Should You Write For The Algorithm Or Your Audience?

In the fast-paced era of social media, brands are finding themselves facing the dilemma of either optimising their social media content for algorithms or their customers. You may be wondering why this would be a dilemma. To understand what is happening here, we first need to understand what an algorithm is.

An algorithm is a series of instructions telling a computer how to transform a set of data points about the world into useful information. To bring this simple explanation of what an algorithm is, we will be focusing on TikTok to bring the explanation to life.

Algorithms are built to sort large amounts of data into useful information, which eliminates the need for a human to be constantly sorting large amounts of data which may be repetitive. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are both sets of algorithms but differ depending on whether the data they receive is structured or unstructured.

Read more: The advantages of artificial intelligence


TikTok’s algorithm is a recommendation system that determines which videos appear on your For You page. When you first sign up on to the platform, you will be required to provide the platform with a bit of information regarding the content you would like to watch. This information would then be used to serve you content that you are likely to find interesting.

Now, an interesting phenomenon starts to happen in the content you see. The content over time will get refined to your tastes and preferences. The platform will then optimise the content to your key interest based on how you use the app. TikTok uses a myriad of data points to understand who you are to keep you on the app for longer. The basic data points which are known are user interactions, device and account settings, video information, and Video loop. How the algorithm works is usually kept secret by the platform to keep their proprietary technology hidden.

Now that we understand the basics of the app. Let’s assume you are a small business that would like to make short-format videos with TikTok. You may find that you are creating content that users are not showing an interest in, this is usually caused by not understanding your audience and how the platform works. Are we suggesting you create content for the algorithm, so it picks your content? No, neither are we suggesting you totally disregard creating content favoured by the algorithm.

There is a fine line that a creator on TikTok must stay on. When creating content, you must first understand what your goals are, who your audience is and how your audience communicates on the platform. After doing your due diligence on your part, then you can focus on what TikTok is willing to show mostly on the For You page.

The algorithm of TikTok will use the engagements on your videos to decide whether to keep serving your content to an even larger audience. The more users let your video loop, the more the video will be served to a larger audience.

Users on the platform quickly figured out that when they create videos with a near-impossible loop to detect. The video loops more than once which may trick the algorithm to think more users are enjoying the content and serve it to an even larger audience. This strategy works for the short-term, however, in the long term may harm your business. Should TikTok decide to update its algorithm to reduce the visibility of videos with a near-impossible loop to detect your impressions may fall drastically.

Users that may have gained a following by this sneaky trick may find that their audience is losing interest in their content. This would have been caused by cheating the system with substandard content that may have not been detected by the algorithm. The quality of the content you share coupled with publishing content the platform is willing to show seems to be the winning strategy. Quality over quantity.

Creators like James Jani have cracked the YouTube algorithm by providing quality content over quantity, with these creator videos reaching millions of people. Social media platforms reward quality over quantity.

So, to summarise, algorithms are there to improve user experience (UX) on social media platforms and reduce the need for a human who will be tasked with sorting through large amounts of data. To succeed on social media, we all need to understand the basics of how the platform we choose works and mix it with serving our audience what they want to see.

Sakkie Ngobeni