Post a Job Join The Guild
Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Produced By February/March 2020
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   


View all (14) posts »

Why TikTok Keeps You Up At Night - The Addictive App Feeds On Its Own Success

Posted By Sanjit Das and Chris Thomes, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Ask anyone over the age of 25 what TikTok is, and they might look at you the way your dog looks at you when you ask him to explain the law of gravity. But to its ONE BILLION USERS, uploading user-generated videos to TikTok—and, of course, watching them—is an obsession, a distraction and a connection. It’s the internet’s stream of consciousness. From quirky dance videos to intimate stories of pain and loss, TikTok captures the entire spectrum of the human experience with addictive, bite-sized video. The app’s simple interface and short-form focus make it easy to fall into the rabbit hole—and stay there. Which is exactly the point. 

Scrolling through the videos elicits equal parts laughter, cringes and sometimes horror, mostly delivered in a sugarcoated package of goofiness. The stories unfolding in front of you feel authentic and unfiltered. For producers looking to the next big thing, the smallness of TikTok’s format could be an appealing opportunity. Harnessing its power, though, isn’t something easily done for traditional film or TV formats. Its addictive utility, like Instagram or Snapchat, is built into its user interface, and separating the content from the application doesn’t buy you much. One might just end up with tons of little pieces without a framework to fit them into.

TikTok is owned by China’s Bytedance, and it is currently considered one the world’s most valuable startups, surpassing Uber’s market value of $72 billion, according to Bloomberg. It is the result of a merger between two similar lip-syncing apps, Douyin and launched in 2014, with Douyin following in 2016. While Douyin and were both developed in China, took hold in the U.S. and Europe while Douyin became a hit in China. Bytedance rolled up both apps under the TikTok brand in 2018.

TikTok borrows a lot of its functions from the now deceased, user-generated short-form video app Vine, but is more versatile. Instead of Vine’s six-second content limit, users can create up to 60-second videos by stringing together 15-second segments. Once uploaded, videos are sorted based on users you follow (“Following”) and those curated by the algorithm (“For You”). The user interface is cleverly designed to keep you watching ... and watching ... and watching. With one finger, you can endlessly scroll through videos, like, comment, follow and explore creator profiles, and view other videos created by that user.



The power of TikTok lies in its algorithm. The more you scroll and interact, the more the app learns about you and feeds you what you want. While TikTok won’t reveal how its algorithm works, some users have undertaken their own detailed analyses, typically grading videos on four major factors: Completion Ratio, Shares, Comments and Likes. The Discover section found at the bottom of the app helps users find videos beyond the algorithm. They can explore trending hashtags or search for specific ones, and the more they explore, the more the algorithm adapts to what they are looking for. It creates an addictive utility that makes it hard to escape.

The app also provides creation tools for users to refine their videos including editing, filters, music and effects. (We sure wish these had been available when we were both splicing Super 8s in film school.) The process can be as simple or complex as users prefer, which is part of the app’s appeal. Want to film a lip-sync with a single shot? No problem. Want to experiment with effects, editing, multiple shots and music? You can do that too, but be prepared to spend some time planning your shoot, just like the pros!



One of TikTok’s more unique features is its collaborative storytelling function, which is accomplished through Duets, Hashtags and Challenges.

Using Duets, users can create a split screen with another user’s video and then add their own interpretation, reaction or interaction to it. Some users create videos for the express purpose of being “duetted,” with movements designed to be riffed on, either in or out of frame, like dancing in sync or blowing a kiss to one side.

Similar to Twitter and other social platforms, hashtags allow TikTok users to easily use themes to group their videos. Tapping the Discover icon at the bottom of the app reveals the trending hashtags of the day. Users can also search specific hashtags, often using the hashtag modifiers, #foryou or #fyp, which can help game the algorithm and give the user’s videos a chance to be featured in the For You section.

Challenges keep TikTok fresh and engaging by inspiring users to see who can execute specific theme-based videos the best.

