What is TikTok? A Guide to Understanding the Social Media Platform
This post was last updated on January 20, 2023.
TikTok: chances are, you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you’ve already signed up. If you’re just keeping up with the latest social media craze and feel ready to jump on the bandwagon - there’s no time like the present to get started on TikTok.
Staying up-to-date with social media trends involves effort, and it can be challenging to decide if new platforms are worth using at all, especially when it comes to building a brand. While creating a website to promote your products, services or business is a guaranteed good use of your time, when it comes to throwing yourself into apps like TikTok, the answer is not always as clear.
What is TikTok? And what’s all the fuss about? Whether you’re thinking about using TikTok for fun (and we promise you, it is fun), or as a marketing tool for your brand, we’re here to give you a crash course in navigating TikTok for personal and professional use. Let’s discover why the app is reshaping the social media world and has users obsessed.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a short-form video sharing app with a feed that features an endless slew of micro-videos made by its users. Videos can be a maximum of 15 seconds long, with the option to combine videos for a 60 second long compilation. The app is known for its charming, often hilarious content featuring real people and real, home-made videos.
Formerly known as karaoke platform Musical.ly, the app was purchased by Chinese company ByteDance in April of 2018 and integrated into the TikTok platform. Since then, it's become a sensation, with over 800 million users worldwide and 1.5 billion downloads.
TikTok runs on interactions based on location and interest. Users quickly adapt to the app’s participatory culture, which is intended to inspire creativity and spread entertainment vis-a-vis its content, community and trends. The majority of its users are Millennials and Generation Z-ers, but its popularity is quickly spreading to older demographics.
How does TikTok work?
TikTok’s motto is “make your day,” which is a pretty accurate description for that feeling you get when browsing through the app for the first time. The experience involves watching a customized feed of vertical videos made by users, which offer insight into what’s currently trending. Ultimately, users can create and upload videos of their own, utilizing TikTok’s enchanting and addicting in-app effects:
Part of the app’s magic lies in its highly personalized feed, which differs from recommendation feeds on apps like Facebook or Instagram. Known in TikTok jargon as the “For You” page, TikTok shows users what they want based on their unique algorithm. Everything users encounter on their feed is based on their previous interactions and device settings.
TikTok’s strong emphasis on localized content is genius - it allows users to capture local trends and participate in local TikTok contests. The feed tells users what to watch from the get-go, inspires a sense of community, and continues to evolve on its own (gotta love those algorithms!).
Engagement for engagement’s sake
Engagement is paramount on TikTok. With other social media platforms, engagement is something you earn. However, with TikTok, engagement is the entire point - it is the fuel that keeps the TikTok ti(c)king. In order to be successful, content must encourage creativity and interaction. What makes some users more popular than others is their attentiveness to what is trending and their ability to react instantly.
Pro tip: TikTok Coins take the idea of community to another level. TikTok Coins are an in-app currency that users can purchase with real money, enabling them to buy gifts for their favorite creators as a way to show their appreciation.
Short form content
So, what will you find on TikTok? The star is its short form video content - 15 second videos created by users themselves. The app features a plethora of fun and easy-to-apply special effects such as sound, filters, unique transitions and time manipulation such as slo-mo or rewind.
One of the best parts of TikTok is that the content focus is about literally anything: humor, music, fitness, travel, hobbies, food, dance, etc. Apart from that, TikTok is really a culture of its own, and the only way to truly get it is to set up an account and dive in.
The 15 second videos that make up the app fall under a number of different categories, including:
Hashtags & hashtag challenges
Hashtags play a large role in TikTok. At any one time, a user’s feed can be filled with tons of trending hashags, which function to organize content, as well as encouraging users to engage. Hashtags can be fun, inspirational or informative.
Users also participate in hashtag challenges, which can shift into trend status quickly. They can involve anything from encouraging users to show off their best jeans (such as the #InMyDenim challenge by Guess) to sharing things they’re grateful for (like Aerie’s #AerieREALPositivity challenge).
Thousands of users at a time engage with hashtag challenges, usually prompted by individuals or businesses, by adding a bespoke twist to the content. Although almost purely fun, the number of viewers that result from partaking in these challenges can provide a strategic opportunity for exposure.
TikTok has perfected the ‘reaction’ genre, making a category which YouTubers started years ago virtually seamless. With just the touch of a button, users can record a reaction to their TikTok buddies’ videos, positioning themselves where they want their overlay video to play alongside the original. The result? Way more than just a comments section.
TikTok is full of mini tutorials, which (true to TikTok nature) are short and fun to watch. Capturing the gist of an idea in short video format, TikTok tutorials make it easy to grab practical inspiration on-the-go.
Encouraging even more interaction between users, TikTok duets allow users to create content by replying to another user’s initial video content. The two videos appear in the feed side-by-side, and often result in viral trends.
How to use TikTok
Open an account
Creating an account for TikTok is simple: download the app, choose a username and create your account.
The application will ask you for details like name, location, and DOB. To streamline the process you can simply log in using an already existing account from Google, Facebook or Twitter.
Create a TikTok video
When you’re ready to make your first video, follow these steps:
Click the “+” sign at the bottom of the screen to go into shoot mode.
Record your video by holding down the record button at the bottom of the screen. Play around with effects like filters or slow motion (located at the bottom right-hand side bar of the screen).
