Has TikTok lost its magic?

That’s a question I’ve been asking lately, and I think I have a pretty clear answer now.

With any social media app, there are going to be changes. Changes users love and changes that make no sense at all. TikTok is not exempt.

Yes, their version of Mr. AL is still one of the best discovery algorithms on the market, and their in-app video editor puts all others to shame, but something is different.

In this episode, I’m exploring exactly what that difference is, whether it’s a sign of the great things to come or its downfall, and what it means for you and your marketing strategy.

In this episode of the podcast, I talk about:

  • My bad first date with TikTok
  • The TikTok magic fading
  • Discovery engines
  • What has changed on TikTok since 2022
  • The single biggest thing ruining the app
  • The TikTok virality challenge

This Episode Was Made Possible By:

Riverside All-in-One Podcast & Video Platform
Visit Riverside and use the code DREA to get 15% off any Riverside individual plan. We use it to record all our podcast interviews!

Resources mentioned:

Episode 151: Should Your Business Be On TikTok?
Episode 270: Stop Being A Platform Loyalist (Here’s 5 Reasons Why)

Watch the Episode Below:


Andréa Jones (00:00):
If you're anything like me, you became a TikTok fan girl in 2020, but what has changed in the last few years? I'm going to dive into all things TikTok in 2024 in this episode. Let's get into it.

Before we get into it. This episode is sponsored by Riverside, which is the all in one podcasting tool we now use for our show. And y'all, they feel super luxurious. Riverside is the All-in-one podcasting and video recording tool that gives you studio quality recordings and lightning fast editing right inside your browser. And y'all, it's super intuitive and easy to use. Once you're recording is done, you'll be able to automatically download separate audio and video tracks and edit it all within a few clicks. It's really very easy. So head over to Riverside and you'll get 15% off. That's one 5% off using my code Drea, DREA at checkout. But y'all, it's free to get started. So click the link in the show notes and get started today.

If you're new here, my name is Andrea Jones and I'm a social media strategist dedicated to helping you build community and connection using the power of social media so that you can make your difference in the world. And today I'm talking about TikTok. I remember when I first logged into TikTok in 2020, it was March. Something happened at that point that shut down the world, and I logged into the app because I'd been ignoring it previously and was immediately upset by the fact that video with sound was playing just automatically. I hadn't even created an account yet. And so my first experience with TikTok wasn't great, but since this is my job and I felt like by that point the interest in the platform had grown enough to where I felt I could study it, I committed to learning everything I could about TikTok and pretty instantly fell in love.

And one of the things that I loved about TikTok then, and that I still love about TikTok today is their algorithm and their algorithm completely changed. How many of our favorite social media platforms use micro video content pieces? So TikTok changed the landscape of social video. When we think about vertical video first on social, TikTok was one of the first platforms to do this. We had Vine before, but Vine was Square videos. I don't know if you remember this. Vine was square, Instagram was square. TikTok was really the first platform that fully had a video that took up your entire screen outside of things like stories, Instagram stories and Snapchat. So that was new. The other thing about TikTok was the low barrier to entry to creating video. So on other platforms, you didn't really film and edit your video right there within the app.

You had to go film and edit elsewhere, then upload it to the app or just hope your one take was good enough for social media. While TikTok's in-app editor dramatically changed how almost every social media platform approached creating content on their app. I mean, yes, we had some filters on Instagram and some stickers on Snapchat, but we really didn't have the ability to add sound effects and sounds. We didn't have the ability to clip off sections of the video, front, back, middle, everything in between. We didn't really have the extensive filters that they have inside of TikTok, and so they truly changed landscape. When you log into other platforms like Instagram reels for instance, their in-app editor echoes what TikTok's editor does. And even then Instagram reels to me still has a lot of work to do. It's still very glitchy. I have not experienced those same glitches on TikTok.

But the beauty about TikTok is yes, they have this vertical video. Yes, they have this in-app editor, but it's that algorithm man. Their algorithm is focused on discovery. And before this, we didn't have a lot of social media platforms focused on discovery. A lot of the platforms, your Facebooks, your Instagrams, they were focused on your connections. So people you were currently connected with, you saw their posts in your main feed. Yes, you could explore other feeds, use the search box, use hashtags to find other accounts, but for the most part it was based on your followers in their behavior. Even platforms like Twitter, unless someone from your followers retweeted a post or unless a brand paid for an ad, you weren't really discovering new topics unless you were very intentionally heading over to the trending topics tab. Well, TikTok is that trending topics tab, but for the world for everybody, and not only that, it's customized to your experience, which is new.

