Social Media
April 15, 2020

Unwinding the Inner Workings of TikTok

Alisha Donnelly

If you are reading this article, you are probably stuck at home. You have already devoured all eight episodes of The Tiger King and have resorted to scrolling through your social media feeds for entertainment.  You are not alone; with millions of Canadians turning to online platforms to keep them occupied during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital media consumption has soared to unprecedented volumes. One platform in particular is reaping the benefits of the nation’s stay-at-home orders; TikTok.


If you don’t know already (Gen X – looking at you), TikTokis a social media platform specifically designed to present short-form video.On the surface, it appears to be very similar to the now deceased Vine (RIP). The platform is comprised of seconds-long quirky clips created to momentarily entertain users. However, if you peak beneath the surface of TikTok, you will reveal a powerful engine designed to keep users on the app for hours at a time.


But let’s start from the beginning. The latest statistics available place TikTok at 800MM monthly active users. Experts now believed this figure to have surpassed 1BB. TikTok can officially be counted amongst the largest social media platforms in the world. The concept is simple. TikToks are 15-60 second videos, created by users, each with the goal of collecting as many engagements (views, likes, comments) as possible. Unlike other visual platforms such as Instagram, TikToks typically have very little production value and are focused solely on the content. The more engaging the content, the more likely that the video will go viral.


This focus on virality has derived from TikTok’s unique user experience design. Unlike other social platforms, TikTok users enter ontotheir ‘For You’ page, a feed of videos curated for the individual by TikTok’s incredibly powerful algorithm, rather than a feed of the accounts the user is following. This algorithm works by serving users a combination of three things; videos with the same or similar tags to posts they have already engaged with, videos that have already been receiving high engagement on the For You page, and new content. Every eighth video on a user’s For You page is a brand-new post; the algorithm will determine if this new post is engaging from the first few times it is served. If the users engage with the video, it will be served to more users. If not, it will be removed from circulation.


This strategy, directing users to the For You page and giving every post the opportunity to go viral, works twofold for TikTok. One, users are served the content most likely to keep them scrolling on the app and, two, creators are given incentive to keep creating, even when a post flops. It’s a powerful combination.


TikTok does a few other things differently. First, TikTok has curated a catalogue of fully licensed audio clips (popular songs, adlibs,etc.) for its users to pull from. Rather than stifling creators (ehem, YouTube),TikTok encourages users to dance and lipsync to their favourite songs. This has made waves across the entertainment industry and music streaming services; it is likely that, at any given time, at least a third of the songs on Spotify’sHot 100 playlist have gained popularity through usage on TikTok. TikTok has ensured that artists are credited for their audio when it is used in a post. Below the caption, every TikTok has a clickable audio credit. If a song or soundbite is used, viewers will be able to click to a unique page to see the artist/creator and other videos which have used the audio. They will then be able to use this sound in their own TikTok and the process repeats. The same holds true for an audio original to the TikTok creator. If the creator is talking to the camera, that sound clip will receive its own page and can be used by other TikTokers. With this feature, TikTok has flipped ‘meme’ structure on its head, from the classic ‘image recaptioned’ meme to the same audio being used for thousands,or in some cases, millions of videos.


TikTok has also made sharing content incredibly easy. Users can share videos with friends on Facebook messenger, repost their videos onInstagram or import to Snapchat, all in one or two clicks. Many of the videos you see on Instagram these days are TikToks repackaged. Rather than trying to keep user’s content on TikTok at all costs, TikTok has utilized other social platforms as a kind of advertising stream. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, evenSMS apps, have a wealth of untapped users who are ready to be hooked on the latest online addiction.


If you haven’t downloaded TikTok yet, it might be time for you to experience this unique app for yourself. The more you use it, the better you will be able to understand why it has become such a digital powerhouse. As people are staying home across the globe, and turning to their smartphones for entertainment, TikTok has been growing its user base and cementing its place in social media history.


Next, check out our blog on how your brand can leverage TikTok’s ever expanding audience.

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