TIKTOK CONTENT DISCOVERY
Nov 2020 - May 2022
One of TikTok's content strategies is to get users to discover beyond 'interest bubbles'. In late 2020, I designed, built and managed a series of content discovery 'hubs' (H5 microsites).
These eventually became the first reference points for 140+ H5s my team built in 2021 in the UK/Ireland, and many more in other markets.
Phase 1 promoted interest topics like Music, Fashion, Football, Viral Trends. After lockdown eased, Phase 2 began and categorised content by locality (London, Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland, Ireland, Wales). Both phased targeted users in the UK and Ireland, especially 18+.
Data and Insights
PHASE 1: INTEREST TOPICS
Jan 2021 - May 2021
During lockdown in late 2020, EMEA and UK-based research from the Content, Strategy and User Experience team showed a number of content verticals with high creation and consumption rate: music, sport (football in particular), fashion and beauty. Alongside these, many quirky viral trends also originated on TikTok and then circulated in other platforms.
In response to users' interests, my team developed 6 Discovery Hubs to boost the growth of these content verticals and their livestreams, while ensuring a positive, high-quality and diverse in-app content experience.
More importantly, the main goal was to encourage users to discover content and creators they 'didn't know they'd love', beyond what was recommended based on their consumption behaviour on the 'For You' tab.
MVP 1 - TAB LAYOUTS (6 WEEKS)
The main entry points were Discover banner and Push/Notification. Search (with very strict setup criteria) and share (user advocacy) were less stable, secondary entry points.
Discover banner can be accessed by all TikTok users within the UK and Ireland, plus a number of other EMEA markets. Push/Notification was more selective, with the cohort being set up based on behaviour in-app within 30 days.
Once the awareness stage was programmed, I tested the first design format, which used tabs to further categorise a large quantity of content. Option 1 divided the full page into 2 tabs, option 2 only divided some sections of the page into tabs.
After testing with users who were actively creating and consuming football, beauty and style, music and LIVE content, option 2 showed a 24% higher click rate and 50% longer dwell time.
However, tab open rate was always below 5%. Tabs worked most effectively in the livestream schedule microsite (3rd screen recording). Each tab labelled a day of the week.
In video carousels and sliders, play rate dropped by 87% after the 4th video. Horizontal scroll was not 'convenient' for users on mobile environments, in comparison to vertical scroll.
Therefore, test 2 began with a new, 'no tab' approach.
MVP 2 - VERTICAL SCROLL (8 WEEKS)
In this test, I experimented with a mix of horizontal and vertical scroll, or content lists versus carousels and sliders, and no tabs. The 2 examples were a new Fashion Discovery Hub dedicated for fashion month, and a new Weekly Viral Trends Hub. The fashion microsite's overall structure was vertical, with some sections of carousels or sliders; whereas the trend microsite was a full vertical scroll.
In horizontal scroll sections, items beyond the 4th content card received little to no interaction. Full vertical scroll microsite, however, had the highest ever click rate in 2021, 6 times above benchmarks.
Thumbnails also played a huge role in inciting click behaviour. Videos with bright colours, dynamic facial expressions and/or clear title-on-screen had 43% more clicks and 21% longer watch time.
Learnings led to the development of a Search feature for UEFA EURO 2020 in June, and also informed Phase 2, focusing on location-based content. Interest topic hubs are currently paused, as the team dived deeper into new content verticals to grow this year.
PHASE 2: LOCATION-BASED
Oct 2021 - Present
After lockdown eased, the challenge was to maintain TikTok's hyper-growth and to keep the platform relevant, as our audience now valued irl experience more than ever. Around the final quarter of 2021, research revealed an uplift in content creation based on locality, where hashtags like #placestovisit, #foodie, #thingstodo or those using a location's name, were regularly trending.
We took a step further from the initial series of Content Discovery Hubs, to focus on hyper-local content with a new hub. This consisted of 6 locality H5s, accessed via a centralised landing page, and also through specific Search keywords.
The hub's goal was to boost content creation and consumption in various regions, to maintain the quality and relevancy of local content, and later, to see how TikTok shaped local cultures off platform.
MVP 1 - POPULAR CHOICES (10 WEEKS)
With buy-ins from other teams across the business, this hub had a new out-of-app entry point - via User Growth ads. This posed a new challenge in designing a short, easy user journey, with consideration of technical constraints.
Based on Phase 1's learnings, I connected all locations to 1 initial landing page and to each other, for a more continuous user flow. I also applied TikTok's core app UI for a more native in-app experience - interactions would feel much more intuitive and natural to users.
To understand users beyond backend data, a short multiple-choice questionnaire was added to gauge interests and content activities for other locations outside of the original 6 - London, Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland, Ireland, Wales.
The simplified designs increased engagement by 400% compared to benchmarks. This became the second best performing site of 2021.
The user questionnaire received 51K+ responses. Birmingham content was the most requested.
User behaviour data showed London to be the most popular, followed by Scotland. Out-of-app ads data suggested that Ireland was the most successful in converting non-users to new users.
A lowlight was click-through rate from Discover tab and Search, which was just below benchmarks. Sourcing quality content also proved to be a challenge for less popular locations like Wales, Ireland and Liverpool.
MVP 2 - QUALITY CREATIONS (ONGOING)
This test focused on 2 main challenges: sourcing quality content, and improving click-through rate from entry points. I added a new form, asking users to submit videos for a chance to be featured. This made sourcing content more efficient, while boosting local content creation rate.
Banners also had a new visual design - bolder colour, large text and easy-to-digest copy - to stand out more on Discover tab. Search keywords were also updated for improved relevancy.
Click-through rate from landing page to locality pages increased by 12%, video play rate increased by 33%. This showed list and grid layouts were effective.
The new form had higher barrier of entry, so number of submission decreased drastically as expected. However, over 60% were high quality content, eventually featured in the hub.
A star icon was added to the corner of these videos, which contributed to the higher video play rate. Curated custom thumbnails also helped.
We saved 3 hours/week sourcing content, which are now dedicated to widening the project cross-functionally, and to planning irl activations.
The hub became more diverse - content now came from 52 different creators instead of just 27.
LEARNINGS AND NEXT STEPS
From these Content Discovery Hubs, learnings have been applied in many other H5 microsites and product feature developments, including a Search Hub for UEFA EURO 2020 and a Vote Hub for The BRIT Awards 2022.
Firstly, I now limit the use of creative elements, graphics, illustrations to only campaigns where visuals are recognisable and have a real impact in engagement. TikTok's app core UI is more effective for content-first projects.
Secondly, I shorten user journey by following a vertical flow in the majority of our designs and minimising the number of actions required from users before reaching a destination.
Finally, I aim to always encourage users to create while consuming content, as Phase 2 has shown how creation and consumption go hand-in-hand, and can positively impact one another.
The success of Phase 2 means this project might expand to key global markets and inform the development of future product features. More irl activations to widen the scope of Content Discovery on TikTok is currently in the works.