Even the trending topics tag in Twitter, may she rest in peace was based on your either immediate location or global. It wasn't really based on you, the end user's experience. So TikTok changed the game by having a feed that would learn your behavior. So how long you lingered on a video, whether you liked or commented, whether you completed a video, would take some notes and then try to match you with more videos based on your preferences. The person watching the video, that means every single person is having a completely different experience on TikTok. It's like magic, right? This is why I initially fell in love with TikTok. Now, fast forward to today 2024, and their algorithm is still quite good, but a lot of social platforms have echoed it. So I personally don't feel the same magic in going to the app. In fact, I tend to spend more time on Instagram and threads these days than TikTok because their algorithms have mimicked what was great about TikTok's algorithm, which is discovery, but then with Instagram and even threads, a really nuanced approach to layering in the content from people you choose to follow.

So that balance I think works really well to keep people on the app. I think when you have a feed full of posts from people you don't know, sometimes it can be harder to connect, but it also is like a pinball machine or going to the casino because it feels like when you find that great piece of content that diamond in the rough, you feel like you've won. Now in 2024, TikTok still continues to lead the way as one of the most popular apps for discussing current events, trends, and just discourse on modern life. For example, right now at the time of recording this, there's this, I think it's either nine months or year long cruise. And I found out about it on TikTok because there's some commentary happening on TikTok. There are a few content creators on the cruise. And so I found out about this cruise on TikTok.

I don't really hear about it other places, but it's one of those things that there's a microcosm on this app of people discussing this particular topic. And I do think TikTok tends to lead the way in that regard. That being said, they're not as much of an industry leader as they were two to four years ago because these other apps are now starting to build discovery engines into their algorithms. I mean, last time you scrolled through Facebook or Instagram count how many posts are from people you don't follow, it's a lot, right? So because of that, we are seeing topics bubble up to the surface. I will say though, meta as a whole, so that's Facebook, Instagram threats, they do have much stronger parameters around topics. So for instance, the war in Israel and Palestine, some of those posts are getting quite suppressed on meta.

They're not getting as suppressed on TikTok. And so I do find TikTok has less stringent monitoring tools that allow for important conversations to still happen. So I do think it's the job of the social platforms to find that balance between. We can't completely ignore that this is an important conversation and we can't put people's lives at risk and in danger more so than they already are. Now since I released my first TikTok episode, which was actually in 2022, episode 151, it's all about should businesses be on TikTok? Things have changed. So in that episode, I do talk about my thoughts on why or why not you should consider TikTok. For the most part, I think a lot of it is accurate, however, things have changed on the app. So in this rest of this podcast, I'm going to talk about what has changed and what you could do about it. And of course, share my thoughts along the way. We'll take a quick break when we come back, we'll get all into the juicy goodness.

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All right, here are a few updates that TikTok has made that have kept things a little bit interesting in the app. The first one is that they're now trying to push for longer videos. So two years ago when I recorded my first episode on TikTok, they were pushing for 10 minute videos, which is now a standard across the app at the time of recording this. They're testing 30 minute videos and also some weird tests with vertical video. Now, my little asterisk to this is I rarely talk about tests because a lot of times these apps send it out to a small group of people, they test it and they don't end up doing anything about it. And so it oftentimes doesn't make sense to talk about it at length. It's how I approach things like my feed private podcasts with my members as well, because I don't want to keep updating on all the tests these apps are doing.

They're always testing. But I think these tests in particular are indicative of the way that TikTok wants to be perceived and how they're trying to move into longer form video, which I know as a marketer means they're just trying to sell more ads. I'll get to that more ads part in a minute. They added in other features like text-based posts as well, so you can almost share text. It's almost like a carousel post on Instagram where you can share text in those posts. They added in and then removed things like TikTok now, which was posting in a moment disappeared after 24 hours, very much like Instagram stories or Snapchat, but they ended up removing the feature because people didn't use it. But that was one that was actually rolled out to everyone, and then they pulled it back, which is why they start doing these smaller tests.

But the biggest thing is our focus on ads. And y'all, this to me is the single biggest thing that's ruining the app. And in episode 1 5 1 of this podcast, the episode where I talked about should businesses be on TikTok, the thing that I talked about what's working for TikTok is the lack of ads and lack of marketers love ruining the platform. And two years later, we're inundated with apps. They have doubled up on ads in the feed. I don't know if y'all noticed this, but when you're scrolling through the feed, you now get two ads back to back, two ads back to back that you have to skip before headed to the next one. And I'm like, this is a lot of ads. Not only that, they recently introduced in the past year in-app shopping, which to me is like a QVC experience where a video creator can talk about a product and then you can tap on the screen and you can go and buy it right within TikTok.

You don't have to go to any other place. You buy it right there within TikTok, which in theory sounds cool. A lot of brands are actually seeing really good success on TikTok, especially product like physical product brands. I was working with one at the time two years ago, and it was wild to see how many people would talk about the product on TikTok. And it was weird from a marketing perspective because it was really hard to track that the success was coming from TikTok because they were not using any of tracking links. They weren't affiliated with us in any way, but they would take the product and just use it and say, this was awesome, I liked it. And then people would go and buy it. And you see this happening time and again with those TikTok leggings and things like the Stanley Cup where they actually sold out because of the TikTok phenomenon of people just using it, loving it, enjoying it, and their community is going out and buying it.

