Despite being a digital native, I am convinced I am much too old for TikTok. The social platform that births an endless stream of acting challenges, dance trends, and comedy skits seems much like Instagram Stories — that, I’m familiar with — albeit cloaked in the trappings of song and dance. Watching a string of 15-second videos often leaves me wondering, “What did I just watch?”.
According to Globalwebindex in 2019, 41 percent of TikTok users are aged between 16 and 24, which might explain why an old millennial like myself is baffled by this increasing popular cultural phenomenon. The design, though, is not a fluke — it’s likely that TikTok was purposely geared towards young users from the get-go. The app’s encouragement of creative expression in the form of bite-sized and easily shareable videos is bred for an easy win within that demographic of impressionable, tech-savvy, and community-loving youths.
Jumping on the TikTok bandwagon
The appeal of the platform that calls itself “the leading destination for short-form mobile video” is not lost on content creator Nigel Ng. In June this year, he opened a TikTok account Invest with Nigel and has already amassed a following of 22,000 people. Quite a feat for the 21 year-old, whose content focuses on personal finance and stock investment, helping young adults learn and take charge of their finances.
When asked why he branched out into this platform when he was already on Instagram and YouTube, he said: “I decided to try out TikTok as I saw it as a channel for me to broaden my reach to more people, especially the younger crowd. TikTok has helped me to share my content to a wider audience which allowed me to build a stronger brand around finance and stock investing.”
Nigel pegged the app’s easy-to-produce video content as one of its main selling points. Compared to other social media platforms, the tools provided within the app help to make content more engaging especially with the use of textbox, stickers, and more.
Stephanie Phua, founder of social media agency Duo Studio, thinks the appeal of TikTok comes from the way it celebrates varied content. “It’s a fresh format that allows creators to really create in a way that’s authentic and unique to them — there are many options to slice and dice a video, and also many different types of content that can flourish. Everyone gets equal opportunity; the best content wins.”
It comes as no surprise that the usage of TikTok has been explosive in recent years. According to App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020 report, Android TikTok users spent in excess of 68 billion hours on the app in 2019, reflecting a whooping 210% increase over 2018. The latest count on Datareportal shows TikTok with 800 million active users worldwide.
And the pandemic may have contributed to that. Stephanie believes that the various lockdowns happening across the globe has propelled more users to climb onboard TikTok both as creators and consumers. With many stuck at home, the app provided something fun to do while still remaining connected to the outside world. She shares that dances were inclusive enough for even parents and grandparents to get involved in; while others are looking for entertainment which in turn increases content consumption.
She adds: “TikTok as an organisation has also recently ramped up in support in the region, partnering agencies and creating platforms for creators to understand TikTok better, to better create for it.” The app’s algorithm, which is intuitive enough to pick out content that users are likely to enjoy, also seems to be a major contributing factor in retaining consumers.
Newbie TikTok user, Shivaanan, refers to this aspect of the platform as “eerily perceptive”. The 24 year-old joined in August after realising his Twitter and Instagram feeds were being flooded with viral TikTok videos. As a video producer, he admits to mainly using the app to kill time and quickly noticed that it can narrow down a user’s age, race, gender, personality, likes, and dislikes simply from posts the user has interacted with — initially bombarded with what he claims to be “hot people dancing”, his ‘For You’ suggestion page now fills up with channels on dropshipping and starting side hustles, where he has since picked up valuable content marketing tips.
The dark side
Despite the benefits that he has reaped from the quick, digestible content, Shivaanan points out social dangers that may arise. “There are many minors on the app with unrestricted access to heavily sexualised content. They can be easily influenced or groomed by those who don’t mean them too well. There is also a strong focus on appearance and attractiveness. Couple that with toxic comment sections and you have a recipe for crippling self-esteem issues.”
While not a new problem on social platforms, it is a larger cause of concern when it pertains to an app that heavily aggregates young users to one singular space on the internet. Stephanie agrees: “We do see teens posting rather inappropriate content — there’s no one policing the platform to take it down fast enough. And as all social media platforms do, we’re feeding a very narcissistic generation.”
She attributes this to TikTok’s limit of 15 seconds on their videos which both pushes people to be more creative yet instills elements of superficiality and transience. “Your content [is] at the mercy of a thumb furiously swiping through a sea of content; the one who is able to grab attention quickly wins.”
Is TikTok for you?
She notes that the platform has recently released an update that might allow uploads of videos up to three minutes long, thus deviating from their initial proposition. It remains to be seen if this change will create a spate of more deliberate and meaningful content.
For creators looking to kickstart a TikTok account, Stephanie advises to post regularly, use hashtags, interact with others, and cross-post on appropriate, more established platforms like Instagram Stories. She adds: “Most importantly, create for the platform — it’s important to understand what your target audience on the platform enjoys consuming and what value you can bring through it!”
For the curious content consumer like myself, don’t let the avalanche of these short videos put you off. Sure, people pointing to text in a video may be cringey but give yourself some time to find a niche that you might enjoy. Since researching for this article, I’ve discovered mine — a cross-dressing makcik (Malay aunty) who does comedy and a 90-year-old grandma who dishes wholesome life and fashion advice — inadvertently proving to me that maybe nobody’s too old for TikTok.