“Hey, I know this song!”
“Really, where is it from?”
“It’s big on TikTok.”
This is a conversation I’ve been having a lot lately. And depending on who I’m talking to, they’ll either laugh or give me a puzzled look in return.
I was born in the early/mid-90s, which means I’m on a generational cusp — the youngest of Millennials and the oldest of Gen Z. And I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with TikTok.
Before TikTok, I was obsessed with Vine. I was no creator, but I could quote about 50 of them off the top of my head and, like many others, I was sad when Vine came to an end. When I began to hear about TikTok, I brushed it off. People called it “Vine 2.0” but I knew it could never be the same.
And I was right; It’s not the same. Actually, it’s better.
What was Vine’s core problem?
Essentially, Twitter couldn’t make money off of it. While users loved Vine, offering a free app with no ads or sponsored content is, admittedly, a horrible business model. And with no way to build communities on Vine, popular users began to jump ship, opting instead to take their content to Instagram or YouTube, where they could make money off the size of their audience.
TikTok, on the other hand, allows users to build a community, collaborate with others, and get in front of people who might otherwise never see their videos.
How does TikTok work?
The platform has five different interfaces. When users open the app, the first thing they’ll see is the Home page, or “For You” page (FYP). This is where users spend most of their time endlessly scrolling through videos. The FYP autoplays videos that TikTok thinks you’ll like based on previously liked content, demographics, and location-based data. For example, I’m located in Canada so I get a lot of Can-con on my feed. I also like a lot of dance videos so I see nearly every trending dance challenge.
You’ll notice that in many video captions, users will use some variation of the hashtag #ForYouPage (#ForYou, #FYPage, #FYP) to try and get in front of other users. (Note: No one outside of TikTok knows how their algorithm works. So there’s no proof that using the hashtag will guarantee an FYP placement.)
The second interface is the Discovery page. This page shows the top hashtags (excluding #FYP) being used. Tap on a trending tag and you’ll see the top videos in that tag. These tags are typically challenges or trending sound clips and memes.
The other interfaces of the app are the shooting/editing interface, notifications, and your user profile page. There are dozens of different lenses and filters that can enhance your video, and you can even duet and react to other videos. When you “like” a video, it gets added to the Likes on your profile page. You can also save sound clips and hashtags to your favorites.
The TikTok community
Here’s where TikTok is the most interesting to me. I was a very passive Vine user. It’s where I found a lot of original videos that were funny, ridiculous, heartwarming, and sometimes controversial, but I never really felt the need to contribute my own content.
On TikTok, there are original videos that are also funny, ridiculous, heartwarming, and yes, downright controversial. But the endless challenges, ability to save sounds, and duet with other videos, had me hooked. I wanted to be a part of it from the day I downloaded the app.
TikTok challenges range from fun dance challenges to silly (and sometimes dangerous) physical feats. And while you may have heard that the app is most popular among Gen Z, its audience of Millennial and Gen X users is growing.
In a leaked pitch deck obtained by Ad Age, TikTok reported that 69% of users are in the 16-24 age range, while 31% are 25 and older. Those older users contribute to TikTok in some surprising ways. On the app are doctors, scientists, teachers, lawyers, and other professionals that create videos to show off facts, hacks, and how-tos for a younger audience. Through TikTok, I’ve learned how to decrease hospital bills, detect the signs of a throat infection, and even how your body reacts to foreign bacteria.
TikTok for brands
The ability to be a part of challenges, remix sounds, and duet with other users are all part of why TikTok is great for brands that already have an audience on TikTok, or that want to engage a previously unreachable demographic.
The Washington Post is an excellent example of this. WaPo is a legacy news organization, known around the world for their Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting. And not only are they killing the investigative reporting game, but they’re also killing it on TikTok with videos about current affairs and about what it’s like to be a journalist. Their videos give viewers a glimpse into what a typical day in the newsroom is like, connecting us to the people who inform millions about politics, economics, science and pop culture every day.
Don’t have the time to post 3x a week on TikTok? Or maybe you’re running a campaign that is focused on brand awareness or promotion of a new project. Not to worry, TikTok has options for you, too.
In that same leaked pitch deck, TikTok outlines their ad offerings. There are a variety of options, including in-feed videos, banners on the Discovery page, branded lenses, influencer partnership, and promoted hashtags, songs and challenges.
Artists and record labels regularly promote albums and singles through the app. The massive success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” owes its viral status to TikTok. Ads for movies, clothing companies, and fast food brands are also regularly seen on TikTok.
So while TikTok has a reputation for being a mere lip-syncing app that confuses anyone over the age of 25, those brands and organizations that were able to leverage their audience on TikTok have experienced success on the platform.
And just a note: TikTok, like other popular social platforms, has its own set of potential ethical controversies. It’s super important to do your research before deciding what’s appropriate for your brand.