TikTok had, by far, its most successful year in 2020. Throughout worldwide lockdowns, its user base grew and grew, officially cementing it as a top-tier social media platform, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
The great news is that the platform is still growing. There are major wins to be had on the platform. So, how do you grow and reach virality?
A huge part of how you grow and reach new audiences is your TikTok ‘account authority’. From the very top accounts (Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae, and Zach King) to the account you just created today -- all of these are given a grading by TikTok’s algorithms. These algorithms are determining how great your videos are and how good your account is overall.
By having a high account authority ranking, you’re able to achieve virality a lot quicker. This is because the TikTok algorithm doesn’t have to vet your performance metrics so much.
So, what are some of the key things you can do to improve your TikTok authority?
Consistency in genre
When you create a new account on TikTok, you don’t want to use your first 5 - 10 video as a testing ground for ideas. You need to hit the ground running. Make sure that your first videos are really original and unique.
It’ll help you a lot if you can plan ahead. Choose what your account is going to be about. For example, if your first five videos are drone aerials, the TikTok algorithm will determine ‘this is a drone aerials account’. However, if you post one drone aerial, two (hilarious) pranks, one car shoot and a dance routine? The genre and type of content you’re posting is very scattergun. The algorithm won’t be able to determine what type of account you are and this can impact on how well your future videos perform.
As tempting as it may be to delete a video that isn’t performing very well, don’t do it!
Deleting videos impacts your TikTok account authority because if you’re constantly deleting your videos that don’t perform well after the first few hours or days, TikTok then views your account as one that has a high rate of poor-performing videos.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the life cycle of exposure on TikTok is different to other platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook where the content disappears from feeds after 24 hours. On TikTok, it can be restarted at any moment and suddenly gain traction - something that’s been termed the “delayed explosion."
As mentioned with those first 5-10 videos, pick a niche and try to stick to it. The better your content sticks to a theme, the more you’ll grow. You need to be patient in the early days and build an initial core fan base around one theme or idea. If you start moving away from this, your account authority will reset because suddenly, the content is new and clearly different to what you were previously established as and known for.
This is the key to growing your TikTok authority. Each and every video you post is passing through different viewing tiers. In order to progress to the next level, it must pass a series of evaluations being made by the TikTok algorithm. These evaluations are based on the overall performance of your video and how well it achieved the following within each associated tier:
- Watch time completion/rewatches: This is super important. TikTok values watch time and rewatch count on your videos over everything else. The longer the watch time and the more rewatches, the better. So, think about engaging your audience so that they’re pulled into the video and have to/want to rewatch.
- Engagement variety: TikTok will look at the variety of engagement your video receives, including the likes, comments and shares. Naturally, certain things are preferred over others. For example, comments hold more value over likes, whilst something like rewatch count trumps everything.
- Engagement velocity: TikTok also analyses how fast your audience engages with the video once they’ve seen it.
This process of evaluation lasts about two hours from the moment you post, so it’s really important that you pick the right time to post! Find your prime time - the period of the day where the largest number of users (specifically people who will be interested in your content) are active.
Now that you understand how the evaluation system works, here are the different tiers your video can pass through:
- Tier 1: Your video is automatically distributed to your audience, as well as being shown to 300-500 new outsiders who aren’t following you (we call this a cold audience).
- Tier 2: Following evaluations (what we discuss above), if your video performs well enough in tier 1, it can be shown to an additional 1,000 - 5,000 viewers outside of your followers.
- Tier 4: Virality! This is the holy grail. If your video continues to thrive in tier 3, it may well reach tier 4 and end up appearing on the For You Page where it can easily achieve over 1 million views
Now, depending on how good your videos are and how committed you are, you will be able to ‘“skip” certain levels of content distribution. The better your TikTok authority, the less TikTok has to vet your metrics each time. So if you have good account authority, you could post videos that automatically go to tier 3, where they achieve 300,000 views each time.
Increase your TikTok following
Understanding how TikTok Authority is determined is only the prerequisite to increasing your following. And now that you have a handle on the four viewing tiers, plus the metrics used to evaluate and propel your content to the next level, we can begin to focus on actually getting more people to follow you.
Define your target audience
It cannot be said enough—you need to know and understand your target audience. Don’t just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Make sure you are delivering content that your fans will look forward to watching.
The more specific you can be with your content, the more solid your core following will be. Such a dedicated fan base is likely to make your content go viral. Once your videos reach virality, your following will expand beyond your target audience.
For instance, @Raquelreigns is a vocalist who belts out echoey pop songs under the elevated train tracks in Queens, NY. Her target audience—whether she realizes it or not—are pop-music-loving Millenials and Gen Xers living in New York City. Her song choices are nostalgic to those listeners and she uses the hashtags #nyc, #nycsubway, and #publicsingingchallenge.
Surely, at 1.7M followers, Raquel’s content has spread beyond that demographic; but you can bet it was the initial target audience that kept watching her videos repeatedly, in turn, making the videos more popular and more visible to a wider demographic.
If you are struggling to pinpoint your target audience, just keep believing in the unique value of your creative work and the audience will begin to emerge.
Hone in on hashtags
Your videos have a better chance of going viral with the right hashtags. You can make an awesome video participating in a trending challenge, but if you don’t slap on the proper hashtags, no one except your current followers will know.
People can search any hashtag, trending or not, to zero in on videos, sounds, effects, and communities of interest related to that hashtag. Using the right hashtags will bring the right people to your page.
Once a hashtags trends, it appears under the Discover tab. Swing by the hastag’s page to see how it’s performing. Look at the number of views, but also look at the most recently created videos. Is this hashtag still relevant?