Click the “✔️” sign when you are satisfied with your video recording.
Once you've finished recording, you can add more effects, placing that at specific time intervals of the video.
When your video is complete, add a catchy caption and relevant hashtags, then press “post.”
Your TikTok masterpiece is now live. Sit back, relax and wait to see what responses you get! In the meantime, you can respond to other videos by browsing through your feed and selecting the “share” button.
Pro tip: After posting your video, there is an option to share it on other social media platforms, and even to save it as a GIF.
Add sounds to your TikTok video
Sounds are a crucial aspect of TikTok culture. They allow users to add soundtracks to their videos - not to mention, TikTokers love lip synching. TikTok’s sound library features a surplus of options, ranging from classics to pop. Inventive spins on popular tracks and playlists that reflect specific interests are included in trending TikTok sounds.
Users can incorporate sounds into pre-recorded videos, or add tunes when starting a video from scratch. To add sound:
Go into shoot mode and record your video (or upload one that is already recorded).
Select “sounds” at the bottom of the screen.
Browse through the sound library and find the perfect track
Select the “✔️” sign. Your video now officially has a soundtrack.
Why is TikTok so popular?
The real mystery of TikTok is how it became a social media sensation overnight. A lot of TikTok’s popularity has to do with the fact that the majority of its users are in their early twenties and completely submerged in social media culture. Apart from that, it’s easy to use, has addictive features and a viral nature that makes it appealing for an abundance of users. Also, numerous ways to make money on TikTok have emerged, increasing its popularity.
TikTok is making social media great again. Let’s be honest, most social media platforms require more work than play. It’s not since Snapchat that we’ve had an app on our hands that is as much pure fun as TikTok is. We love micro entertainment, and appreciate TikTok’s charming content in the palm of our hands. Not to mention, its emphasis on user interaction makes it one of the most engaging social media platforms out there.
TikTok for business
If you’re a business owner, you’re probably asking yourself if TikTok is worth using for your marketing strategy, and if so, how to go about doing it.
TikTok’s user statistics and smart features are enticing, not to mention, the launch of TikTok for business platform is a promising sign that the app is moving in a more business oriented direction.
Considering TikTok is wildly popular with Generation Z, if your brand’s target market falls under this category, it makes perfect sense to promote it here and show that you are relevant. By using TikTok for business, brands can instantly connect with the next generation of consumers: Generation Z and Millennials based in major cities around the world.
Who uses TikTok?
TikTok user statistics are a good factor to think about when considering TikTok for marketing your business. The platform has over 800 million active users worldwide (and is expected to have over 1 billion by the end of 2020) - of those, 41% are between 16 and 24 years of age. In the United States, 60% of TikTok users are reported to be female and 40% male.
When deciding if TikTok marketing is right for your brand, remember to take into account your business’s target audience, as well as how to create the right content that will lead to conversion potential and help strengthen your brand identity.
How to use TikTok for business
TikTok has already been adopted by brands as a popular social media advertising outlet by creating content that’s in-line with TikTok's features and characteristics. Here are some ideas for starting to promote your brand on TikTok (given the gratifying nature of TikTok, we’re pretty confident that this can be a lot of fun):
There are a variety of sponsored ads businesses can use to promote themselves on TIkTok. Brands can use Brand Takeover ads, where they purchase a featured spot within a specific category for a day (only one brand can take over a category per day). Alternatively, a brand can create a sponsored post from their TikTok profile that will be featured in users’ feeds.
Branded hashtag challenges
Hashtag challenges catch on like wildfire, and they are a great opportunity for brands to grab the attention of users. Hashtag themes can be used to entice viewers to create user generated content that aligns with your brand.
Influencer marketing: no social media platform is complete without it. Whether it’s big-time influencers with 100,000+ followers or micro influencers with smaller, more targeted followings, brands can team up with TikTok stars to make first-rate content that ultimately promotes their brand.
While incredibly popular, as with any social media platforms there are concerns about its growth and what this means for its users, both content creators and viewers. Some of the main concerns around the platform include:
Spending too much time on the platform, especially amongst teens and younger children.
Privacy concerns, specifically how the platform collects and handles its users data and how or when they then share it with third parties.
Inappropriate content, despite the platform having teams of moderators, the platform isn't always able to keep up with flagging and removing offensive content.
Cyberbullying is a growing issue, and it exists on TikTok too. Trolling through comments left on videos is a damaging and growing phenomenon on all social media platforms and can be devastating for those it targets.
Misinformation and its spread, including the platform's slow response to taking down 'fake news' videos, which can quickly spread misleading information to a large audience.
What is TikTok FAQ
What is the main purpose of TikTok?
The main purpose of the platform is to provide a space for its users to create and share short form video, while also acting as a viewing platform for users who want to watch them. Part of this is its priority of being easy to use, and to appeal to a younger generation who consume content in shorter bursts. As it has grown, it has also begun to be used to promote brands, to educate and to raise awareness for different social causes.
How do TikTok and Youtube differ?
The main difference between the two is in the length of videos they display to their users. Youtube is more for long form content, videos can run into hours longs. TikTok is for short form content, and has a maximum video length of just 10 minutes.
Is TikTok free?
It's free to both upload and consume content. It's possible to buy a virtual currency on the platform, which can be sent as gifts to creators who can then exchange the coins for digital gifts.
By Jenna Romano
Wix Blog Writer