The popularity of challenges has encouraged sponsors to adopt hashtag challenges in order to engage TikTok’s highly desirable Gen Z audience, the first generation of “digital natives” born between 1996 and 2010. Ubisoft had one of the most successful initiatives to promote the launch of the video game “Just Dance 2020.” Users were encouraged to upload a duet timed to dance moves featured in the game using #justdance2020. Led by TikTok’s top influencer, Loren Gray (35 million followers), the promotion has generated more than 3.7 billion views.

Kroger enlisted TikTok influencers Joey Klaasen, Cosette Rinab, Mia Finney and Victoria Bachlet to encourage users to post their own dorm makeovers using the hashtag #TransformUrDorm. Kroger paid for placement on the Discover page but also got the benefit of the reach of its influencer partners to generate more than 873 million views. Additionally, the campaign had a dedicated landing page where users could shop on Kroger directly through the app. Other major brands actively making use of TikTok include Google, Sony and Target.

Music is a major part of the TikTok universe and presents a great opportunity for new and established artists to make their mark. “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X just set a record for most consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, and it may be the first hit song that can claim TikTok had a major influence on that achievement. Here’s how it happened:

1)    Lil Nas X uploaded and promoted the song on the TikTok platform.

2)    Users started creating memes (think mini music videos starring themselves) to the song wherein they transformed into cowboys after taking a sip of a mysterious “Yee-Yee Juice,” purely a TikTok community creation.

3)    These memes became a sensation and cultural phenomenon on the platform along with Lil Nas X’s original song.

4)    Soon after, the song zipped to the top spot on the Billboard charts and stayed there for 19 weeks.




The tastes and whims of younger audiences shift more quickly with each successive generation. TikTok looks to stay ahead of the curve by rolling up the best features of the other major social platforms into a simple, easy-to-use package with equal appeal to creators and consumers. Storytellers who understand what makes the platform special and craft content faithful to those values will be in the best position to succeed. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, TikTok feels like a more natural entertainment platform. Its primary purpose isn’t to connect with friends and family or engage in conversation with random strangers. Instead, users go to TikTok to be entertained, to laugh, to cry, and to share intimate and fun moments of their lives. Ultimately, TikTok is successful because it is relatable.

Relatability is the challenge of traditional industries as they try to find, retain and nurture new fans who view almost everything online, including sports. In recent years, the NFL has sought out new social media platforms as a way to reach younger audiences who may not be tuning in to live games as frequently as previous generations. According to Nielsen, 18- to 34-year-olds spend less than two hours a day watching TV and three and a half hours on their phones.

The Philadelphia Eagles are one franchise that has fully embraced the power of TikTok. While fans can go to other platforms to see highlights and interviews, they have to go to TikTok to watch their star players catch an apple on a fork set to “WOAH” by krypto9095. The apple challenge generated more than 7.2 million views, and that can be attributed to relatability and authenticity. Tapping into the heart and soul of the platform’s authentic approach, they were able to engage fans on an immense scale.



With such incredible reach and engagement, however, comes a dark side. Congress is currently investigating the platform and its connections with the Chinese government over fears that it could be leveraged as a tool for spying or propaganda. Researchers and advocacy groups are also raising concerns over sexual objectification, violence and psychologically manipulative content that commodifies children’s attention on the platform.

While no social media platform can block all disturbing content, parents can take proactive steps to protect their children. According to TikTok, the app is intended for users 13 years old and up, and “allows parents to use device-based parental controls provided by Google and Apple to block the app from an underage child’s phone.”

TikTok is a powerful platform. In a world that demands that latest new thing at an alarmingly consumptive rate, the TikTok formula is satiating viewers, at least for now. To succeed, storytellers should embrace the parts of TikTok culture that make it unique and appealing. It’s OK to be goofy or vulnerable, but most of all, be honest and authentic. As producers look for new formats and content opportunities in the disrupted space of film, television and digital content, user-generated short form like TikTok seems both engaging and cost-effective. But like so many content trends that have fizzled before it, TikTok’s time to shine may be limited. If so, its unique combination of utility and addictive content could leave creators, producers and viewers looking for the next big (or little) thing, and the clock is definitely ticking.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)