TikTok: A Viral App Among Teenagers

TikTok's special algorithms that allow everyone potentially to be famous and its easy-to-make videos features make it go viral among teenagers – just like its videos on the platform. And, It is still rapidly growing all around the world.

What is TikTok?

With the rise of social networking, high penetration rate of smart devices, and the maturity in streaming technologies, many innovative businesses emerged. TikTok, in particular, is one of the most prominent applications among younger generation. It allows users to upload 15 seconds memes-like videos that usually involve lips-syncing and dancing backed by music and other sound clips. Users can follow other users, like, comment, and share videos just like all other social networking apps. It also supports live-streaming videos and enables audience to send virtual items to performers. TikTok serves as a combination of a social network, a short-file creator, and a live-streaming platform.

Interesting and Unique Elements

  1. Special algorithms that allow everyone potentially to be famous:
    Unlike most social networks that are dominated by micro-celebrities to some degree, TikTok is friendly to everyday user. Its special algorithm to determine the exposure of videos grants every user’s video chances to go viral, regardless of how many followers a user has. Moreover, having teenagers as the main users augments the advantage since many teenagers have dreams of becoming famous and that TikTok is the platform that may make their dreams come true. 
  2. Easy-to-make videos and all kinds of “challenges”:
    Another big part of TikTok is its outstanding and user-friendly short-film creator. Technical wise, It provides easy-to-use filters, transitions, and editing that highly reduces the barrier to create fancy videos. Content wise, instead of coming up with your original contents, TikTok is better known for lip-syncing and “challenges” videos, that is, doing similar movements along with same clips of music. Users therefore do not need expertise in scripting and content creation. In sum, TikTok makes producing a cool and well-made video easy enough for every user. On top of that, combining with the social network characteristics and the fact that teenager culture is inclusive with strong bandwagon effect, TikTok gains popularity among teenagers in a short period.

Value Creations

  1. User perspective:
    Other than the satisfaction from connecting with people and being under spotlights, the fame that users gain in the population can actually create monetary value in three ways. The most common way is through partnering with shops and businesses to expose their products in the videos. Second, TikTok allows audiences to send virtual gifts, which can be converted to real money, when a user is live streaming. Finally, some people leverage TikTok brand themselves and then divert their followers to personal websites, shops, or other platforms. 
  2. TikTok perspective:
    First, TikTok can benefit from users purchasing virtual coins that will further be exchanged for virtual gifts. Next, TikTok receives huge amount of money from all kinds of advertisements, such as splash ads and news feed ads. Advertisements are charged by cost per a thousand impressions or cost per click.


Though it ran into some incidents related to inappropriate contents, the hype of TikTok has not yet reached its peak. With TikTok rapidly growing user base and extraordinary numbers of active users, there is so much potential in it.


[1] Sarah Perez, “It’s time to pay serious attention to TikTok,” Techcrunch, January 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/29/its-time-to-pay-serious-attention-to-tiktok/, accessed February 22, 2019.

[2] Heather Schwedel, “A Guide to TikTok for Anyone Who Isn’t a Teen,” Slate, September 2018, https://slate.com/technology/2018/09/tiktok-app-musically-guide.html, accessed February 22, 2019.

[1] Julia Glum, “Meet the Head of TikTok, a 35-Year-Old Who Makes Employees Do Push-Ups if Their Videos Don’t Get Enough Likes,” Money, January 2019, http://money.com/money/5497929/how-tiktok-makes-money-tiktok-owner/, accessed February 22, 2019.


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Student comments on TikTok: A Viral App Among Teenagers

  1. This sounds like an interesting concept, and I see the appeal for users since anyone’s content has the ability to go viral. One concern I have is whether they’ll be able to withstand the test of time given that the audience is so targeted. Even though there are always more teenagers, it seems like each generation (or really even subsets of generations) take to applications differently, and what was popular for one group becomes instantly unpopular for the next because the younger audience is looking for a new platform where they can make their mark and, to some extent, establish some distance from those who came before them. Do you think there’s anything unique in TikTok’s approach that will allow them to persist across age groups, or is it more likely that this is just a fad that the creators should capitalize on now, but then expect to decline?

    1. Indeed, this is definitely the critical problem that TikTok needs to deal with. Here are two thoughts that I think TikTok may lean toward in the future. First, TikTok may include a larger age groups by its nature. As some studies (https://walkthechat.com/douyin-became-chinas-top-short-video-app-500-days/) has shown, though TikTok started from younger people, its user ages have actually evolved to include older people. I went on TikTok for this post for two days and did see some older people (age over 30) posing funny videos that went viral on the platform. Second, TikTok can produce other entertaining social networking apps given its huge user base and rich user data. People can migrate from TikTok as they grow older. Finally, I agree with your to capitalize now for short-term revenue and I think that is what TikTok is currently doing.

      1. I also echo PC’s concerns regarding the fact that young people have natural turnover rates as they transition to adulthood, though I’m not exactly sure that older demographics should technically be TikTok’s target audience given the fact that they might not bring the most monetary returns. Another concern is that this app will peak and eventually just enjoy a niche space.

  2. I have spent so much time scrolling through and enjoying the content on the Chinese version of Tik Tok, Dou Yin, that I often think about how it can overcome Instagram and Snapchat to win the global social media empire. While generally optimistic about the platform, I have 2 key concerns about its future success. First, according to research that Facebook conducted (https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-brands-can-still-win-over-customers-as-attention-spans-decrease-on-social/), users spend an average of only 1.7 seconds with any piece of mobile content on its platform and that time is even shorter for younger audiences. While Tik Tok’s main value proposition capitalizes on this trend of shorter video clips of less than 15 seconds, I worry about how the ever decreasing attention span of eyeballs will impact its value capture, and thus its longevity in the market. To successfully monetize, Tik Tok would need to figure out the formula of how to successfully advertise to its audience through video, despite the challenge that these youths will not see 90% of each clip. Secondly, and if not more of a threat, given deteriorating U.S./China relations and the sensitivity of the data question, I wonder how the U.S. and the broader international community will feel about a Chinese entity having so much power over the data creation and consumption of their citizens. If foreign individuals begin to decimate content that potentially threaten the agenda of the Chinese government (ie. using the platform to organize protests, challenge Party policies, etc.) on Tik Tok, how will China exert its influence over a company whose technology was created and domiciled within its jurisdiction?

  3. Hi Wendy,

    My initial thought was that it is a close competitor of Instagram. However, on a deeper look, I realize Tik Tok is for the performer whereas Instagram is for the personality so to speak. It has nailed what Snapchat couldn’t which is focus on allowing for advertising, fundraising and in-application purchases. That being said, I hope its future is brighter than Vine, which couldn’t continue to differentiate itself enough in the long run from competition.

    Thanks for this post.

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