TikTok seems to be all the hype with Generation Z and beyond. The app that was founded in 2016 as a descendent of musical.ly has been swiftly growing in popularity, but reached its boom during the Coronavirus pandemic – the app accrued 2 billion downloads in April 2020, right at the peak of the global crisis. TikTok has been a source of fascination and controversy alike – starting with China connections, privacy concerns, and banning attempts from Donald Trump and ending with ridiculous weight loss challenges, a new generation of influencers, and hilarious memes that have changed comedy for good. With many of us now staying home and glued to our screens, social media is more impactful than ever, and many of the trends that have already been in motion before 2020 have gained more momentum during the pandemic. So what exactly is the impact of TikTok in the tumultuous times that most of us are witnessing only from home?
Anyone can be a content creator
TikTok has enabled everyone with funny and engaging content to become famous just for that – funny and engaging content. The unique “For You” page of the app exposes people to different short videos from people they do not necessarily follow – in fact, those creators might not even have a follower base at all. While platforms like Instagram or Facebook recommend content entirely according to your active choices, TikTok is a lot more subtle in discovering your preferences expressed in the times you replay a single video or how quickly you scroll past a certain comedy skit. As a result, content suggestions can be rather unexpected, yet super engaging, and it seems to be working for TikTok’s 500 million monthly active users. This algorithm gives a chance for everyone to become a content creator with minimum technical skill, as many templates and sounds are ready-made, and the convenient trend section allows one to see what is on-demand at the moment. And all of this comes without the hassle of building a follower base with anything else than content – which is prevalent on other social media platforms. Therefore, the factors of convenience, engagement, and minimalism have all made TikTok a go-to platform for anyone willing to show off their artistic, comedic, or any other skill – especially with all the time people have at hand during the pandemic.
TikTok and attention economy
TikTok’s audience is mainly young people – over 40% of the app users are between ages 16 and 24. Many of the users are even younger than that, making the audience very impressionable. They may be digital natives much more aware of social media, its implications, and dangers, but with social interaction dramatically reduced due to Covid-19, youngsters are spending a disproportionate amount of time online. An average TikTok user spends almost an hour on the app, which exposes the user to at least 60 one-minute-long TikTok videos. That is a lot of content that every TikTok user consumes, and it provides influencers with a chance to build entire careers on this. While the absence of direct ads is something that makes TikTok refreshing, the influencers still have a chance to make income through brand endorsement deals in their videos, on top of the Creator Fund managed by TikTok itself. What is interesting, however, is that this app caters very well to the short attention span of a modern human being – according to recent research, it is only 8 seconds! While recently the app has been testing the extension of its one-minute limit, the brevity of the videos is one aspect that makes the app work with increasingly diverse audiences. Immediate dopamine releases with every TikTok video is something that has kept people hooked and entertained during the pandemic.
Despite the addictive nature of the app, it has provided like-minded people a space for sharing ideas and content. Are you interested in fashion? There is a TikTok subculture for you to gather inspiration. Do you love dancing to K-Pop songs? There are millions of people who will appreciate your talent and make you feel accepted. The app has a very popular hashtag too, #learnontiktok that provides people with life hacks, tips, and generally useful information. Many dieticians, mental health professionals, and even recruitment specialists have moved to the platform to share their knowledge on various topics. While many young people might feel lonely and lost during the pandemic, the community on TikTok can help you learn new things, relate to other people with common experiences, search for like-minded people and eventually make friends. Being a lot less hierarchical than other following base focused apps, “the Clock App” gives everyone a chance to speak their mind – and be heard.
With popularity always comes scrutiny – and TikTok is not an exception. People can spend excessive amounts of time on the app and experience the general negative effects of social media – peer pressure, reduced confidence, negative body image, or fear of missing out. As on every social media platform, there is a lot of pressure to keep up with what seems to be a perfect life that others lead. Particularly concerning are the fitness-based trends, where influencers might share extreme dieting with their #whatieatinaday videos or perpetuate beauty standards with trends such as A4 paper or headphone challenges (look them up – pretty disturbing). Moreover, some body-positive influencers have been restricted from sharing what is considered to be “non-aesthetic” content – but new trends always keep coming, and with everyone on the app having a voice, things can easily turn around. Given the variety of content available on the app, its subtle preference recognition, and generally fun-natured environment, one can easily stick to life hack, comedy, or K-Pop cover videos – if, as with every social media platform, you do it right.
By: Viktorija Tuzaite, NHL University of Applied Sciences ’21