If you are offering up unique content, try making up your own hashtag. If others jump on your trend, they’ll use your hashtag which will drive more views and followers to your videos. You’ll be known as the originator of that hashtag.
Promote your content on other platforms
Cross-promotion is key to driving more traffic directly to your TikTok page. Don’t just rely on the TikTok algorithms. If you share one of your videos on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media platform that allows external links, viewers will be taken directly to your video and that can increase your chance of getting additional followers.
When it comes to Instagram, you can post your same TikTok content as an IG Reel so it appears like a viewer is watching you on TikTok, but it won’t link back, so be sure to list your TikTok handle in your bio. And don’t give away all of your content on Instagram. Keep some videos exclusive to TikTok to give fans a reason to follow you there.
Jump on trends
A TikTok trend is akin to a meme in motion. It makes it’s impression and then becomes widely understood by a group of people. It works by making them feel a part of something; like a secret handshake or language. It’s important for content creators and brands to become aware of these TikTok trends and participate in them ASAP to get new followers.
Start by identifying trends
There are a few different ways to find trends. But it’s important to note that trends come to a point where they are no longer trending. For instance, the sound “Savage: Tiger King Edition” has 2.1 million videos that feature challenges set to this song. But, the trend peaked in April 2020; videos may still continue to get views, but the momentum for new content has fizzled out.
Top TikTokker Charli D'amelio got 6.5 million likes on her version.
The Discovery Tab
A great place to start familiarizing yourself with trends is the Discovery Tab. It will show you a list of not only trending hashtags, but trending sounds and effects each with a row of previews you can click on to watch individual videos. Keep in mind, not all of these trends will be relevant to your brand or audience.
Click on the trend itself to see the dedicated trend page with a tally of the views it has accumulated. TikTokers can even jump right in and participate by clicking join this hashtag, use this sound, or try this effect to immediately record a video. By hanging out in Discovery, you will continue to get fresh ideas so you can keep your page’s content updated and relevant.
Jump on a trend as it is emerging by using the hashtag #trendalert. And select trends that align with your niche. Lip syncing and dancing videos will have different trending sounds, but sometimes, a sound will crossover from one niche to another.
Creators will intentionally use a trending song or dance from a different niche to attract new viewers and followers. For instance, a makeup artist can create a transformation video set to a sound that is trending in dance routines.
Another way to get on top of trends and attract more followers is to pay attention to your For You page. Some say the algorithms are so on point it’s creepy. It takes stock of every view, like, comment, follow, or saved item to curate your personal FYP.
Rather than browse mindlessly, look for trends you could participate in and add them to your favorites. Don’t assume that this new content is trending. It may just be new to you. Visit the page of the trend whether it’s a hashtag, sound, or effect to determine if it’s still active. If recent videos using this sound are a week old, the window may have passed.
Collaborate with other TikTok creators
Duets are one strategy for jumping on a trend. Find a video that is going viral and has duets enabled and create a reaction video, imitation video, or “before and after” video. Fans who like or interact with the original content are more likely to see your duet in their FYP and potentially follow you.
TikTokker @DoubleVodkaDon has seemingly built his following doing a series of duets with über successful TikTokkers like Addison Rae, Charlie D'Amelio, Josh Richards. His angle is that he is obviously not shy about contrasting his body type to these the young, attractive, and fit influencers. As of this writing he's amassed over 168,000 followers and nearly 5 million likes.
More TikTok tips to help you grow
Heading into 2021, there are new and exciting updates coming to TikTok.
TikTok is pushing for longer video duration
TikTok is experimenting with longer form video. It’s been reported that some accounts with over 100,000 followers are being allowed to create and post videos that are up to 3 minutes in length—triple the current 60-second cap.
This should come as no surprise. This is a clear sign that TikTok is levelling up, looking to establish TikTok as a “household name” alongside Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and others. We’d argue that they’re already there but this move to longer video duration is a smart (and welcome) one.
It will undoubtedly attract more creators, no matter their age or niche. The classic stereotype of TikTok is that the platform is only for cringey dance routines. A lot of creatives have found that the 60-second cap is very limiting. TikTok has heard this and reacted. A lot of users are now reporting that their content is starting to perform better when it’s over 40 seconds long.
TikTok is expanding user demographics
The stereotypes of this platform are outdated. The nature of content has expanded far beyond dance routines and lip syncing. Throughout the year, expect to find certain integrations appearing, including commercial avenues opening up. Just like Instagram added the swipe up link option to Instagram Stories, links in video could very soon be a thing for TikTok. There are several cases of businesses coming on board and experiencing tremendous growth with millions of followers.
TikTok is prioritizing effect-based trends
With Instagram Reels looking to muscle in on the action, TikTok is looking to promote and take advantage of its best unique selling proposition. For example, the platform has a great FX library and is pushing videos that make use of this. In recent months and weeks, camera effects such as clone photos, time warp, and I’m a ghost have all been trending. If you tap into this, you may well receive a helpful boost from the algorithm!
So, that’s the not-so-elusive TikTok algorithm cracked for you. Using this inside info, you can dive right into TikTok, establish real authority, and ensure that your videos achieve virality quicker than ever before, helping to share and spread your message to a new audience.
As you can see, once it’s broken down into these bite-sized steps that are easy to follow and understand, it’s nowhere near as daunting as you perhaps thought. Stick to the winning formula (but remain vigilant as it changes) and you’ll quickly grow!
Additional research and reporting by Tara Purswani. Tara is an accomplished social media and marcom copywriter and researcher. She got her start at Gotham Writer’s Workshop and continued to hone her craft at NYUSPS where she has completed a certificate in Copyediting, Proofreading, and Fact-Checking.