TikTok's "For You Page" is supposed to be a personalized feed of videos based on an algorithm that predicts your interests. But according to Forbes, the reality is much different. Through speaking with current and former employees of TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, and looking at internal documents, they found that TikTok has a " heating practice." Essentially, heating is when staff hand-pick and supercharge the distribution of specific videos. This can significantly impact what you see on your For You Page, as heating can account for 1-2% of daily video views.
The thing is, TikTok has never publicly acknowledged heating. It's common for tech companies to amplify specific posts, but they usually make it clear that they're doing it. With heating, there's no way to tell if a video is there because TikTok thinks you'll like it or if it's just a video that the company wants to get more views for. Several employees have been accused of promoting their videos or those of their family and friends by using the heating button. An act that is against company policy.
TikTok says they promote some videos to introduce creators to the community. Still, only a select few people in the US can approve content, and it makes up only 0.002% of the videos in For You feeds. However, the company has a lot of discretion in its content selection process, leaving employees to decide whether a video fits within the guidelines. There are also concerns about political manipulation, as the Chinese government could coerce ByteDance to amplify or suppress certain narratives on TikTok. The company has declined to answer questions about heated content produced by the Chinese government or state media.
To offer more transparency, TikTok introduced a new panel in December called "Why This Video." The panel aims to tell users why a particular video was chosen for them. It's a step towards more transparency in the selection process. Still, it remains to be seen if the panel will disclose when videos have been heated. TikTok says they're working on expanding the "Why This Video" feature for more granularity and transparency, but sometimes transparency can lead to criticism.
So, what does this mean for businesses and the marketing environment? Think twice if you're an influencer or brand relying on TikTok to promote your videos. Heating can inflate your view count, making it seem like you're more popular than you are. TikTok and ByteDance are currently negotiating a contract with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to address national security issues. Some lawmakers seek to ban the app over fears that the agreement may not be enough. With all the concerns surrounding TikTok, it might be worth considering other options for your marketing efforts.
Regardless, TikTok's introduction of the "Why This Video" panel is a step in the right direction toward greater transparency in its content recommendation process. By providing users with information on how a particular video was chosen for them, TikTok is taking a proactive approach to addressing potential concerns about the role of heating in its algorithm. TikTok's efforts to expand its content recommendations for greater transparency have led some to support them. In contrast, others question whether the panel will disclose when videos have been "heated." As TikTok continues to grow as a platform, it has the opportunity to build trust with its users and establish itself as a leader in responsible tech practices. By prioritizing transparency and accountability, TikTok can set itself up for long-term success and create a more positive, user-centric experience for all.
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