The Chinese company that owns TikTok, ByteDance, originally called the platform Musical.ly; and started with 15-second videos. Users can now make videos up to 3-minutes long. The original platform was created to share lip-sync videos, so music is still a big part of the equation.
According to webwise, “TikTok is a social media platform for creating, sharing and discovering short videos. The app is used by young people as an outlet to express themselves through singing, dancing, comedy, and lip-syncing, and allows users to create videos and share them across the community.”
That’s a pretty good explanation of what was originally intended with the platform, but like most other social media, it has evolved into much more than that. Yes, singing, dancing, comedy, and lip-syncing are all still a big part of what you’ll find on TikTok, but my experience as a user has been more of a YouTube “light” type of experience. Videos of a couple minutes or less on just about any topic you can think of are also now on TikTok.
What’s more, platforms like Instagram and YouTube are following TikTok’s lead and encouraging these short-form, smartphone-created videos with Reels and Shorts respectively.
How does TikTok work?
TikTok is a truly algorithm-based platform that keeps track of what you watch, how long you watch it, what content you interact with (like, share, comment), along with your general interests. For example, if you spend a lot of time watching videos about motorcycles (like I do), the algorithm will show you more of that content on your FYP (For You Page).
As a content creator, if you’re creating content that will appeal to a larger audience, TikTok will serve your content up to more people—unlike other apps that tend to favor pre-established creators over new creators.
Although there is a desktop version of the app, most users probably view and create videos with their phones. The app is definitely created to make that as easy as possible.
Unlike other social media I’ve used over the years, I think the algorithm does a great job of determining what I’m interested in and sharing similar videos with me. In fact, what it showed me in the beginning, based on my age, sex, and the profile I created, is far different from what I see now. The more videos you watch, the better the app gets at figuring out what you want to see, so if something comes up on your feed you’re not interested in, simply scroll right past it. The app will get the hint.
The app will also serve up content that is related to what you’re usually interested in too, so you might even get introduced to something you’ve never considered before. For example, I now occasionally see content related to ultra light flying and small planes, probably because I’ve shown an interest in motorcycles and hotrods.
In a lot of ways, I feel like the TikTok algorithm is more transparent than other social media. TikTok says, “The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors—starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too.”
Basically, they are collecting data about what you interact with and learning about you as it goes. The more time you spend on the app, the more it learns about you and your interests. And, the better it will get at picking content you’ll want to see and share.
TikTok also appreciates that what you like will change over time and will adapt right along with you. According to Jude Murphy, writing for Social Boosting the algorithm works like this::
“Video likes, comments, shares, watching the video to completion, and re-watches—ie how you interact with the video—perhaps the most important factor in the list is if you finish a video or watch it multiple times
“Subject matter—ie the topic of the video
“Device settings—ie location and language
“Trending audio—ie videos that capitalize on trending songs and audio are more likely to be shown
‘Trending hashtags and caption keywords—ie like with sounds, videos that use trending hashtags (even if they have nothing to do with the video) are more like[ly] to appear on a For You Page
“User Activity and “Not Interested” Feedback—ie when you reject the content or block users”
Benefits of TikTok for business
Because of the growth in TikTok audience, “TikTok can be a great platform for your business– if your target audience is on the platform,” writes Gerri Detweiler. “Some business owners worry that their business might not be visual enough for TikTok, or that they don’t have enough video skills to make professional looking videos, but neither is required.”
There are a handful of benefits for businesses interested in using TikTok to promote their products or services. They include:
Enhanced brand identity: With so many users, presence on the app gives businesses the opportunity to grow their brand and connect with a larger audience.
Increase brand awareness: Like other social media platforms, TikTok leverages hashtags that allow users to follow popular videos and other trends—making it possible for even a smaller brand to increase views and learn about your products and services.
Influencer marketing: Reaching out to influencers with large followings can help a business reach a larger audience. The TikTok Creator Marketplace makes this easy for both businesses and influencers to connect with each other.
Repurpose user-generated content: Businesses can use the popularity of user-generated content to launch campaigns right behind other creators at relatively low cost.
Get to your target audience quickly: So far, it appears that the TikTok user engagement trends offer businesses more bang for the buck than other social media platforms. The average TikTok user spends about 33 minutes every day on the platform scrolling through dozens and dozens of short videos giving businesses a real opportunity to target the audience most likely to become customers.
Why is TikTok so popular?
There are probably a lot of reasons TikTok is so popular, but here are two or three of the main reasons I think the platform has gained so much traction over other social media platforms.
People like shorter videos: The social media content that gets the most engagement on any platform is short-form video content. 15 second to 60 second video content is able to capture attention fast as people scroll through the timeline and is more concise than a 20- or 30-minute video. On other platforms 15- or 30-second videos are considered to be really short, but for an audience used to scrolling through content quickly, it’s TikTok’s bread and butter.
Variety is the spice of life: It’s not only the spice of life, but is served up on TikTok 24 hours a day. Influencers and brands can share content that is relevant to a specific demographic whether it’s about motorcycles, cooking, fishing, dancing, photography, or any other topic.
Creating content is easy: It doesn’t require a sophisticated multi-media department to create interesting videos that TikTok users will appreciate and reward with their attention. In fact, According to Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe in their book, The Viral Video Manifesto, it’s not the slick and sexy videos that get produced by high-ticket advertising firms or marketing departments that win the biggest audience. Genuine and authentic feeling videos are what people respond to the best. This is important to know for a business trying to win an audience and future customers. If you spend any time watching YouTube videos you probably know these guys, but don’t know that you know them. They were the pair that introduced us to what happens when you dump a bunch of Mentos into a bottle of Coke.
If you’re using social media in your marketing efforts and not on TikTok yet, maybe you should be. And don’t be dissuaded because you don’t think you are a visual enough brand to make videos, all you need is a little creativity and give it a shot.
One of the companies that appears on my FYP all the time is a body shop where some of the staff participate in one of the current dance or music trends that regularly happen on TikTok. They just do it in the shop amidst all the welders, fenders, and other shop tools, often with other employees looking at them and smiling.
I know their videos have nothing to do with what they offer, but they feel authentic and the people seem really likable. And, since we tend to do business with the people we like, if an advertisement for their shop ever comes up, their customers are more likely to click on it if they like the people promoting the products.
I’m not suggesting this strategy would work for everyone. And, I don’t know how, if at all, these videos help drive sales, but the point is they found a way to participate on the platform that feels authentic for them. You need to decide what will work for you, even if you’re not what would be considered a very “visual” business.
I do know that I’ve purchased things this way from advertisers and creators on TikTok.
Spend some time observing what’s going on and what others are doing on TikTok and you’ll get inspired.