TikTok, a relatively young social media platform, has seemingly divided the world into two major camps:
- The TikTok users of the world, who scroll, dance, and laugh along with the rest of the platform’s community (and it’s a big one—the number of monthly active users currently clocks in at about 800 million).
- The people who find themselves asking: “What the heck is TikTok?”
In case you’re leaning towards the latter group, we’ve compiled a list to help you grapple the basics of TikTok before you start posting.
TikTok is a highly scrollable video-sharing platform
You’ve never seen an infinite scroll like this before.
When you first download the TikTok app and make an account, the first place you’ll wind up is the For You Page (FYP). Here, TikTok’s algorithm will serve you an unlimited number of posts, all selected to try to make you happy (or at least engage with the content). The more you engage and watch, the more personalized the algorithm’s choices will be.
So, as you keep scrolling and engaging, the videos you see will ideally get increasingly closer to your interests or sense of humor (more on this later). It’s part of the recipe that makes TikTok so addicting to it’s millions of users: as you scroll, the content from your perspective gets better and better (at least from your perspective).
Another way TikTok keeps people hooked is the full-screen experience it offers. The majority of posts will take up your screen.
To get to the next video, you simply have to swipe up. Unlike YouTube, there are no related videos to sift through on a sidebar or a visible search bar. Sure, there are other pages to utilize if you’d like to take a crack at finding a more specific piece of content. But the easiest way to stay entertained is to stay on the FYP tab and scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and scroll…
Get this: not even your mobile clock will be visible on screen, so you can spend hours continuously scrolling without even knowing it.
Not exactly great news for your eyeballs, but definitely bodes well for content creators and brands interested in capturing the attention of a fully-engaged audience.
There are A LOT of people on TikTok—especially Gen Z-ers
800 million active users is quite a number, especially compared to Instagram’s user count (roughly 112.5 million) and Twitter’s (330 million monthly active users). Impressive for an app that only officially launched in 2016.
Like the app itself, it’s audience is young too. About half of TikTok’s audience is under the age of 34. Just above 40% of the total consists of users between the ages of 16 and 24—also known as the older half of Gen Z.
The myth that Gen Z makes up the majority of TikTok’s audience is just that: a myth. However, compared to other, older social media platforms, TikTok boasts a much higher percentage of Gen Z users. On both Facebook and Instagram, the most highly represented age bracket is 25-34. For seeking out a younger audience, TikTok may be one of the best social media platforms to start.
TikTok is an (almost) purely mobile platform
To varying degrees of success, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all usable on desktop. Instagram has even made moves to increase the number of features available to desktop users. But TikTok’s true home is on mobile.
The desktop site doesn’t offer the same full-screen, easily scrollable experience that the app does, nor does it allow you to publish your own content (which 83% of TikTok users have done at least once).
Keep this in mind as you develop your TikTok strategy. If you ever consider linking to your website via your TikTok profile or ad, your mobile optimization better be on point.
The FYP is where it’s at
The For You Page on TikTok is like the Facebook Newsfeed and your Instagram feed: it’s the place where users typically choose to spend their time while on the app.
In other words, anyone looking for success on TikTok will need to bow down to the power of the almighty TikTok algorithm, which is responsible for delivering content on every user’s personalized FYP.
Your main takeaways from this fact should be…
- TikTok is not a game of SEO. Your content doesn’t necessarily have to be easily searchable by users. It just has to play by the algorithm’s rules (see the next tip for more information).
- Your video content will have to speak for itself. On Instagram, a compelling image or video thumbnail is what entices users to engage with your content. On Twitter, maybe the post copy captures your attention first. But on the TikTok FYP, users don’t have to click on your content to view it. They will, however, have to be interested enough in what they see when your video starts automatically playing to keep from scrolling to the next post.
- Your TikTok profile won’t do much of the heavy lifting. Sure, an interested user may occasionally click on your username and scroll through your content from your profile. Thanks to the FYP, most users will see your content first & profile second If they see it at all), and your priorities should be in that order as well.
The algorithm gradually rolls out new videos to users
To introduce new content on users’ feeds, the TikTok algorithm throws each new piece of content into a tournament of sorts.
Let’s say you publish your first video on the platform. The TikTok algorithm says “Cool, thanks for the post! We’re going to show this to about 100 people and see how it does.”
From there, the video winds up on the FYPs of 100 different users. Depending on how many people engage with your video, the algorithm could either say “Whoops, better luck next time!” or “Great job—we’re going to share this with 500 more people!”
This process goes on and on. As long as the algorithm likes what it sees with your post engagement, it will continue to show the video to more and more users.
The more videos you like, the more personalized your FYP will be
If you were paying attention earlier, you’ll know that TikTok doesn’t exactly roll out these videos to users at random.
Instead, it’ll select users to show it to based on what they’ve liked, commented on, and shared in the past. So the more you interact with posts, the more the algorithm will know about you, and the more akin to your apparent interests your FYP will be.
