One common misperception about TikTok is that it’s a social network. True, it has social components such as friends and follows, but these components aren’t central to its content delivery as they are in apps like Instagram and Twitter. It’s more of a content graph than a social graph.
In other words, its algorithm surfaces content based on interest and behavior more than friends and follows. As we argued on stage at Localogy 2022 last month, this can be a good thing for SMBs and TikTok newbies in that it’s an even playing field. You don’t need a million followers to go viral.
But TikTok is now moving towards more of a social graph. After all, this is the foundation for network effects, which fueled exponential growth in early days of the social players noted above. Specifically, it’s now rolling out a “friends” tab in the bottom menu of the app, which highlights content from friends.
Going deeper on the new feature, the tab will replace the “Discover” tab and include a refined feed that filters content based on connected friends on TikTok. For users who haven’t developed an extensive friend list, TikTok lets them find friends through their on-device contacts or Facebook Friends.
As the company described it in a tweet:
“As we continue to celebrate community and creativity, we’re bringing a Friends Tab to more people over the coming weeks, which will allow you to easily find and enjoy content from people you’re connected with, so you can choose even more ways to be entertained on TikTok,”
To be clear, TikTok’s foundational discovery algorithm referenced above appears to be intact. Users will still see content that’s been surfaced for them based on their interests and viewing history. But now they have the additional option to deliberately view a content feed that’s been refined by social connections.
One result may be more social connections that are formed, and thus the cultivation of TikTok’s social graph (likely by design). In other words, TikTok’s discovery algorithm conditions users to be spoon fed. Given additional content discovery via social connections, users may actively build those connections.
As we continue to celebrate community and creativity, we're bringing a Friends Tab to more people over the coming weeks, which will allow you to easily find and enjoy content from people you're connected with, so you can choose even more ways to be entertained on TikTok. pic.twitter.com/GdVpPbxio6
— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) May 5, 2022
Learn the language
Back to TikTok’s core dynamics and benefits to SMBs, this latest move appears to offer them optionality. The “level playing field” advantage still exists, but businesses can now also bank some social capital on the app. Fans and loyal customers can connect to and surface a given SMBs content more deliberately.
And to be clear, though TikTok’s “level playing field,” offers advantages to smaller players, it’s not a layup. SMBs still have to do the work to create content worthy of discovery, amplification, and virality. And on TikTok, that requires a particular vibe and, as we’ve examined, “speaking the language.”
What is that language? It’s all about genuine, unscripted, and even “raw” fare. For SMBs, that can mean things like “behind the scenes” kitchen walkthroughs, or delivery ride-alongs. It’s anything that captures the genuine personality or ethos of a business, rather than hawking products. The latter won’t fly.
A few real-life examples of these principles were personified at Localogy 2022. Specifically, two LA-area SMBs have struck a chord on TikTok using the above tactics and posting slice-of-life footage involving their products. The ultimate advice for new SMBs: spend time on TikTok to “learn the language.”
Meanwhile, the new social tab will roll out gradually to users over the coming weeks. TikTok is somewhat vague if this is an experiment or a new permanent feature that all users can expect. We’ll keep an eye on the app to see if it’s the latter. In any case, this represents a big move for a big mover.