Okay, so TikTok decided to capitalize on this with their in-app shopping. I don't think it's a great idea, but here we are. Oh, and I forgot to mention during all of this, at the time, TikTok was also threatening to be banned from the us, which seems to be like hush hush now nobody's talking about it. They've changed some of the ways that they collect data slightly, but they still collect a obscene amount of data from the end user. But we don't really hear people talking about is TikTok going to be banned anymore? It's kind of been swept under the rug. So let's talk about this in app experience with TikTok because I think the magic of discovery makes it a great platform, and if we feel like we're being sold to all the time, the atmosphere is gone. So here now and today, 2024, the atmosphere of the app has changed.

It doesn't feel new and fresh and exciting anymore because a lot of the apps have the TikTok effect right there within that app. So if you're Instagram girly, you're going to stick on Instagram because there's a whole feed that feels similar to TikTok. They've also doubled up on those ads, which again, super annoying and it just feels like QVC. It's like when you fall asleep with the TV on and then you wake up and they're trying to sell you something that has three payments of 39 99. I don't want to feel sold to. I want to feel entertained and delighted. And then I also find that the algorithm has changed slightly. Now, this is not unusual for apps because it's a machine. The machine is constantly being edited by humans to make the experience better, but also in TikTok's case, it's being edited by humans so that they have certain posts that they or inflate.

This has been a theory that has not been proven, but certain people like Rosie O'Donnell started TikTok Instant virality, right? There are certain people where I'm fairly certain TikTok pushes their posts out above others that messes up the algorithm. So as a person who likes to hang out on the app, sometimes I feel like the algorithm missed the mark today. Add to the fact that there are more people producing content on TikTok today than there were four years ago. The amount of creators on TikTok has drastically increased, which changes the algorithm. And people don't talk about this when they talk about, oh, the algorithm used to favor my posts and now it doesn't. It's not usually just like, I like you. I don't like you situation. It's usually like, I had two choices before, so I picked you and now I have 30 choices. So the chance of me picking you, it just dropped dramatically.

And so it's not necessarily that your content has changed or is bad, they just have more choices now. And the algorithm is 100%. I was going to say 100%, but I already just said that it's not so rewind. And as I mentioned before, the algorithm's goal is to keep people on the app, but it also has some ulterior motives with some of these posts that it artificially boosts and it still wants people to stay on the app. So a lot of it is based on user behavior. If someone looks at your video and they keep watching it and they interact with it, then the algorithm's going to go, okay, we may show this more, but if people are watching your video and they swipe quickly to the next thing, well then you are not going to see as much of that love, sweet love from the algorithm.

That means going viral is much more challenging on the app. In fact, in 2022, I had four clients go viral on TikTok. I haven't had a client go viral since we've had some moments of success, but I consider virality to be at least 1 million views or impressions, and we haven't hit that since 2022, which to me just means there are more people creating content and there's more options to be nuanced in your content. Plus going viral isn't everything. I'm pretty sure I talked about this a lot on this podcast. I'll wrap up thought with this Fortune article that one of my friends sent me, which talks about TikTok testing something. And again, not a fan of tests, but TikTok is testing the ability to make all videos shoppable. Every video, even if not, if you don't want to be QVC, they're going to use their artificial intelligence to look in your video, see what's in your video, your background, your outfit, your glasses, and then encourage people to buy that thing or something similar.

And to me, that's a no-go. As someone who likes the app, if that starts happening, I think I would leave. That feels number one, it feels like a little bit of a violation to me as a creator. I didn't give you permission for that. And the second is, nobody wants to watch ads for fun outside of the Super Bowl, which even then, do we watch that for fun? I don't know. I think it's because brands make some of the most interesting ads, which don't feel like ads. That's why we watch them. Otherwise, we don't want to watch ads for fun. Nobody's signing up for this. So in the Fortune article, it says, some also say that the preponderance of ad like posts from influencers is wrecking the experience. And my response is, no kidding. So this is why I'm platform agnostic. I talk about this on the podcast.

TikTok is amazing and it definitely had a huge impact, but I'm not as much of a, yes. We absolutely have to be on TikTok Today kind of person as I was two years ago. And I think that is accurate. I think that's accurate with how the app is behaving. Two years ago, my clients on TikTok saw much different success than today. We still post a TikTok because we're creating this beautiful content. We want as many people to see it as possible, but it's not a magic bullet. It was two years ago. It's got more junkie. And one of my friends was saying, this may be the ruination of TikTok. Time will tell, and I know that choosing the right platform can sometimes feel like a moving target. But that's my goal here on this podcast, is to help you make the right decision for here now and today because it's going to change again two years from now. And I'll also be here talking about it. Thank you so much for listening to the show. I'll be back soon with another episode. That's all for today. Bye for now.