Are you really responsible for your FYP?

I’ve been an avid TikTok user since 2020 for obvious reasons. When TikTok first became popular, the platform was a great escape from the trials of the real world. The comedy, exploration of new topics, and seeing shared experiences made the content engrossing and hard to put down. 

As someone who has opened TikTok basically every day for 3 years, my FYP is pretty curated at this point. For those out of the loop, FYP is the “For You Page,” which is the main feed users scroll through on TikTok. The FYP includes videos from users you follow as well as content TikTok determines is “for you,” that you may be interested in viewing. Based on the videos you watch, like, comment on, share, and otherwise interact with, TikTok uncovers your interests and optimizes your FYP to show you more of the content you love to keep you on the platform longer. 

Paid Ads on TikTok

In 2022, TikTok introduced paid advertising. As a digital advertising professional, I was looking forward to this new advertising platform. But as a user, I dreaded it. I knew that the more paid videos that flood the platform, the less I would see actually relevant content. I also have bad impulse control when it comes to spending money, so highly targeted ads are bad for my bank account. 

TikTok Shop Advertising

Then in 2023, TikTok released TikTok Shop. Because TikTok users have such a high level of trust and connection with the content creators they follow, TikTok is the perfect platform for selling goods. TikTok was genius in its rollout of TikTok Shop by offering highly discounted products to content creators and requiring them to post a video review of the product in order to get those discounts. This resulted in a huge and sudden influx of TikTok Shop-related videos that promote products and link directly to Shop, where you can purchase the item directly from TikTok without ever leaving the site. 

You’ve probably heard the jokes when an odd video of an old man eating spaghetti pops up on your FYP: “you are responsible for your own FYP.” If the videos are weird, it’s because you regularly interact with weird videos. But with the addition of paid advertisements and TikTok Shop, how responsible are we really? 

A TikTok Experiment: How Many Ads am I Exposed To?

Many TikTok users are now starting to feel the burnout of constantly being sold products, as the ratio of Shop videos and ads has increased. I decided to track the videos that pop up on my FYP to get real data about how many videos are ads, TikTok shop promos, or actual content. 

For this experiment, an “ad” is any video with the “sponsored” tag on the bottom of the video. “Shop” videos are any video with a link to the product on TikTok Shop. And “content” is any video that doesn’t have a Shop link but is just standard, old-school content. I also tracked “lives,” meaning every time a live stream was suggested on the FYP. 

Below is a pie chart showing the initial results. 15% of videos were TikTok Shop, 23% were paid ads, 26% were live streams, and 36% were content. This boils down to 38% of videos trying to sell you something and 62% content. This is a little generous considering that about 50% of the live streams I came across were also selling products, but I did not specifically track that.

TikTok FYP Content pie chart measuring ads (23.5%) Content (35.7%), Live Stream (26.1%), and Shop ads (14.8%)

I will admit that I have purchased a couple of things from the TikTok shop (I mentioned the impulse control issue), and I’m sure I’m labeled as a purchaser. But even as an advertising professional, there is a breaking point where such a high ratio of aggressive product placement is morally dubious. And in this economy? 

Ignoring Shop Video Ads

After collecting this data, I decided to put my foot down and see how much I really can affect my FYP. I started purposely scrolling past all paid ads and Shop videos to see if their frequency would reduce. I also made a point to further interact with any content I found interesting. After about 1 week of this new strategy, it seems to have reduced the frequency of Shop videos but not the frequency of ads.

TikTok FYP Content after ignoring paid ads

The percentage of paid ads increased from 24% to 26%. Based on this, it seems like TikTok’s algorithm will always use about a quarter of the FYP for paid ads. Shop videos and live streams fell from 15% to 10.5% and  26% to 23% respectively after not viewing any during the experiment. This resulted in the ratio of real content as about the same at 63% versus 62% between content and live streams. 

Conclusion – Reducing Shop content in your TikTok FYP

It would seem that your actions on TikTok can slightly affect the content of your FYP since Shop content did reduce. However, with paid ads remaining basically stagnant, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be escaping those any time soon. 

This all being said, I didn’t take into account the actual “content” of the videos I’ve labeled as unpaid content, because a lot of the content I see, even outside of Shop specific videos and ads, is still trying to sell me a product that I probably don’t need. I also see a good portion of videos that have very low views 0 likes and very little content from the creators I actually follow. 

The overall sentiment currently on my FYP, aside from Shop and ads, is that users are getting tired of all of the TikTok Shop content. It may have been fun at first, but resources, energy and time are limited. It may be in TikTok’s best interest to reduce some of the Shop content, as users may flee the platform due to frustration and empty bank accounts. 

The newest product being shoved down my throat is an ear wax removal device with a camera so you can see inside of your ear, and I’ll admit I’m this close… 

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