For example, when I first started my personal TikTok for example, I had very few posts saved in my liked collection. I guess I ended up liking a bunch of posts in a row that were in some way related to Star Wars, because before I knew it, it seemed like every other post in my FYP was about Star Wars.
It’s an interesting mechanism to see in action and definitely fun to experiment with. But before you try to manipulate the algorithm, it might be helpful to distinguish the different ways it uses to figure out what each post is actually about…
Trends are the keys to achieving success (or at least going viral)
We know, we know...we’ve had a lot of things to say about bandwagon hopping in the past, but those rules don’t really apply here. On TikTok, hopping on the latest trends is pretty much the way of this virtual world.
TikTok trends have everything to do with three content features that TikTok uses to categorize every post:
- Sounds. Audio plays a huge role on TikTok (did you know it started out in the US as an app called Music.ly?) When users find a video with audio they like, they can save it to a collection to use in their own content later. You can also easily find all videos that use the same track by clicking on the bottom right corner of every post. Many TikTok trends consist of using a specific track (like the one used below).
- Effects. TikTok has an extensive amount of visual and sound effects for users to edit their videos. When users publish a video with a certain effect, the effects used are often displayed on the post, just above the caption (like in these examples below using the “Distorted” effect.
- Hashtags. They work the same way on TikTok as they do on most other platforms. But, we will say that on TikTok, hashtags are less of an SEO strategy and more of a way the algorithm uses to determine what kind of content you like.
Returning to my Star Wars example, the reason the algorithm knew that I enjoyed Star Wars content is because I had liked many posts tagged #StarWars or that utilized Star Wars related audio tracks. The posts that were checked with those boxes were essentially dumped in a Star Wars box (and subsequently served up to me when I outed myself as a Star Wars fan).
If you catch my drift...this means that you can hop on certain trending sounds, effects, and hashtags in the hope of expanding your post reach.
When a large portion of users are all liking videos that use certain attributes, they are all signaling to the algorithm that they really enjoy content with those attributes. Thus, by creating content using those attributes, you increase your chances of being seen by that large portion of users.
Content over aesthetic
On TikTok, the most important thing about each post is whether or not it’s entertaining—NOT if it’s perfectly polished or fits into your overall profile aesthetic.
Just take a look at some popular content that pops up on your FYP. You might notice that they’re not all shot in HD with high-quality graphics or special effects. They’re videos shot by people using their phone camera and edited directly on the app. In some cases, the janky visuals or sounds are part of their charm.
The popular Green Screen effect on TikTok showcases this perfectly. The effect is rarely ever executed flawlessly. But most of the time, it does not make a difference if the content itself is still funny or entertaining.
Needing to be entertaining is a different sort of pressure, but at least you can be confident in the fact that you don’t need a full camera crew and editing team to capture TikTok’s attention.
Having followers isn’t a requirement for success
Having followers on social media never hurts. But on TikTok you don’t have to have a strong following for your posts to reach a large number of people or earn a ton of engagement.
Just talk to TikTok user @ryanpalmergolf, who posted a video that went on to hit nearly 10 million views. Before posting that winner, Ryan only had 3 other videos that earned about a couple thousand views each. Since then, he’s gotten up to 105.9K followers and counting!
It’s all thanks to the algorithm’s rolling introduction of new posts and has everything to do with how engaging the posts prove to be, not necessarily how many followers the original poster had to begin with.
UGC could be the recipe to success for hopeful advertisers
TikTok’s advertising opportunities are even newer than the app itself. Marketers are still playing a game of trial and error to see what works.
But one strategy in particular has already seen a lot of success: user-generated content. Because TikTok is all about trying sounds, effects, and challenges out for yourself, it’s a great place for brands to plant and popularize their own content formats to see if they light a spark within the community.
Earlier this year, Softsoap took advantage of this opportunistic playing field for UGC and started the #SoapBop challenge. Reminiscent of 2013’s popular Cup Song challenge, the campaign encouraged TikTok users to sing a tune meant to inspire people to stay clean. Now, all posts tagged with Softsoap’s branded hashtag collectively pulled in over 2 billion views!
So, if there’s any platform for running a UGC campaign, it’s TikTok. To echo a statistic from earlier: 83% of users have published at least one video. The majority of active users, then, are creating, not just consuming. By driving UGC, you're supporting this drive to create, helping emphasize an important TikTok philosophy: anyone can be a creator.
We’ve Talked The Tok—Now Walk The Walk
In conclusion: that’s what TikTok is. It’s a popular mobile app powered by a wealth of audio tracks and video editing options, the creativity of its users, and the “do it yourself” attitude of its engaged community.
Here’s an even shorter answer: TikTok could be valuable new terrain for brands interested in playing the UGC game.
It’s also important to remember that TikTok is still relatively uncharted territory, with lots of potential but not a lot of history just yet. That being said, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on TikTok, its advertising capabilities, and the kinds of content that seem most valuable to its 800 million monthly active users as it continues to grow.
Interested in exploring the app with us? Get in touch!
- Megan O'Keefe
- Social Media & Content Specalist