The TikTok obsession — what is it, and why does it matter?
Ever start a show on Netflix, get addicted, and then watch the whole season in one weekend? Yeah, me too. I’m human. I get addicted to different sorts of entertainment. I watched Breaking Bad in 3 weeks, back in 2015. Now I start shows and seasons that are complete so that I can watch it all in one go!
Well, welcome to TikTok. The new entertainment obsession.
It all started with me downloading the app for business reasons. An expert I hired for YouTube and SEO, suggested we should also do TikTok videos and entertain people. The idea is that if we are entertaining or informative enough, then we can eventually lead people to the YouTube channel. (This is currently in test mode, I will report back at a later date!)
I was incredibly sceptical but said, “okay, you are the expert, I will download it, check it out and start the channel for us.”
Since then — only a month ago — the algorithm has figured out my sweet spot and has exploited it ever since. If I open the TikTok app, I’m done for; I lose two hours in one shot. It feeds me feel-good stories, other over 40’s dancing, talented singers, and even career and mindset experts.
I have friends who have removed it from their phones completely, not because of security or privacy reasons but because they were losing time!
Once the app is open, all bets are off, and for entrepreneurs, especially those pivoting businesses due to reduced revenues thanks to the pandemic, there are better uses of our time. Definitely more productive than watching the recent trend of Taylor Swift’s “Romeo and Juliet!”
So what is it, who is it for, and why is it so addictive?
What is TikTok?
Where it started
Tik Tok started as the less popularly known musical.ly. It began as a platform for creatives to share their talents, allowing them to record videos to do it. Yes, some used it for karaoke-style videos, but you could also find composers, writers, and musicians who shared original music. The minimum age was 13 years old, and it was started primarily as a tool for young people to express themselves.
What is it now
It’s come a long way since that modest start. Now it is a free-for-all, and age is no longer a factor. Owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based Internet technology company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, it has become a content Mecca with short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds.
It’s easy to make a video on TikTok, not just because of the tools it provides at your fingertips, but also the prompts and ease of sharing enabled by the platform. You can select from a range of sounds, popular song clips, TV-show clips, YouTube videos, or other TikToks. You can join a dare-like challenge, or participate in a dance meme, or make a joke.
It is a video sharing platform of epic proportions.
While there are other video platforms, TikTok is unique in that you can scroll up through the videos, similar to the swipe functionality on the Tinder app, fast and more efficient than a traditional feed. The functionality is covered in detail in the NY Times
And it is too easy to join the malarkey!
All the tools are there, and all the content prompts are there. You can quite literally stop what you are doing right now and add a video, and using the right hashtags, the likelihood of the video being seen far supersedes that of every other social media platform combined.
Everything you need to make a video is there. Everything. Music. Filters. Hashtags. It’s all there, and you point and film. It is very easy to gather followers if you are consistent and deliver regularly; followers are happy to see your mini content in their feed.
Unlike other platforms, you can go from 0 to 50,000 followers very quickly with one entertaining video showcasing your skills — whatever they may be!
Video streams are automatic, and you have to swipe up if you don’t like what is in front of you. Most people swipe within 3 seconds, so if you don’t grab them immediately, you’re done. You will likely be removed from the person's “for you” feed.
Based on your swiping speed and the content being displayed, the algorithm will feed you more of what you seem to “like” and stay on viewing. It uses your more honest reactive behaviour and therefore feeds you more relevant content than another platform.
Social media impact
We are constantly told to be agile, that microlearning is the new most effective method of learning, and we are told to test and learn to stay innovative. TikTok is trial and error on an immense stage. It tests you continually and then learns.
“TikTok will change the way your social media works — even if you’re avoiding it.” — New York Times
TikTok is changing the face of social media
Snapchat has more daily users than Twitter, and it changed the industry as well as the way youngsters interacted. TikTok has over 500 million users, and it has also reached beyond the teenage demographic.
Don’t believe me?
Well bearing in mind that on TikTok hashtags are the “for you” feed driver, not people, not companies, just hashtags, here are a few statistics at the time of writing for you to ponder:
#over40 has over 2.3 billion views — yes, that’s a billion.
#over50 is over 541 million views
#momsontiktok has over 553 million views
It has become a way for stay at home parents and for bored social distancing quarantiners to engage on social media. It allows an outlet from the monotony of every day, letting you release your inner child, you can dance, sing, and engage and because of the algorithm, you quickly find your “tribe” of like-minded individuals.
It is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube combined, on steroids!
Why does it work?
They reached the tipping point by moving from the self-directed feed to a completely algorithm-run feed. You don’t need an audience, and you don’t need connections, you don’t even need to post yourself.
Right from the start, as soon as you sign in to TikTok, they are testing you by populating your feed.
You don’t get control at all other than letting your preferences be known by swiping. They feed you content based only through the algorithm. It is continually learning and adapting the content. What I see will not be what you see. What your child sees will not be what you see.
It is all curated by your behaviour on the app, and it is not fooled. My friend Steven Mc Auley sums this up using Adam Sandler as an example:
“Nobody would admit they like Adam Sandler or his movies, but his movies are some of the most popular and most watched on Netflix!”
In other words, we lie! But our behaviour doesn’t. TikTok knows this, and it curates your content based on your behaviour, and it never ends. It never runs out of material. Never.
