TikTok’s rising popularity in a saturated social media market has provoked lots of interest in understanding its appeal. With TikTok’s success largely amongst young people, Channel 4’s 4Youth Community was an ideal sample to explore the app’s distinctive qualities.
We asked our community about their social media habits generally and TikTok usage in particular, what they liked and disliked about TikTok, and what they thought about its wider appeal.
26% of 18-24s in the UK used the platform as of December 2019, a YoY increase of 90%. This puts TikTok’s usage for this demographic on par with Twitter.
This success continued through lockdown, as TikTok doubled its usage amongst the slightly younger skewing demographic (15-24s), from 14% prior to lockdown to 30% during. This growth is even more impressive when compared with YouTube’s much smaller usage gain in the same period – from 60% to 63%.
Compared with other major social media platforms, TikTok is currently the least popular with in our 4Youth Community, both in terms of overall usage and frequency of use. 56% Claim to use TikTok, with 44% claiming to never use it. However, the real story to unpack is the rate at which TikTok is becoming more popular.
But what is driving TikTok’s appeal?
HUMOUR | VARIETY
The two pillars of TikTok’s impressive ability to entertain are through humour and variety. The diversity of content created by many different kinds of young people means that there’s something interesting to watch for everyone. This content tends to be funny, which drives friends to share the videos amongst themselves.
“I think the algorithm of TikTok is very effective. It’s consistently entertaining. It’s making me more happy which is strange considering social media mostly has the opposite effect.” – M, 17
Our research found that by far the most popular reason for using TikTok more was that it was a reliable source of laughs. This has led to increased usage in several ways:
“I’ve been using it a lot more recently because I’ve discovered how fun it is. I enjoy watching comedy videos on it it cheers me up.“ – M, 22
“I downloaded it ironically as I heard about it a lot on other social media’s. Now I’m addicted! I love learning the dances, the songs get stuck in my head. There are some really funny and really relatable content. Also there’s a sense of community, especially within the lgbtq+ community!“ – F, 22
“I never knew much about it before but my friends begun to show me TikTok’s that were really funny and entertaining. Therefore I downloaded the app and throughout the day I’ve been watching them – especially ones that are relatable to the current situation we’re in.” – F, 20
“I never used to use tiktok before lockdown, I thought it was childish and couldn’t understand why people my age and older were using it. I caved in and downloaded it during lockdown as every single person was talking about it and I felt like I was missing out – and I am so glad I did! It’s hilarious and im guilty that I spend the most screen time on tiktok in comparison to anything else.” – F, 17
The sheer breadth and variety of content was the second most important explanation of TikTok’s increasing usage.
“I’m using it more because I’ve mostly found myself bored during quarantine, and I’ve noticed all the videos on twitter that I laughed at were reuploads from tiktok. I thought I might as well download the app if most stuff was already from there. I really like the variety of content on tiktok. I absolutely can’t stand the dance videos (I can’t stand them), but luckily the algorithm sorts itself out based on the videos that you like and comment on. The variety is also inspiring creativity.” – F, 22
“I love Tik Tok and the variety of videos you find on there. anything from dogs to funny stories and dancing. I also enjoy creating content. I’m using it more because it makes me genuinely happy and it’s a great distraction from the negativity around right now.” – F, 20
“I have much more free time and it has so much content in there that you won’t get bored, has lots of interesting videos on there.” – F, 16
“I am using it more because I find it really entertaining and I think I am also using it more now because there is more and more content on there as it gets more and more popular. It brings light relief.” – F, 25
“I only downloaded tiktok a few weeks ago as my university society create an account. Once i created my own account i realised how addicting it is. I’m using it a lot when I’m bored at home or during my break at work as a way of relaxing. I like the variety of content, and the ease of swiping through lots of different videos, from beauty to memes to challenges.” – F, 20
Throughout lockdown, TikTok has increased in popularity for several reasons
Our 4Youth Community believes that over the last few months TikTok has excelled at providing a source of entertainment, creativity and offering an alternative to the problems of stress and boredom that have resulted from lockdown
TikTok has performed amazingly for keeping young people amused under lockdown in imaginative ways. 62% Rated TikTok 5* for entertainment, while 52% rated the app 5* for showing creativity.
Some young people don’t see the appeal of TikTik due to market saturation or feeling too old
Those that hadn’t used the app had several reasons. They tended to be sceptical of social media in general or felt that they had too many social media apps already and could see the same content elsewhere.
