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Why Is TikTok so Addictive & Successful: The Secret of Its Popularity

What’s the first thing it comes to your mind when talking about short videos? Surely the answer is ‘TikTok’. The popular Chinese app, starting from its big success in the homeland with the Douyin app and arriving to propose the same idea of a social media service featuring short videos, conquered all the charts of the various app stores, with the acquisition of another popular service, Musical.ly, that further helped the expansion of the service outside China. The app especially conquered teenagers, who elected TikTok as one of their favorite apps where to share videos of dance, trends and music, even if TikTok is a general social network that can be used for sharing also other kinds of videos.

The welcoming screen of TikTok app

The welcoming screen of TikTok app

Between YouTube & Instagram

TikTok is, at all effects, the middle app between a space like Instagram, mostly targeted to just sharing photos (even if also videos can be posted) and YouTube, a place mostly featuring long videos (even if also YouTube now allows to upload short videos like those proposed by TikTok). The new social network effectively promoted a new way of sharing content that most teenagers in the Western countries welcomed the same way it happened in China. In a certain sense, TikTok is the short version of YouTube, just like Twitter could be considered a short version of Facebook. Still, what has made TikTok so successful?

YouTube is mostly used for sharing and watching long videos while TikTok is totally focused on short videos.

YouTube is mostly used for sharing and watching long videos while TikTok is totally focused on short videos.

One video leads to another

When opening TikTok app, the first thing that one can see is the ‘For You’ section, a special selection of videos coming from other creators. The fact TikTok shows everyone videos from random creators, selected by an algorithm, make many people dream about the possibility of becoming famous inside the app in case at least one video becomes viral. In addition, as the algorithm selects videos that are considered generally interesting for the community, TikTok users get easily entertained just by watching very short videos. After having loved the first video, the most natural thing is to scroll and see another video, then proceed again and again. The ’For You’ section can be really addictive as videos are very short and people who find them interesting are easy to get sticked to the app and watch many other ones. With this mechanism, TikTok is being able to keep its users interacting with videos (and so generating revenues from advertisements) for long periods. This has made TikTok the first place where to find easy entertainment for many teenagers, as short videos are definitely easier to watch than long videos, that need surely more time to be followed and understood.

The Myth of Easy Fame

As written before, the ‘For You’ section, because of the way it features videos of random creators according just to an algorithm, makes many users dream about the possibility of becoming famous inside the app. It often happens to get at least one video selected by the algorithm and it is not uncommon that random people gain many followers in few days just for having a video promoted in the ‘For You’ section. This does not really mean becoming famous and one can easily guess it by comparing the high number of followers of a random TikTok user who achieved fame just for having some videos in the ‘For You’ section with a generally low number of followers in other social networks. Despite this, many people who get viral on TikTok just because of the way an algorithm works become easily convinced about the fact that TikTok is maybe the easiest place where to gain fame: this eventually makes these people want to focus more on TikTok instead of other social media services where getting followers is more difficult and requires more time and effort.

The Model of ‘Watch & Imitate’

TikTok, with the arrival of influencers and the focus on certain actions known as ‘trends‘, made it easy to promote a way of doing videos that means watching popular stuff on the ‘For You’ section and then imitating it. One thing it often happens on TikTok is to see many videos of different creators making the same kind of challenge just to follow the trends. Being TikTok an app mostly used by teens, this means many of them are sensible to the idea of being accepted by others if they do the same things other do, the same thing it happens with clothes and other things many teens love to choose basing on trends.

The Real Utility of TikTok

The real problem with TikTok is not the app itself, but how it is perceived by internet users. While in China TikTok is fully recognized as a social network, with several kinds of videos of different categories (not only those pretty funny), outside China the app got totally judged as something to use for making short funny videos, often lacking of originality (due to the fact of following trends) and often criticized by people not using it. This has revealed just a specific side of TikTok: the one made of teens copying other trends and rushing to get as many followers as possible. Still, TikTok is not just this. TikTok is also a place full of different videos (amusing, educational or of different utility) and its users are not necessarily teens obsessed with easy fame and with being accepted by others: there are also many teens who just like to get amused at watching other videos and even older people who are just curious at how does the app work. At the end, the real success of TikTok is to being able to offer a different experience of social networking other social networks were still not pushing enough: the one based on short videos that are able to entertain you or giving you an added value in few seconds.

© 2021 Alessio Ganci

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