Six Big Things I Learned Marketing On TikTok

TikTok is a traffic cannon with a fascinating algorithm. What I’ve learned after a few weeks of experimentation.

Alex Kantrowitz

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Something wild happened after I posted my seventh TikTok. My newly-active account — set up to promote Big Technology Podcast — had only a few hundred followers, but the video boomed across the network. It hit 10,000 views within hours, then 100,000, and settled above 400,000 the next day. Reaching that many people would’ve taken months with the podcast. On TikTok, it happened overnight.

In three weeks of experimentation on TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels, I’ve learned much about the way these platforms operate, far more than as an observer. The differences between them surprised me. Their power to distribute videos was something to behold. And the opportunity to capitalize on their needs seemed immense, if a bit risky.

This week, with input from some TikTok experts, I’ll share what I’ve learned:

TikTok is a traffic cannon

TikTok takes videos that resonate with its users and blasts them to thousands — if not millions — of viewers. The platform is reminiscent of mid-2010s Facebook, where anything moderately worthy could find a massive audience on the News Feed. But this time, thanks to TikTok’s algorithm, you don’t need a large following to land the traffic.

TikTok is so popular that its demand for quality videos far outpaces supply, which is why even decent videos go ballistic there. “It’s the place where people are spending the most time, but it’s the platform that’s known least,” said Nick Cicero, VP of strategy at digital analytics firm Conviva. “There’s a huge opportunity for people that are jumping in right now.”

I found similar dynamics on YouTube Shorts, but not on Instagram Reels (more on that in a bit).

A fascinating algorithm

TikTok’s algorithm seems to seed all videos to a test set of users and decide whether to blast them further based on the reaction. Analyst Nathan Baschez calls this “universal basic distribution,” a fitting name. Every video I post on TikTok gets…

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Alex Kantrowitz

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.