Others were unimpressed with the content, believed that it was for an audience younger than themselves, or were wary of security risks.
“I’m not 14… But seriously though, the videos are typically nonsense. Short clips of either attractive people eyeballing the camera licking their lips. That doesn’t really appeal to me. I understand there’s the comedy side to TikTok which I do appreciate, as who doesn’t love a stupid video from time to time. Though, I’ve found TikTok videos have a tendency to appear on Instagram which I have. So if I was desperate to come across them I can just view them on there. I see owning TikTok as another app wasting space on my phone in all honesty.” – F, 23
“I was told by a friend that I shouldn’t download TikTok because if I did I would never get my life back, so I didn’t. Apparently it’s addictive and the videos I’ve seen on other platforms that originate on TikTok just strike me as quite annoying.” – F, 25
“I feel like I missed the launch, and honestly feel a bit too old to be using it. Most people I’ve seen on it, like my friends, are younger than me, and I’ve just never tried. I struggled to keep up with snapchat- using social media can be a lot of effort and I really only use it to stalk updates in everyone else’s lives.” – F, 20
“It just seems pointless to me, I usually only sign up to a new social media website if it’s to communicate with people that I talk to often. No-one that I know is on TikTok and it wouldn’t appeal to me anyway.” – F, 19
TikTok: A younger, extroverted profile
We asked our 4Youth Community to describe TikTok users they knew or imagined. These known/imagined users were nearly all under the age of 24 – with many saying as young as 15. Users were described as extroverted and with a strong sense of humour. TikTok users tended not to have an associated gender, or were assumed to be female.
“Between 16-25 mostly, personality is outgoing, confident and funny. yes it has, I had the impression before that tik tok was full of 13 year olds trying to be funny / become famous and didn’t realise there was such a varied range of content.” – F, 20
“They’re about 18, they’re outgoing, lively and fun. I say 18 as an average but I have noticed since it’s come about that a lot of younger children use it, as well as a lot of older people, including pensioner types!” – F, 25
“This user is female, early 20s, probably did GCSE Dance and kept climbing from there. A bubbly person, fashionable and stylish. I realise many people now use TikTok who don’t fit this description, but this is the impression I get..” – F, 20
“Their age would be 18 and in three words their personality would be described as flamboyant, easy-going and chatty since they want to make people laugh and make relatable TikTok’s. I never really knew the people that created TikTok’s beforehand therefore my opinion on who I think a TikTok user hasn’t changed over the last few months.” – F, 20
We also asked our 4Youth Community whether their interpretation of the average TikTok user had changed in recent months. For some it hadn’t, however, many people felt that the average user was now older than they’d previously thought.
Notably, while the expected age of a TikTok user had changed, the essential personality traits hadn’t. TikTok users are now understood to be older but still funny and outgoing.
“I’d say their age would be around 16 or 17 . Their personality is loud , cheerful and kind. I’d say my opinion of TikTok users have changed over the last few months as I have been using it more I’ve seen a large range of ages of people using it .” – F, 18
“17 years old, quirky, pretty, dancer. But this has changed more recently to be about 19, queer, funny, pretty – it changes – the algorithms are very clever !” F, 20
Amongst those who believed the average TikTok user had changed and now skewed slightly older, the essential appeal of the app remained the same.
Users still found the humour and variety of content to be most important factors, but a broader age range has made tailored content more appropriate to their tastes.
“22 Annoying, vain, American. Yes because I am now seeing more older and more interesting people on there, sharing interesting stories and funny videos, rather than the vain ones the above share.” – F, 25
“They’re in-between 15 and 23 years old. Three words would be “outgoing”, “funny” and “curious”. I think my opinion on who a TikTok user has changed more over the last year rather than the last few months. I would have thought it was an app for 12 year olds lacking in comedic taste. Now I feel it’s more mature.” – M, 17
The strength of the short-clip format
The majority of our TikTok users do not post their own videos, and instead choose to browse content made by others.
The ease of the TikTok format shines through our community’s descriptions of how they use the app, both for browsing and for content creation. TikTok’s good browsing experience is a fine balance of only seeing videos that you’re interested in and that you haven’t seen before.
Importantly, respondents who hadn’t posted original content but were considering doing so, recognised how easy the process was. This means that while relative levels of content browsers vs creators may be low, they are larger than they otherwise would be.
