WTF is TikTok?

Tara Ellis, strategist at digital creative agency Waste, takes a closer look at the social platform that has come from nowhere but looks set to be the next big thing.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably caught wind of a new app called TikTok that’s caught the imagination of content creators around the world. In 2018, TikTok was the one of the most downloaded apps in the world, boasting 680m monthly active users (MAUs). That makes it bigger than Snapchat and Twitter, and we know you’ve heard of them.

What’s really interesting about TikTok is the audience. 60 per cent of the app’s users are Gen Z – true digital natives born since c.1997, who’ve only ever known a web-powered, mobile-first world. They’re drawn to the 15-second bursts of creative content, (a perfect fit for their short attention spans) and the unique tools on offer to make their own videos.

Here at Waste, we’ve been working with our friends at Supercell to explore the potential of this app for engaging the mobile gaming community. (Watch this space). In the meantime, after countless hours playing around with TikTok – here are a few things we think you should know:

It isn’t about perfection
Unlike Instagram, where most users filter their world to seem picture perfect, TikTok encourages users to “make social fun again”, with a community where the raw, real and bizarre comes out. Want to show your fans that you can sing and dance underwater while dressed like a banana? Then TikTok is your go-to. It’s good to be weird. Weird is real.

It’s easy to get creative
Unlike its spiritual predecessor Vine, people using TikTok don’t need to have a genius idea before they go onto the platform. Rather, with the thousands of backing tracks, filters, stickers and editing options available, the content inspiration is endless. Although this results in a lot of poor- and high-quality content, it does force celebs and influencers to create genuinely original videos to cut through. #TumbleweedChallenge from Jimmy Fallon is a hoot.

It’s all about collaboration
TikTok has made it extremely simple for users to engage with other content beyond ‘Likes’ and ‘Comments’, through unique new features. The ‘Duet’ option allows users to occupy a split screen with any original video, a celeb, a random, or even with yourself. These ‘Duets’ often result in users mirroring an original piece of content – which can be mesmerising! ‘Reacts’ on the other hand, encourage users to respond to original content in a little superimposed video screen, mirroring the way most YouTubers respond to other videos. Smart.

Anyone is 15 seconds away from global fame
For a digital generation who’ve been exposed to everyone else from day one, the idea of becoming an internet sensation is a massive incentive (and potential career), and you can see this passionate drive just by scrolling down the app’s home page. TikTok has noticed how far its users will go to create content and have inserted warnings into some backing tracks. (Essentially the new version of ‘don’t try this at home’.)

Pets can use filters too
Sure, our Instagram feeds are inundated with cute images of dogs and cats – but they’re all beginning to look the same, aren’t they? (Beagle Blindness anyone?) Well, tapping into the Gen Z and Millennial trend for having pets over having children, TikTok has created filters just for cats and dogs, allowing animal owners to humanise their furry friends. This is obviously adorable but also… who knew poodles suited glasses so well?

It feels like an all-girl slumber party
The top four TikTok influencers are young women under 20, with over 20m followers each. 70 per cent of the app’s user base is female, and the majority of the videos you’ll encounter feature 16-year olds in their PJs singing along to their favourite songs. Keep looking though, and there’s incredible creativity to be discovered too.

#Hashtags are cool again
On TikTok, ‘hashtag challenges’ make up a large portion of the content. They’re community-driven tasks that encourage users to film pre-defined content in their own creative way. They create a collective experience, the ability to be unique within the crowd. Funny thing is, when we spoke to Gen Zers about Instagram last year, they told us they found hashtags deeply uncool, but over here, they’re the catalyst for creativity, and they’re bleeding back into other channels. #LevelUpChallenge is worth a look.

TikTok is nurturing its community
Unlike Vine, which arguably died because talented users had to shift their content into other channels to find an audience, TikTok is putting UGC talent front and centre in every aspect of its marketing. It is also pushing ahead with a regular cycle of community-driven updates and creative tools and keeping the #challenges fresh and rewarding too.

If you hadn’t heard of TikTok before, you have now, and you can’t afford to ignore it any longer.