Hashtags Dont Work, and Other TikTok Myths That Need Debunking


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In case you’ve been living under a boulder, there’s a “new” social media giant on the scene called TikTok. Whether you use it a lot, a little, or not at all (but maybe you kind of want to), there are plenty of anecdotal myths surrounding the functioning and audience of TikTok—and we’re here to debunk them.

TikTok is just for Gen Z

While the app first gained traction with a young demographic, it’s no longer just for the youths. What started in 2016 as a Chinese music and dance platform for kids has mushroomed into one of the fastest-growing social media juggernauts in the world. According to Statista, more than half of TikTok users are above age 30, with 20% falling in the 40-49 age range. In January 2018, it had 55 million global users. In 2020, it was the most downloaded app, and by September 2021, it had one billion active global users. With stratospheric growth like this, no one of any age with something to say, create, or sell should be ignoring it.

TikTok is just for dancing and lip-syncing

Nope. Granted, it started out this way, with its owner ByteDance merging with lip-syncing platform Musical.ly in 2017. But since then, it’s grown to house every manner of content creation; from storytelling and ASMR to interior design and comedy skits. You can follow (or be!) an octogenarian advice-giver, trauma therapist, fitness expert, snack queen, soccer mom, joking married couple, or a soothsaying dog with wobbly legs. (OK, you can’t be a dog. Sorry.) Can you dance and lip-sync, too? Sure. But you don’t have to. That’s one small piece of the giant, diverse TikTok party going on, where personality, education, and vulnerability reign.

You have to be hot to be successful

Wrong. Are there some fine young things getting unfathomable views by moving their face muscles to the beat or sticking their tongue out? Yes. Are there more regular people gaining huge followings through their comedy, cooking, choreography, cute pets, parenting/mental health/marketing/life skill tips (or just talking about everyday things in an engaging way)? Also yes. On TikTok, looks alone do not rule; talent, expertise, and relatability do.

You’ll get your first 1,000 followers in X weeks

Anyone who throws around timelines about how many followers creators will gain, and by when, is wrong. There is no one-size-fits-all timing. Some accounts never get past a few dozen followers. Some all-stars will gain hundreds of thousands of followers in a matter of days. Many (who post solid content consistently) will tank repeatedly in the beginning, then slowly gain followers with spurts of virality. All this to say, don’t fret about how “slowly” your audience is growing. Everyone’s pace is different.

Your first few videos determine your page’s success

False—but with a caveat. Plenty of creators whose first videos tank go on to become successful. However, there may be some truth that TikTok favors new accounts, as the algorithm has no past (poor) performance metrics weighing down your chances. But if those first posts get 25 views, don’t fret. Every video holds a fresh, new chance to go viral.

“TikTok shadow-banned me”

Maybe, but probably not. Wildly fluctuating views are part of the ride on TikTok; you can go viral with more than a million views one day, and barely reach a few thousand the next. Creators often complain about being “shadow-banned;” their content being blocked or suppressed from the FYP (For You Page) or their followers, resulting in significantly lower views. (The “shadow” part means the “ban” happens without your knowledge.) Can this occur? Perhaps, if you violate one of TikTok’s Community Guidelines or the algorithm registers you as a spammer (from liking videos and following creators too rapidly). But many people say they’re shadow-banned when their videos just aren’t performing to their expectations. That isn’t a ban—it’s a sign they need to make better content.

Joining the Creator Fund will decrease your views

The Creator Fund is TikTok’s way of “celebrating and supporting creators for their dedication, ingenuity, and spirit.” With money. Not much, mind you, unless your videos regularly garner hundreds of thousands of views. When the Fund first launched in 2020, many creators said their views plummeted after joining. But it’s purely coincidental. In TikTok’s own words, “any drops in video views are caused by in-app fluctuations that naturally occur.” And I can say after joining the Fund myself (in quite a worried way), my views and followers grew. The algorithm is a fickle maiden, and views can skyrocket or drop at any moment. But the main reason for that will always be: the quality of your content.

You need to make professional quality videos

Canadian comedy creator Kris Collins (@kallmekris), who has 38.5 million followers, once posted a video about her “process,” which consisted of propping her smartphone on the nearest window ledge with good lighting and pressing record. While high quality video using professional equipment or editing software certainly can’t hurt your content, it’s by no means required. In the TikTok app itself, creators can record, do rudimentary editing, add music, captions, filters, and special effects. Dark and blurry videos aren’t recommended, but there are thousands (millions?) of popular creators making magic with nothing more than a $40 ring light and their iPhone.

Hashtags don’t do anything

False. They make your content more discoverable, and help the algorithm determine whom to show your videos. Using three to five hashtags related to your desired niche (for example: #cleaningtok, #momlife, #inspiration, #hiking), will help TikTok figure out where to push your video (and will help your video appear in searches on that hashtag). Is it possible to have success with zero hashtags? Sure, if your content is exceptional and appeals to a wide audience. But if you’re starting out or aiming to grow, don’t waste this opportunity to reach the people you most want to reach. (As your fanbase grows, hashtags will be less important to your success.)

That said: Use trending hashtags sparingly (unless they align with your content). They may boost your views, but they won’t put you in front of your specific target audience. Oh, and ditch #fyp (and its many iterations) forevermore. They’re useless.

You should delete videos that don’t do well

No. TikTok is a delayed release platform, which means videos can blow up days, weeks, or even months after they’re posted. Imagine my surprise when one day, I noticed a video I forgot about from a few weeks prior suddenly gaining views, likes, and comments—fast. Within a few days, it went from 5,000 views to more than two million. Why then? I’ll never know. But I would’ve missed out on what became a huge new following if I’d taken it down. Set videos to private (you don’t need to delete them) only when they no longer align with your niche or how you want to represent yourself.

View-to-like ratios determine your video’s success

Wrong. There’s a myth that if your video gets 1,000 views and has 300 likes already, it’ll be a banger. But it’s not necessarily true. What about comments? Shares? Are people watching the whole thing? TikTok’s current algorithm (and I say “current” because it seems to undergo regular tweaks) favors watch time and video completion rate above other metrics. High engagement (comments and shares) also plays a role. The likes-to-views ratio is only one piece of the puzzle. TikTok wants viewers to finish watching videos, so it’s in your best interest as a creator to keep them short (15 seconds or less) until people know and trust your content to deliver, and stick around for longer.

If you have yet to take the plunge as a creator, here are some tips to get started.