🧡 isn't 🧡 isn't 🧡

Three platforms have a heart icon: Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Yet, this action means different things to each of the platform algorithms. For the purposes of our discussion, let's focus on Instagram and TikTok as these represent either a large share of advertisers efforts or the emerging trend.

In a great simplification, Instagram is 3 surfaces: Home Feed, Story Feed and the Explore page (this analysis removes pages related to searches as that behavior is not core to Facebook properties). It is important to note that the first two properties are entirely driven by who a person chooses to follow and which advertisers win impressions. Explore is the only section on Instagram where a user can find content from those they don't follow.

In a similarly simplified world, TikToK is a Story feed. A story feed that is consumed on average for 60 minutes a day! This story feed opens to a For You page and interestingly NOT the following feed. This gives us a glimpse at probable algorithm differences between the platform. This focus on the Story Feed also allows the app to deliver a tuned experience to the format. TikTok is of course a video-first platform but most interestingly an audio-first platform as well. Sound ON is the default in a disruptive move from the pack. This has interesting implications saved for a later day.


How To Go Viral


Instagram has a two main avenues for virality on an organic post. These options assume proper best practices of posting consistently at top periods during a day.

The major factor being leveraged in the model are Likes (hearts) and comments. View time is probably incorporated but the specific algorithm is under lock and key :)

TikTok is an entirely different beast. Your posts are forced to go to people who do not follow your account. Posts are judged on the following factors and likely stacked ranked as follows: likes, comments, shares, followers gained, watch duration, and duets (again the algorithm is under lock and key so take this stack ranking as illustrative). As TikTok needs content to keep the For You feed fresh it leverages an interesting strategy to drive virality - what we're calling a round robin system.

TikTok takes a post and forces it to a small group of user's feeds. If it does well in the small group, it then graduates into a larger group of people on the platform. This process is iterative and allows the TikTok algorithm to leverage a Bayseian approach to predicting the success of the post for a large audience. It sacrifices a small minority of people for the enjoyment of the majority. Our guess is that overtime an account earns a quality score to help with this prediction. If you post a lot of winning content it could go through less tiers of audience before being featured in a large audience feed.

This means you want to design TikTok posts for high repeat consumption or high completion. Also, content that gets users to make their own videos in response are highly valued. What type of content does this favor - challenges, dance videos, "watch till the end" , etc.


What This Means


Growing on Instagram is a steady grind while TikTok can be explosive and highly variable. One is not necessarily better or worse but it does mean that content needs to be tailored for each platform. Beautiful imagery, unlike Instagram, won't get you anywhere on TikTok as watch time is low.

If you're a photographer, you might want to provide a video tutorial on how you took a photo with a quick edit at the end showing the beautiful image. This would entice people to watch the tutorial twice to see the image again. On Instagram, you might just get away with posting a beautiful image.

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Thanks to Aaron Weiss for sharing their work on Unsplash

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