TikTok Raises its Local Game

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TikTok continues to feel around and test features as it establishes itself as a social media powerhouse. It’s much earlier in that journey than incumbents like Instagram and Twitter, so we continue to see rapid-fire feature launches and trials. And like the above players, some of these are local in nature.

That’s the case with TikTok’s latest feature. Known as “Nearby,” it’s a feed that spotlights local content. Placed prominently near the “Following” and “For You” homepage tabs, it brings users to a dedicated feed that shows content that’s been location-tagged near them, such as local businesses.

These location tags are the key element that makes the Nearby feed work. And tags will be determined by content creators. In other words, the quality and density of content in the feed will be a function of how much stuff has been tagged nearby a given user. Urban areas will likely be richer in content.

Relevance Algorithm

Stepping back, this move has greater dimension when viewed in light of TikTok’s overall content discovery strategy. It’s known most for its relevance algorithm that curates a flowing feed of content that has become addictive for more than a billion users, eating up hours of engagement in some cases.

That relevance algorithm is based on a combination of contextual and behavioral targeting, the latter being a function of past activity (sharing, liking, etc.) on the platform. The question is how location now becomes a component of that algorithm. For now, it has its own feed, but could it join the main feed?

Here it’s worth noting that TikTok has done something similar in other functional areas, such as its Shop feed. These specific use cases have gotten their own feeds, where the ranking algorithm is presumably tweaked to prioritize corresponding content. So far, it’s shopping and local, and we’ll likely see more.

These areas are clearly priorities for TikTok as it, again, continues to test the waters for user demand and monetization. The latter is obviously a key factor, and the two feeds named above are naturally monetizable, especially shopping. Local monetization meanwhile could be a compelling direction.

On that note, I’ve spent lots of time speculating about TikTok’s local monetization. Several SMBs already use it as a promotional vehicle. They’re doing so in organic ways, but there could be an opportunity to bolt on paid amplification. Paid ads already exist of course, but something purpose-built for SMBs could follow.

Social Layer

TikTok’s Nearby feed also follows a pattern in that social players are increasingly adding local content. For example, Instagram recently launched a map interface to engender local discovery. And Snap Map has long offered users the ability to find things to do nearby, in the context of what friends are doing.

Google even acknowledged this recently. As the undisputed champ of local search and discovery, it’s beginning to recognize competition emerging from TikTok, Instagram and others. Though these players don’t have the algorithmic edge that Google has in mapping, they do have social relevance.

In other words, the social layer on any local discovery product can add meaning in terms of what friends are doing or have done. TikTok’s latest play is less about a social graph and more about how nearby places and things relate to the things you’re discovering in your feed. That could likewise be compelling.

We’ll watch carefully to see how much traction it gets. And it could be a while… the Nearby feed is first being tested with users in Southeast Asia, rolling out from there based on performance, as it often goes.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at Localogy.com