We were all craving connection this year, which provides the catalyst for TikTok use to explode; it provides a tool that connects you to your tribe and makes you feel connected.
Now you might ask yourself, does it add any value to our lives? Does it add any value beyond entertainment?
Isn’t it all just fun and games?
Sure there are a lot of fun connections and lots of nonsense. Duets are an effortless feature, allowing people to interact with each other’s content directly. The app shows both people’s TikToks at the same time on the same screen. People are learning to dance, having a laugh, and sometimes offering support.
Duets are quite an ingenious way to connect users and are not available on any other platform.
So there aren’t any real connections?
You may question how real the connections are. These are not your friends, right? After all, this is an online app, so they are not necessarily people you will meet in real life? Or are they?
Some people have connected in person after following each other on the app. They have met in a public space, safely, like a local cafe if they are in the same city. They post a video about meeting in person or doing a TikTok together, so it is possible to transition the connection to real-life just like any other online platform.
Yeah, but it doesn’t add any value, does it?
It’s just fun. It’s just for laughs. It has no impact on real issues right? Does it add any real value?
On TikTok, people openly share their deepest darkest trauma, including and not limited to abuse, violence, and even rape. Consequently, and because of the vulnerability evident from these trauma victims — conveyed within 60 seconds — others don’t feel so isolated or alone in their experience.
People who suffer from anxiety or depression seem to feel supported in the virtual world even when they do not necessarily feel supported in the real world. There appears to be evidence — if the posts are to be believed — that it has prevented more than one suicide.
It doesn’t stop there. There are doctors sharing techniques to prevent anxiety and reduce depression. Fitness experts are sharing “how-to” videos on workouts and much more.
All through this seemingly nonsense app.
Why is it being banned?
There is a lot of controversy around the app right now, and it has already been banned in other parts of the world. Here are a few reasons this is happening.
Using any social network can be risky. Like most other social networks, the minute you sign up, your account is public by default.
Transparency is a part of the app culture, everyone can see your content, and everyone can interact. There are, of course, trolls too, and you have no control other than to perhaps address their comments in your next TikTok, which a lot of users do to expose these negative, shaming comments. Read more here about other countries' privacy.
India, in particular, claims they are using the data they collect illegally, i.e., they are taking data off your phone the minute you download the app.
This may well be true, but it feels like other apps do this as well, just maybe more discreetly and get away with it because they are not a Chinese company? The fact is that if we have a mobile phone and we download any app, this is going to be a risk.
While it is easy to share funny short clips, many users are claiming their content was removed, and the very real manipulation that can take place on social media platforms is even more evident on an app like TikTok.
However, this same issue came to our attention when Cambridge Analytica and Facebook influenced the political landscape of the United States.
And Facebook is still here right?
US companies thinking about investing in TikTok
Google, Microsft, and others have considered buying a slice of TikTok, perhaps in part to keep it running, and in part, because they all see how it is a game-changer when it comes to the level of algorithm-led interaction rates.
It may very well be the future of all online social interaction, or is it merely that if China does not solely own it, it makes it safer or more acceptable? Who knows for sure.
It is not as useful for businesses or sales, like LinkedIn or Facebook advertising, but the app just launched the TikTok for Business.
The idea is that you “activate interactivity.”
Transforming followers to buyers
The challenge remains how do you move people off TikTok to other platforms where you can leverage that followership and convert it into sales or opportunities? While select few influencers are converting their followers to buyers right on TikTok, this still seems to be a black box for most businesses.
Their new slogan is: “Don’t make ads. Make Connections.”
They may soon be ready to give Facebook a run for their money — if they don’t get banned first!
Transferring TikTok followers to a “reliable” platform
Recently there has been a spate of TikTokers asking followers to follow them on Instagram or YouTube in case TikTok is banned — so they do not lose their followers.
The most popular German on TikTok, “Falcopunch”, has managed to leverage his status on TikTok into real opportunity and reward but he is the exception, not the rule.
For now, as long as TikTok is not banned, people can continue to engage on the platform.
So, what will I do about my TikTok addiction?
While traditionally, I might go to bed around 23:00 every night. If I open TikTok, all bets are off. Recently I was on the app until 02:00 and well….that’s just far too late for me!
It’s addictive because it has learned enough about me and my behaviour from just seven interactions with the app to keep me watching. Yes, seven. That’s all it takes for the algorithm to learn that I like feel-good stories and like to watch my tribe of other #over40 that are having fun dancing in their living rooms!
Self-restraint is being (re)inforced.
Netflix and YouTube keep me watching by playing the “next video” automatically, TikTok keeps me scrolling by feeding a never-ending stream of content — so the same rules need to go into effect.
When it comes to Netflix, I no longer start a new show. I don’t want to get sucked into watching a whole season and losing time.
When it comes to TikTok, I will no longer open the app unless I am using it for business, or I have scheduled some time for it.
Living in the real world
While I appreciate that TikTok is a unique and exciting platform to study human behaviour, I also recognize that it simultaneously adds value to people’s lives and takes over people's lives. I like to live in the “real world” and interact with people in the real world. And while there is no quarantine in place, it seems a smarter move to focus my time and energy on the people here in my physical space.
I won’t be removing it from my phone because like YouTube or Instagram, sometimes we all need a distraction or some escapism, and let’s be honest, TikTok hits the dopamine centres faster and more efficiently than any other app! ;-)