The popularity of the app TikTok, which grew huge in China under the name Douyin, is making its way into Western culture — bringing in a new era in digital identity. The massive advertising budget behind TikTok, along with its organic growth, have both contributed to this expansion, which may make TikTok the Myspace for the new generation.
Why it Matters:
Today’s teen market largely shuns Facebook as a social media platform for old people, and while Instagram is popular it is considered the equivalent of an online photo album. Instead, easy-share video with its ability to convey personality and a more user-friendly format is being embraced by the younger generation.
The mega-rich Chinese backers of TikTok created an enormous marketing push, and teens are expressing themselves through the platform in a variety of creative ways. From creating vintage 80s-style videos to futuristic scenes, the audience is using TikTok to show the world who they are and more importantly, how they feel.
From love to heartache, from a pet’s death to high school graduations, TikTok users are sharing their lives and emotions through the platform in record numbers. Emily van der Nagel, a social media lecturer at Monash University, told Pedestrian that these actions have become rituals. The users aren’t simply expressing their emotions; they are sharing a pool of cultural references to communicate with one another.
Van der Nagel calls it a “beautiful layered cake of identity,” in which the youth audience is not just articulating the “see me” and “hear me” aspects of socializing, but also the visual representation of the rituals of their youth.
TikTok creator Ryan Beard says that the days of simply consuming content are in the past, and the more engaged aspect of TikTok that its young users are embracing is a natural evolution of image-based social media.
In a way, the entire platform is a sort of documentary record-keeping, a trend that started from the beginnings of social media (especially as platforms like Snapchat entered the scene and others quickly adapted video and story formats). The ease of creating and uploading videos and ease of a design that doesn’t require users to follow anyone to see content are both elements in its favor. TikTok is both complicated yet simple, almost reminiscent of early MTV and the way it revolutionized and entire generation of youth.
The Bottom Line:
While still in its infancy and a place where users are still experimenting, TikTok shows signs of incredible potential at being the next big thing for today’s teen audience.