“Started using at the beginning of lockdown. I initially watched content and it was mostly dances and makeup tutorials but now I receive cat videos, financial advice, skin car advice as well as fashion tips and anecdotes. I like that the content constantly comes up, and you don’t see the same content often as it’s in a reel.” – F, 21
“I started using tiktok in december 2019, but began using it a lot more frequently in march 2020. Most of the time I use tiktok to watch videos but sometimes do also create videos for fun. Having more free time over the last few months allowed me to spend more time on the app. What I like about tiktok is that is purely made for watching and creating content where you can easily add filters and sounds.” – F, 23
“I started using tiktok a few weeks ago. I use it when I’m bored to relax and scroll. I have only posted one video which was the don’t rush challenge for my university society but I don’t think i would post anything on my personal account, I prefer to use tiktok just for content rather than creating my own. With lockdown I have been using it more when I’m bored or have nothing to do. I like the variety of content and the easy access to lots of good videos at once without frequent ads. It makes a big difference being able to instantly have lots of videos without scrolling past lots of ads.” – F, 20
“I started using tiktok around April time to watch the dance videos everyone was doing including celebrities. I don’t post videos only watch them, but may post in the future. As a new user how I use tiktok hasn’t changed. It easy to create short videos with any song. This isn’t easy to do on other platforms.” – F, 22
Content creators & a sense of community
For those that do create their own content, many do so only for their friends, and these videos tend to be comical in nature. Others post dance videos, and some even promote their businesses on the app.
Again, these content creators value the ease of use of the platform, specifically how easy it is to edit videos in an innovative way, and the sense of continuous interactivity that feels specific to TikTok.
Interestingly, some of our community say they value the community aspect of TikTok while others say they like that TikTok is just light-hearted fun without needing that friend connection. This is another way that TikTok offers different things to different people.
“I started using Tiktok in March. I initially started using it for purely watching videos as I found the new app content funny and original. But then I began making videos myself, especially art videos, doing paintings and drawings. This progressed on to videos promoting my small art business. Though I still use the app to watch others videos too. I like tiktok because of its variety and interaction, and because of the continuous active audience, which isn’t as prevalent on other social media platforms.” – F, 21
“I got it October 2018 when it launched for fun, mainly because it seemed like an anti-musical.ly which was its predecessor and like everyone else, I thought it was edgy, and I made and watched videos, but then like everyone I got sucked in and got obsessed. I still occasionally post videos, just dumb things for my friends, but now it’s different because my friends have me on there now so I’m more conscious of what I post. Endless content catered to you, not what your friends post, and I like the community aspect on there that other platforms simply don’t have.” F, 19
“I had downloaded it roughly at the beginning of the year but only really started to use it over the past few months. I mainly use it to watch content. I rarely post but if I do it would be me attempting to dance. I like the music edits and the cool videos that you can make. I like how it’s not really about who your friends with on the platform it’s more just a bit of fun” – F, 21
“I started using it six months ago, I use it to share funny videos with my friends. I do both, watch other people’s content and post my own videos, especially funny ones. I like the tools that allow you to edit videos in a different way.” F, 21
Comedy is by far the most watched genre of video on TikTok, although over half of our respondents also watch music, dance and challenge videos. The popularity of dance and challenge videos is that they add to the interactivity appeal of TikTok, as these are things that viewers can participate in themselves.
82% Watch comedy videos
56% Watch dance videos
56% Watch music videos
56% Watch challenges videos
“I love Cash Baker, a beautiful boy who always admired his songs, I met him on YouTube with his musical themes The Way You Move and I started seeing his content on tiktok, his unique way of lip syncing in tik tok has no comparison.” – F, 20
“I downloaded it ironically as I heard about it a lot on other social media’s. Now I’m addicted! I love learning the dances, the songs get stuck in my head. There are some really funny and really relatable content.” – F, 20
“Charlie D’amelio. I like the fact that she does dance videos because I like dance. I discovered them because my sisters told me about them.” – F, 19
“I Watch Tik Tok viral videos a lot more now. The challenges are more fun on Tik tok.” – F, 16
Social media personalities and celebs have staked out space on the platform
Charli D’Amelio was a popular mention among our members who watch dance videos. Viewers liked how popular dance TikTokers collaborated with each other, and were aware of the networks of content creators.
