Tricking the TikTok Algorithm: How I Accidentally Went Viral on Tiktok

By Emilia Haynes, San Antonio High School Senior and Aspiring Digital Marketing Professional

We love speaking with students of all ages who aspire to be future communications professionals. There is always insight to be found, as it was recently with an aspiring marketer in high school. She spoke so articulately about social media algorithms that we invited her to be a guest contributor to our blog and share her viral TikTok moment and her message to brands on communicating with Gen Z. Sometimes great insights come from experts in training, not the experts in residence.

With the pandemic keeping everyone in and forcing life online, many businesses and corporations looked to online marketing to stay relevant. This supercharged move to digital content infiltrated all our social spaces and online platforms. The problem with that is that no one wants to see that content infiltrate their free entertainment because the language is almost always, hilariously, out of touch.  So, if companies are going to continue incorporating digital content into our media, that content should be entertaining. 

Many companies will use buzzwords that they think are trending among their younger audience, but most Gen Z-ers don’t receive these well because the jokes never land and the content just doesn’t resonate with us–as much as they think it does. There are some exceptions, of course. Major companies such as Lionsgate have created TikTok accounts to market to their younger viewers and it seems to have been successful so far. From where I’m sitting, the key to their success comes from the fact that they are catering to what their younger audiences want to see by keeping up with the current jokes and trends without being too formal. Lionsgate’s success is affirmed by users commenting on their satisfaction with the account’s content and mystery admin.

@lionsgate don’t send this to my boss #hungergames ♬ original sound - Lionsgate

This strategy is extremely effective at getting the attention of their younger audience, but an important factor in all of this is the algorithm–I would know. In December of 2020, I “accidentally” went viral on TikTok and roped in over a million views and 200K likes by pinpointing the intersection between the current trends and the algorithm. 

I believe that one of the most influential aspects of marketing in a technology-based world is the algorithm. Although I am no marketing expert or self-proclaimed influencer, I am fairly well-versed in how to utilize an algorithm on social media platforms to get the most views, likes, and shares from my content. Truth be told, my claim-to-fame wasn’t entirely by accident because I had a few tricks up my sleeve I used to capitalize a large number of viewers.

Even if you do not have a TikTok account, most people have seen a TikTok video and know that it is usually a video, 60 seconds or less, ranging from cooking videos, to comedy skits, to life advice, and so much more. TikTok has over a billion users around the world, and the reason for that is its addicting and never-ending amount of content that is perfectly catered to your liking. You could scroll from video to video for hours at a time and still find yourself scrolling for more. This is because of the algorithm, which tracks every video you like, each hashtag you use, and even how long you spend watching each video. If you post a video with a variety of hashtags, it usually gets more views. This is because the algorithm tracks what you enjoy by the content and hashtags of each video you like, so it pushes more similar videos onto your For You Page (FYP), or, your feed. The algorithm will also push videos onto your FYP if the video uses a song or sound that is trending. I was able to go viral because I noticed a sound was gaining more popularity, so I came up with an original joke about a relevant topic, lip-synced to the trending sound, added a few hashtags, and the rest is history.

The insights I picked up on by studying the TikTok environment were affirmed by TikTok for Business and Sprout Social in blog posts recommending tips to Creators and businesses, respectively, on how to be successful on the platform. Additionally, Hootsuite wrote a blog giving pro tips on how to go viral on TikTok that featured some of the tricks I used to create my viral TikTok a year earlier and put into words how Lionsgate has been able to become so successful on the platform. 

 They discussed some of the following:

  1. Be funny, or at least, entertaining. In the words of Hootsuite, “You don’t have to be the next breakout SNL star,” but you do want to keep viewers engaged and to do that, you have to bring the humor.
  2. Stick with a shorter length video. A shorter video is easier to digest and doesn’t give the viewer enough time to scroll. 
  3. Use trending sounds, songs, dances, and memes. Understanding what’s relevant is key here–which shouldn’t be hard. Have you ever been on the platform when every other video looks about the same? That’s because every creator wants in on the current trend.
  4. Use hashtags. Period. Hashtags are an essential part in pushing your video out to the public and, more importantly, putting your video in front of the right users that will resonate with the content. 

As silly as all this sounds, hashtags, lip-syncing, and posting your videos at the right time can be the difference between getting views and not. Virality is not as random as some people may believe, and Gen Z has (mostly) figured out the secret to being a viral internet success. We know that our world is headed in the direction of technology, and the newest generations who have grown up learning and adapting to every platform and device, know more than we think.

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