each user. The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors.”
The factors of their algorithm are videos that the user likes and shares, recurring captions or hashtags, and device settings such as preferred language and location among others. They even take into consideration the amount of time spent watching certain videos and avoid videos with the same sound or caption from being on your page twice. This superior version of a common feature has allowed TikTok to gain popularity among all crowds to some extent.
To help wrap my head around this, I spoke with Tim Penning, a Grand Valley State University professor of advertising and public relations.
“It automates discovery,” Penning said. “Think of Spotify or Pandora. You liked these songs, so you should check out this artist or this album.”
Penning also mentioned that teenagers and young adults tend not to use older platforms like Facebook, and that TikTok is the most recent app designed to be “where the cool kids are,” as Penning put it.
Being someone who worked closely with advertisers and marketers in the past, Penning elaborated on TikTok’s success saying, “It’s only available on a mobile phone and it’s very easy to access. Once they open it, it’s like candy. People want to keep going, and for those without self-control, they can watch for hours a day.”
It could be blamed on a lack of restraint, but I am under the impression that TikTok’s grasp on my daily life comes from the For You page. Something about their formula leaves me finding something new every time I open the app. I am always impressed with how good of a job the app does with promoting random users. For instance, a post with 4 million likes is usually right behind one with 40 likes, and if you’ve been on the app long enough, maybe you’ve even gone viral yourself.
The For You feed gives users something that they can only get from TikTok, and is a testament to their creative new spin on social media. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve only witnessed a few times with the rise of Facebook, Twitter and even Snapchat, but for now, other platforms will have a hard time finding the same amount of growth and fame that TikTok has.