The rise of Tik Tok: How a social media platform has defined a new generation

Tik Tok is all anyone can talk about as of recently, but what exactly is it and who is using it? (Image Source: NYTimes)

By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill

Chances are you have probably heard of Tik Tok; the viral video sharing platform that is consuming social media at the moment. If you are like me – you may have even downloaded it to see what the fuss is all about.

But Tik Tok is different from other platforms such as Instagram or Twitter and if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, don’t stress, you are most definitely not alone.

Some older generations are appearing on Tik Tok and celebrities and influencers are racing to catch up to the trend but Tik Tok has identified a generational division leaving many behind in its glory.

As journalist and host of the pop culture podcast The High Low, Dolly Alderton tweets; Tik Tok is not catered towards millennials.

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Image source: Twitter/@dollyalderton

Millennials have moved out of the spotlight and made room for the new kids on the block, Generation Z. The age range differs on varying sites but the most consistent trends identified that those born in 1997 or later are referred to as Generation Z.

Social media and the smart-phone were readily available for Generation Z by the time they were teenagers and played a significant role in the way this generation has been brought up.

Other elements shaping the way Generation Z thinks and are educated include climate change, gender equality, Donald Trump’s election and just recently, COVID-19.

Whilst largely stereotypical, generational divides are significant in discussions of cultural trends and factors in world events that have helped shaped a group of people.

But as of recently, the most prominent thing to come out of Generation Z is Tik Tok.

Tik Tok is a video sharing and creating platform that allows users to upload dances, lip-syncing videos, pranks or trending challenges with the use of music and video filtering effects.

Think Vine except instead of posting other people’s videos to your page you have to create your own.

The most followed user on Tik Tok is 15-year old Charli D’amelio who currently has 46.1 million followers and a total of 2.9 billion likes and counting. She has since been involved in a Superbowl ad, appeared on Jimmy Fallon and has been signed by a key talent industry.

Despite this, Tik Tok has reshaped the concept of “influencer” with such users posting videos to their followers that come across as original, fun and non-sponsored.

One of the most appealing aspects of Tik Tok for advertisers is the “organic” factor. On other platforms such as Instagram, it can almost feel like we are drowning in posts titled #AD where our favourite influencers are sharing their newest, favourite product they have conveniently also been paid to advertise.

In 2017 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made it a legal requirement to utilise the hashtag #AD on any content influencers had been paid to promote in order to convey transparency and ensure people aren’t taking advantage of their users.

Whilst the FTC has stated that this requirement is mandatory on all platforms, Tik Tok is still somehow managing to find a loop-hole around this.

While Tik Tok isn’t exactly an advertisement-free zone, it does feel like a breath of fresh air where skinny teas and Kardashian vitamin gummies appear to not exist.

Advertising is subtly creeping into the app though, with music labels paying for certain users to use their songs in the backgrounds of videos and not labelling the content with #AD.

In 2019 the song Old Town Road by Lil Nas X gained popularity on the site and then remained number one on the Billboard Charts for 17 weeks.

As Tik Tok grows in popularity, so will its advertising and like so many other social media platforms, it will begin to lose its organic factor until a new platform takes its place and we turn full circle.

Until then, in an increasingly uncertain global climate, Tik Tok, led  by Generation Z, acts as a refuge for those wanting distraction or connection with other users.

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