What makes TikTok special?

TikTok is perhaps the only social media app that consistently leaves you happier than when you opened it. Here’s why I think the app is so special:

  1. The inverted discovery feed i.e. ‘For You’

A key aspect of TikTok’s success and ability to find its spot in what was thought to be an oversaturated social space is its inverted discovery feed. Unlike Instagram whose main feed is populated by content from accounts you follow, TikTok’s ‘For You’ main feed is content from all over the app resulting in a much more enriching experience. Specifically:

  • Anyone can go viral- Based on the extremely powerful and all-knowing TikTok algorithm (a top 5 algo- up there with Spotify’s Discover Weekly), users can reach millions even if they have minimal to no following. Instagram is reversed in this sense and you will rarely see a person’s engagement exceed their following. TikTok is a true meritocracy- if you create compelling content that engages users, the algorithm will keep expanding the video’s reach. This is refreshing and creates a sense of excitement and hope for every video- “will this be the one?!” In short, you’re not limited by your current following.
  • Your feed isn’t dominated by influencers- Because of the above, the vast majority of your ‘For You’ videos are from regular people. These videos are likely each person’s most engaging content ever. Instead of getting every influencer’s C+ work, you get every random user’s A+ work. It’s like the world’s best show and tell, without anyone bringing a pencil.
  • Your feed isn’t an echo chamber- We’ve all heard enough by now of how Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube’s ‘suggested’ content is more of the same. While TikTok’s algorithm will learn what you like and dislike, it also occasionally throws in a completely random video just to see if you’ll bite. And you’ll see in the comments that people love discovering something they weren’t expecting, usually said as “Commenting on this video so I can stay on ‘X’ TikTok”. Because of these experimental videos, my feed has become a hodgepodge of funny impressions, financial advice, and 80s aesthetics? Something I previously had no idea I enjoyed lol.
  • Users feel really connected to their liked videos- Because of the strength of the ‘For You’ feed and algorithm, users feel a deep connection to their liked videos. The ‘liked videos’ are your absolute favorites that are special enough to make it off the feed and be saved forever in your collection to be watched and shown on repeat. Whenever me and my friends get together we love showing off our most recent liked videos- we feel these videos represent us and our unique personalities and showing them off is like another representation of ourselves (#quirky!).

2. TikTok challenges creativity again and again..and again

From a creator’s perspective- TikTok is not for everyone. While most people can get by with posting a picture of themselves 2–3 times a year on Instagram, the barrier to entry for TikTok is much higher. You need to be able to ideate, film, and edit a 10–60 second video that’s unique and captivates audiences. Best case scenario this opens you to a niche where you can create a series of related content but never the same (think stock advice, LA food spots, etc.). This high barrier to entry is great for viewers since they’re only getting the best and newest content but it’s challenging for creators who constantly have to reinvent the wheel.

Additionally, TikTok has shortened the lifespan of trends significantly. Trends on TikTok tend to only last 1–2 weeks. I strongly believe if the ‘Harlem Shake’ trend occurred today, it would only last a week or two instead of the 6+ months it lasted in 2013. There’s always something new and creators have to stay on top of what’s next.

3. TikTok’s advertising is innovative AF

It’s pretty crazy to consider that two of the world’s most valuable companies (Google and Facebook) generate nearly all of their revenue from static display ads. Although highly targeted, these units haven’t seen much innovation in the last 20 years.

TikTok has the power to literally create trends out of thin air. And thus can sell paid trends to brands for users to create videos around so they can go viral. Think of the difference in value here- I can passively scroll by an ad on Instagram and never think about it again or I can spend an hour of my time creating a video for a North Face campaign, brainstorming the creative, engaging with the company’s mission, and then endorsing and sharing to my followers. The level of engagement is incomparable. Similar to creators, brands also need to be innovative here to stand out or their campaign will fall flat. If something worked once it’s unlikely it’ll work again. There’s a higher standard for all.

Another quick side thought I’ve had for a while now: we, the users, do all the hard/unscalable work of creating the actual content to populate these apps and don’t get enough credit for making these platforms what they are. These social media companies create and hand out artificial metrics like views and likes that they made up and we now fight over. What is a ‘like’ actually worth? These companies are praised as innovators for that new filter or feature but these platforms are empty feeds without us :)

About Me: By day I do player marketing for NBA players. By night I work on my own iOS app Socialchair which helps you make and share plans with your friends. In between, I bike around LA.