The trend: As social media platforms continue their never-ending jockeying for user attention, personalized, algorithmically recommended content is making a comeback—and it’s been accelerated by TikTok.
How we got here: Five years ago, when the algorithm was discussed in media and marketing circles, it was often with anger or annoyance. Platforms had the power to prioritize or deprioritize certain types of content, seemingly on a whim, and control entire revenue streams in the process.
What changed? TikTok is arguably the first major social platform to prioritize algorithmically recommended posts over those from accounts that a user follows. Users can follow zero accounts and still have an endless feed of content to scroll through on the algorithm-driven “For You” page.
That’s a radical departure from the follower-driven model used by most social platforms—and it has paid off. In late September, TikTok hit 1 billion monthly active users, reaching that milestone years ahead of other social platforms.
Why it matters: That success has led to other social platforms taking renewed interest in incorporating recommended content—and for TikTok parent ByteDance to take its algorithmic offerings off-platform.
Meanwhile, ByteDance has been building on its algorithm’s success off-platform.
What’s the catch? Some platforms—Facebook in particular—are still scaling back, likely due to immense criticism over how algorithms contribute to misinformation and political divisiveness.
The bottom line: Despite lingering criticism on the potential negative consequences of personalized feeds, TikTok’s success has cemented algorithms’ position on social media as something to revere instead of fear, with marketers even turning to algorithms to inform their activity off social media platforms.