Hacking Your Mind with AI: The Case of Addictive TikTok | Hacker Noon

@elisowskiEdwin Lisowski

Co-Founder @ Addepto, technology expert, marketing and social science enthusiast

According to the Hootsuite Digital report for 2021, with 689 million active users worldwide as of January 2021, TikTok is the 7th most popular social network in the world. TikTok’s audience is projected to grow to 1.2 billion monthly active users in 2021!

TikTok is a great example of how the latest artificial intelligence developments are affecting our purchasing habits. Similar to how e-commerce sites implement user-centric algorithms to recommend what to buy, the TikTok platform relies on its users to promote the growth of specific sorts of content. 

Why is TikTok so popular?

In 2018, TikTok bought out the popular music service Musical.ly. Therefore, the application has added about 150 million users and significantly increased the audience coverage in a very short time. 

According to experts, the reason for the popularity of the service is based on:

  • simplicity and variety of functionality,
  • great multimedia potential,
  • wide opportunities for launching interactive challenges.

The crazy popularity of the TikTok application is that it combines the most popular trends and content formats. It is a combination of stories, short funny sketches, filters, and masks in the package of a simple and convenient video editor. TikTok has very competent algorithms that allow novice bloggers to organically gain millions of views.

“TikTok attracts these users in so many ways… they are using advanced AI algorithms to learn user preferences and then provide customized video feeds to their users.” – Kenny Trinh, the managing editor of Netbooknews. 

TikTok is a key marketing medium for global companies

With the growing popularity of TikTok, many global companies have begun to actively use the app for promotion. Today, some companies use the app to increase brand awareness and reach a new audience, while others actively create advertising content on TikTok, increasing traffic on the brand’s website and mobile application.

TikTok provides a level playing field for businesses to gain and increase reach and interaction. Unlike social networks like Instagram or YouTube, TikTok accounts with no followers can get millions of views on a single video due to the algorithm’s viral nature.

TikTok and AI algorithms

The explosive popularity of TikTok was possible thanks to advanced AI algorithms developed at ByteDance. This technology optimizes the creation, curation, and recommendation of content. Artificial intelligence algorithms examine a huge amount of video content and decide what to show to each user.

In fact, TikTok uses artificial intelligence technology in two ways. Both from the consumer and producer perspectives. 

Consumer side

During registration, TikTok does not ask the new user to select categories and subcategories of videos that may be interesting for them. Also, TikTok does not offer to subscribe to any of the popular TikTokers. These are some of the main innovations of the service.

AI algorithms analyze the user’s preferences, tracking their likes, comments, collections, sharing and even the duration of watching each video. Analyzing the user’s behavior, in a very short time, algorithms create a database that helps to accurately predict what the user may like.

Producer side

Artificial intelligence algorithms evaluate and support content creators. 

Algorithms pay attention to:

  • What happens in the frame: what people do and say, what objects are around.
  • How the video was made: shot on a phone or laptop camera. 
  • How the video was edited: in the TikTok editor or another, whether filters, masks and other special effects were used.
  • What kind of music is in the background: how popular is it and where is it taken from – the TikTok library or from your own.
  • Video description: what words and hashtags are used.
  • Copyright compliance: whether there are fragments of other people’s videos.

For the algorithms to like the video, they must go through a multi-stage analysis. 

The AI system analyzes the video during shooting: some filters on TikTok record changes in facial expressions and body movements. Accordingly, image recognition is implemented on the TikTok app.

Additionally, AI algorithms offer improvements in components such as music, hashtags and filters, which are trending or have proved their popularity depending on the category.

How do AI algorithms make you obsessed?

The recommendation engine is still one of the popular AI systems, which has the widest implementation in almost all online applications and platforms.

Only one video is displayed on the TikTok homepage. The mechanism of the service is similar to an endless feed, but in fact, each video has its own page. While one is playing, the others are loading in the background. This method allows the application to analyze the relationship to a specific video. 

According to TikTok: “The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors — starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too”. 

Each action is a signal for the system:

  • If the user did not watch the video and moved on to the next one, it means that he did not like it.
  • Repeated playback, interest in the musical accompaniment, or the decision to share indicate a passion.
  • Visiting the author’s page and subscribing – it’s a signal of high interest.

According to the TikTok report, company ByteDance regularly maintains the recommendation engine system to avoid the risk of a homogeneous video stream, which is sometimes called a “filter bubble”.

As a result, the TikTok user does not need to search for what they want to watch. With a simple click, a personalized feed will be provided. This type of endless fast scrolling makes it difficult for users to stop searching on TikTok.

Top factors that influence AI algorithms

  • Hashtags – The right hashtags help users discover content and inform the TikTok algorithm about what you are doing.
  • TikTok captions – The ideal TikTok caption is short and contains the relevant hashtags. As a result, artificial intelligence algorithms display user’s content in trends. 
  • Trending song – Using a popular song at the right time means a rapid growth in likes and views, even if there are no subscribers.

Cases of promoting global brands on TikTok in 2021

Here are some examples of how multinational companies are using TikTok as a means of promoting brand awareness.

Ryanair got millions of views with their hashtag #ryanair

Ryanair created its account on TikTok in the midst of the pandemic and was able to gain a large number of followers and views very quickly. Using an effective way to promote on TikTok, with the help of the hashtag #Ryanair, the airline has collected 90.7 million views! 

Their content is based on what is currently trending and includes clips from their planes and behind-the-scenes footage. 

Yahoo and its political news on TikTok

Yahoo is gaining millions of views on its account thanks to content related to US politics and important dates in the US.

The company actively interacts with subscribers, mainly Generation Z, asking their thoughts on certain topics by using trending duets on TikTok. 

Yahoo has increased its awareness due to its journalist, who regularly appears on their page and is positioned as the face of Yahoo News on TikTok.

Key takeaways

  • AI algorithms are one of the reasons for the global success of TikTok.
  • The trend of optimizing users through data processing opens the door to further processing opportunities and additional marketing growth.


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