“Some of my favourite TikTokers are charli d’amelio and Addison Rae as well as their friends/ people they collaborate with. But I also enjoy videos from willmcb. I discovered them on my FYP or by collaborations. I like the content they put out as well as how fun they are.” – F, 16
“Charli D’amelio and the Sway House I like the dances/do they come up with and how they all live together/hang out. I just came across them on TikTok after some of their videos came up on my for you page.” F, 21
Our community also mentioned some recognisable faces – people who were more known for their actions off-TikTok – like Sam Thompson and Bella Hadid.
“I like watching Sam Thompson from Made in Chelsea on TikTok as he is really funny with his videos and has a likeable personality. I also like Frankie Bridge from The Saturdays as she seems friendly and down to earth. I found them on TikTok through them posting on other social media such as Instagram to promote their videos.” – F, 21
“I bet on the success in Tik Tok of the model and chef Bella Hadid, beautiful girl and super fun one of the best during the covid.” – F, 16
TikTokers with special skills or providing mental health advice are also popular
“Jordon Koarlitic – he posts photography. He provides tips and tricks which are great if your aspiring to be a photographer or have that as a hobby.”
“@vanessabauer_skates, an ice skater that now rollerskates as the ice rinks are closed. It is amazing to see her do ice skating moves on pavement and in parks.” F, 21
Mental health champions were also among the most well-recognised, with many of our community appreciating the support and motivation that other TikTok users could offer.
“I can’t remember their specific names, but there’s a lady called @mikaylanogueira who does make up from New Jersey and two cats who spread positive mental health messages @tutiandyuki. ” – F, 21
“I like @faceonlyamothercouldlove, I like him because he posts funny videos and he has a great personality but also because of his motivating and encouraging self love videos. I discovered him from the for you page.” – F, 16
Hitting the headlines
When we asked our 4Youth Community to summarise what TikTok had brought to their lives in a single headline, we received some great answers. They focused on two main themes: coping with lockdown and difficult times, and being a solid source of entertainment.
“Tiktok elation hits hard.” – F, 20
“Tiktok = the perfect cure for boredom?” – F, 20
“Giggles, shocks and outright strangeness” – M, 22
“Tiktok: my personal laughing hub” – F, 19
“TikTok brings the sun.” – F, 16
“TikTok: Bringing boredom to a stop. TikTok: Infinite Entertainment” – F, 20
“Fun, distraction and a sense of community in a time where it’s needed the most” – F, 20
“The Happiness In The Midst of a Global Pandemic!” – F, 20
“Lockdown laughters and entertainment” – F, 21
“A Way to Forget About the Current Pandemic (for 30 seconds)” – F, 25
“TikTok: an app for passing the time or changing the times?” – F, 17
Tik tok: My Saviour in the dark days.” – F, 17
TikTok’s recent TV advert perfectly captures the TikTok experience
Those that had seen TikTok’s latest TV advert thought that it reflected the diversity of content available on the platform.
Many felt that the aim of the advert was to capture a larger audience who may not necessarily be in the platform’s typically younger demographic.
“I’ve seen the same advert on my TV and before YouTube videos. The first time I was interested because I was trying to guess the celebrities from the 1-second clips or whatever and it was good at showing the range of videos. I’m not sure why TikTok are advertising, but it’s probably because it’s a newer platform and has less users (probably). They might also be trying to reach an older audience who perhaps know less about it, and the best way of reaching them is advertising. Other social media platforms are already established and well-known .” – F, 20
“I saw the advert on the tv and I think it was a good advert as it showed examples of videos you could come across on tiktok . I think they’re advertising as it is a fairly newish platform compared to the other social media apps therefore they may be trying to gain more publicity.” – F, 18
“On TV, it was a compilation of different tiktok trends featuring a diverse range of people including all ages, genders and ethnicity. I thought it was a successful representation of tiktok and promoted how appealing it can be to everyone. Because they are a newer app, people will make comparisons with other apps and make assumptions based on first impressions and popular opinions. As a result it is important for tiktok to make a name for themselves through advertisement to show people what the app is really about i.e. not just a load of dancing teenagers.” – F, 20
Whilst TikTok may not be the most popular social media platform for young people yet, the rate at which it’s appeal is increasing is unmatched amongst competitors.
Our research has helped shed light on this phenomenon, identifying the key drivers of the app’s increasing popularity, and particularly why this has seen a surge in lockdown:
1.Variety – Increasingly varied content keeps existing users engaged, and creates interesting offerings from new users.
2.Comedy – For finding content tailored to your sense of humour, in an easily consumable short-clip format, TikTok provides a unique experience.
To read on, please enter your email address.
This is for internal reference only. We will never share your information with 3rd parties.