How to crack the code of TikTok’s ‘For You’ page
Weighing in on app’s infamous home screen, Dom Burch explains how brands can best use it to their advantage.
Launched in 2018 TikTok now boasts more than 1 billion users / Adobe Stock
Eight years ago, I helped launch an innovative influencer-led YouTube channel for Asda called Mum’s Eye View. Rather than create dull, branded corporate videos that sought to mimic YouTuber content, we flipped the tables and handed over the keys to them. It was a bit of a punt, but within six months it had generated 2m views and captured 35,000 subscribers – which seemed massive to me at the time.
Since then, however, the world of video has been turned upside down and inside out. Launched in 2018, TikTok now boasts more than a billion users. Unlike all the major social channels that preceded it, however, having a large subscriber base or fan following is no longer a prerequisite for gaining huge reach.
The phenomenally rapid growth of TikTok means that brands are urgently trying to work out how to adapt their marketing and PR strategies to reflect what millions of people are seeing, doing and getting excited about on TikTok. They are wrestling with how to use it to their advantage, how to stay on top of it and not miss out on opportunities. It’s no mean feat.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to host a panel discussion at Leeds Digital Festival, which was illuminating. The sell-out event revealed the biggest challenge marketing and PR teams have in addressing the appeal of TikTok is knowing what’s about to trend before it explodes. Timing is everything.
Most brand managers and PRs in the room were completely blindsided to some of the biggest trends on TikTok simply because their own ’For You’ pages hadn’t surfaced them. The TikTok algorithm means every user is served up radically different content, which makes it hard for teams to be on top of all the fast-moving things different people are exposed to.
TikTok’s recommendation engine also means anyone’s video can become an overnight sensation and kickstart a new phenomenon if it’s pushed to millions of people, while countless others are oblivious to its existence.
To ram home the point, Tesco released its first-ever TikTok the morning before the event – a page that had no followers, but by piggybacking the duet trend and encouraging people to audition to be the voice of its self-checkouts (a PR triumph), it had generated 6m views in 24 hours.
The extent of the challenge became clear when the marketing and PR professionals in the room saw the scale and reach of some of the videos on the platform, which had completely passed them by in recent weeks. Butterboards anyone?
One agency boss said: ”I wouldn’t admit it to my clients, but I’m completely blind to most of the things I’ve been shown today. Too much of what’s big on TikTok is just not getting on to my radar. We have several TikTok ’specialists’ in the team – most of them in their early 20s – and they’re only surfacing a tiny fraction of the things I should be aware of.”
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It was the same question on everyone’s lips: how do I get round the algorithm and be aware of many more of the emerging trends and topics different people are getting excited about every day? Unlike other social channels, it’s hard to monitor – plus, the speed that things take off can mean it’s hard to join in without looking like an also-ran.
The company that hosted the event, Shooglebox, is attempting to circle the square by using a combination of humans and tech to combat the For You page filter bubble – giving brands a morning report and enabling them to be more agile with better visibility of stuff that is beginning to take off.
The company’s co-founder, Tony Cuthbertson, shared some of the techniques that are working for his teams and the brands they are employed by to keep their finger on the pulse. They include assembling a diverse team of ’TikTok spotters’ within and outside your organization to help you see beyond your own For You page and collaborative tools for analyzing and understanding fast-changing TikTok and social media content.
Shooglebox has recently launched a service called Buzz, which surfaces at-a-glance emerging trends and viral videos on TikTok. It is designed to give busy marketing and PR teams a head start on what topics and videos are emerging so that they can get involved or jump in. A bird’s eye view of TikTok so to speak.
Come to think of it, that reminds me of something I did eight years ago. Did I ever tell you about my YouTube channel at Asda?
Dom Burch is the founder and managing director of Why Social.