Why Is TikTok So Popular? Why the Social Network Is Unique

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TikTok is one of the world’s largest social media platforms, and its userbase is still growing. Here’s why so many people are still addicted to TikTok and why they won’t stop using it anytime soon.

A Brief Recap of TikTok

TikTok has over one billion active users across the world, and that number continues to grow. If you’re currently out of the loop, this amount of use seems staggering, but there are very good reasons why so many teens are still addicted to the app.

In early 2020, we explored why TikTok had so many devoted users. However, in light of its rapid and sustained growth, we wanted to explore what the app does that causes users to spend hours or even days scrolling through the TikTok feed.

Related: What Is TikTok, and Why Are Teens Obsessed with It?

The “For You” Page and the Algorithm

The biggest reason that so many teenagers, and people of all ages, are still addicted to TikTok is the app’s content discovery feed, better known as the “For You” page or FYP. This page acts as the primary timeline on the app and is how people find new content. TikTok is powered by a unique algorithm that uses AI and machine learning to populate the FYP with the most optimal content to show a particular user.

To determine your interests, the app meticulously tracks which types of videos you primarily interact with. For example, if you like, comment, or share clips that center on the outdoors, then you will see more videos about the outdoors on your feed. The algorithm also establishes relationships based on different videos that the same users interact with. This is similar to Amazon’s “frequently bought together” section that creates suggestions based on purchased products.

Unlike other social networks that are primarily built on connections between people who know each other in real life, TikTok focuses on optimizing the content you see. It’s entirely possible to spend hours on TikTok without seeing anyone you know or follow because the platform is so driven by algorithmic discovery.

Because of the nature of the FYP, the app gets better at understanding what kind of content you’d enjoy as you continue to use it. This is the reason why people can have wildly different experiences on the app. While many can find their FYP populated mostly with dance videos and song performances, others see only videos of cooking, home repair, and digital painting.

Another big reason why TikTok is so dominant is because of the prevalence of trends, such as dance challenges for popular songs or videos aligned with popular in-app filters. The algorithm prioritizes content that fits certain online trends that are popular at the moment. Since hot trends tend to gain more engagement, other users will frequently join in and create content that aligns with those trends.

A big reason why trends emerge on TikTok is its audio system. When users upload a video, the audio of that particular video can be lipsynced or used by other users. For example, if someone creates a remix of a popular song, that specific audio clip can eventually be used in thousands of other videos.

This is also a big reason why TikTok has become the dominant way that songs garner streams and grow on pop music charts, like Billboard and Rolling Stone. Many of the biggest and most dominant hits of the last two years originated from TikTok trends. Sometimes, obscure or old songs can get an unexpected boost as well. For example, Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, released in 1977, recently became a trend on TikTok and returned to the pop music charts within the same week.

Communities on TikTok

Lastly, TikTok is home to a diverse range of content. Groups of clips and content creators are normally called “TikTok communities” and are characterized by similar videos, audios, and common hashtags. For every niche subject matter, there are likely thousands of users making videos on that specific topic.

For example, there is an entire TikTok subculture called “cottage-core,” which focuses on fantasy aesthetics and videos of houses in the woods. There are entire TikTok communities with millions of views focused on laying bricks, scooping ice cream, mixing paint colors, and animating company logos.

The diversity of topics contributes to how large the userbase is, both in terms of viewers and content creators. It also motivates many different types of businesses to join the app and create content to promote their products.

TikTok is a great example of the role of machine learning and AI in shaping our consumption habits. Much like how e-commerce sites use user-driven algorithms to suggest what to buy, TikTok’s platform is dependent on its users to drive the growth of certain types of content.

TikTok has a plethora of privacy concerns that have raised many eyebrows, both in the tech privacy space and in larger political discourse. Because of the app’s reliance on using user information to power discovery, many questions are being raised about how much data the app really collects on its users and who has access to that data. We’ve covered many of these privacy concerns in our previous piece about TikTok. As with every other app you install on your phone, exercise caution when sharing confidential, identifiable information.

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