What I learned from watching TikTok videos for 8 hours

If you work in social media, digital marketing or have any involvement in communications to teens and twenties, TikTok is probably something you've heard of and may even be investigating. But what is it?

In their own words, it's about 'real short videos'. Everyday people and sometimes celebrities post short videos of themselves doing lipsyncs, dance challenges and other amusing stuff. Their website talks about empowering everyone to be a creator, and the content I experienced certainly seemed to give anyone and everyone the freedom to put something out there.

I watched 8 hours of randomly selected Tik Tok videos over two days, and here's what I learned about the platform.

1. There are popular dance & lipsync challenges

Almost 1 in every 5 videos I watched a dance or lipsync challenge. It seems one of the most popular ways to get your videos seen is to take part in one of these challenges, post it with the relevant hashtag and acquire new followers. This example has been really popular, and users try to learn the routine and then post a duet video with the originator. I think part of what makes this so watchable is the coordination that users try to go to in order to match up to the original, but it's also got a really catchy audio track. Several lipsyncs also feature users in cosplay and makeup, which adds intrigue.

2. It's not all teens, but it's mostly teens

There's a high proportion of videos from teens on the platform, from age 13 upwards. Many are obviously in their school uniforms, and some even on school premises. I didn't witness anything that might put anyone at risk, but it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that those in the background may not want to feature, or that the school may not be completely comfortable with online content being created in their environment. Some posters have stated that they've given detention or been kicked out of the establishments in the background, such as chick-a-fil.

There are also older users, but definitely in the minority. For instance, a popular lipsync on the hashtag #over30 was often used by the over 30s to share a video. There were also military personnel and other workers in easily identifiable uniforms posting videos, often lipsyncing or taking part in a duet.

3. There are very few ads / promoted content

I saw two ads in the entire time, one each time I opened the app. This was the most common of the two - a static picture ad. It links to a content hashtag on the platform called #VeniceCarnival. I can only assume the lack of advertising is because brands haven't yet been able to get prominent positioning on the platform. There's no self-service ad interface at present, but there is an email address that brands can contact regarding advertising. I suspect we'll see content ads explode on this platform over the next 6 months.

4. You can duet with other users

Duets are a really popular content form. I estimated around one-third of all the content I viewed was in duet format. Users can duet any video they find by clicking the share button and recording their own addition. Many people pick a couple of popular TikTokkers to duet with in order to get exposure and followers for their own account.

5. Some people are getting bullied

I witnessed a small proportion of videos from individuals that were very obviously directed at followers who had left a negative comment or sent hate via direct message. While it was fabulous to see those making these videos feeling empowered to respond to this negativity, it did concern me to see that the majority were from teen users. I was concerned about their emotional wellbeing and worried about what they must have been subjected to put out such a response.

Tiktok does have a reporting system, which allows users to report content that violates their community guidelines, but it's clear that not all hurtful content or comments are being escalated.

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