It doesn’t matter how old you are: TikTok might not make sense at first. You’ll try to fit it into something else you already understand. Is it like Vine, with its ultra-short videos? Is it more like Instagram—and if so, where are the pictures? Is it like YouTube?
Truth be told, TikTok doesn’t fit into any convenient social media category. It’s a category unto itself. But once you try the TikTok app, poke around, and maybe even post once or twice, one thing will make sense: TikTok is fun.
For everything else that doesn’t make sense, let’s dive into the details.
What Is TikTok? TikTok for Beginners
Here’s the most straightforward definition: TikTok is a social media platform focused on video sharing. It lets TikTok users browse, view, and post videos that last a few seconds to a few minutes. It’s really that simple.
How TikToks Work: Watch Videos Online
Let’s consider Vine a forerunner of TikTok. Vine isn’t very hard to understand: users posted short videos and shared them with friends.
TikTok essentially works the same way. But TikTok also separates your feed into two categories.
- First, there’s the list of users you follow. That’s easy enough to understand.
- But there’s also a “For You” page. This is a feed full of stuff you might like based on your user preferences.
“The ‘For You’ feed is one of the defining features of the TikTok platform,” writes TikTok. Your interactions—shares, followed accounts, comments you leave—combine with video hashtags, captions, and all sorts of other information to create a feed specifically designed for you.
It’s why TikTok works. In fact, it works a little too well. The freakiness with which it works even has some people a bit worried about how much data TikTok has.
Who Owns TikTok?
ByteDance, a Beijing-based company that technically has its home in the Cayman Islands. The brainchild of Chinese entrepreneur Zhang Yiming, TikTok was nearly sold to two American companies—Oracle and Walmart—before the deal fell through.
You might call Zhang Yiming the owner of TikTok, which may be one reason his personal wealth is estimated at over $40 billion. He used to run ByteDance as well, but in 2021 he handed the reins over to a co-founder, Rubo Liang. The CEO of TikTok specifically is Shou Zi Chew.
Is TikTok Safe?
The TikTok app does have some cybersecurity concerns, but very few exceed concerns you should have for any social media app on your phone. It’s true that TikTok gathers a lot of user data—that’s how it drives its on-point “For You” feed. If it sometimes seems spooky how TikTok guesses which videos you’ll like, data is the reason for that.
But is it unsafe? Not necessarily. “TikTok has gotten outsized attention in the last few years,” writes Business Insider. “Many cybersecurity experts suggest keeping all this in perspective.”
Any user on the TikTok platform should exercise the same basic responsibilities as they do with any app: Only share information that you’re comfortable sharing.
Another question might be: is TikTok safe for kids to use? And that’s a trickier question to answer. Parents will want to be vigilant about all the online content their children consume, and TikTok is no exception. On the Microsoft store, for example, TikTok is rated 13 and up.
When Was TikTok Made?
You can trace its history to Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, which entered the marketplace first. Looking to expand overseas, ByteDance launched its international version of Douyin in September of 2017, calling it TikTok.
It wasn’t long before it caught on. Celebrities like Tony Hawk and Jimmy Fallon became famous early adopters in 2018. In 2019, TikTok signed an official deal with the National Football League—a sign of big-time success if there ever was one. By the pandemic-stricken year of 2020, TikTok was officially one of the fastest-growing companies in the world.
Is TikTok Free?
Like many other apps, TikTok is free and supported through ads. You’ll notice the occasional sponsored video in your TikTok feed.
TikTok earns its money through its sponsored advertising program, the same way you’ll see sponsored Tweets and Facebook posts. It’s a model that clearly works; in 2020, ByteDance’s revenue ballooned by over 100%.
How Many People Use TikTok?
Estimates in early 2021 put the number at over 1.1 billion users. And that’s only active monthly users. It’s hard to overstate its popularity. Despite TikTok only coming out in various forms since 2016, it ended up being one of the most popular apps of the entire decade. And it’s still growing as the 2020s begin.
How to Use TikTok
Given what you learned above, TikTok will likely seem appealing for one of two reasons. First, it’s popular. If you want to become a TikTok content creator, you can reach an awful lot of people in a short period of time.
Second, it’s fun. There’s a reason TikTok is so popular, after all: it does what it does very well. After just a few weeks of interacting on the platform, TikTok will figure out your preferences and send you the top content that you want to see.
To get started, the first thing you’ll need is to download the TikTok app on the device you see fit. And as it turns out, there are more options here than you might have realized.
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Download to PC and iOS
TikTok is phone-friendly; in fact, it’s designed that way. But if you’re a desktop-first kind of person, it might surprise you to learn that you can download TikTok straight to your PC.
If you’re using a PC, you can find TikTok on the Microsoft Store. This version is compatible with most devices featuring Windows 10.
Interested in a TikTok iOS download? It’s on the Apple Store, but Macs are a different story. You can still download TikTok from the App Store. But it’s only designed for your iPhone or iPad.
Can You Use TikTok Online?
It’s not exactly TikTok for beginners, but it’s certainly an option. If you’re using a traditional web browser, you may have some limited capacity to view and browse the videos of TikTok online. It’s not going to be as robust as the phone app, and you’re going to have to use extra software tools to produce TikTok videos this way—but it is possible.
Download the TikTok App
Want the easiest way to use TikTok? Just download the app itself to your phone. You can do this with either Android (Google Play) or iOS (the App Store).
The simplest way to do it? Head to your favorite app store and search for TikTok. Given that it’s one of the most popular apps on the entire planet, you can’t miss it.
How to Set Up Your User Profile
Downloading the app isn’t quite enough. To start using it properly, you’ll want to set the parameters for your experience.
Keep in mind that when you create your user profile, you’ll already want to have an idea as to what kind of experience you’ll have. Remember: everything you do on TikTok feeds into how your videos are promoted, and how your “For You” page ultimately unfolds.
Here’s what you’ll need to do. Under Me, choose your method for signing up. You’ll notice a few options here—simply choose the one you’re most likely to remember. Provide a valid email address and phone number (in case you need to recover the account in the future).
TikTok profiles can have a bigger impact than you think, so take some time as you set yours up. You can browse TikTok’s instructions for setting up a profile, but here are some tips to make sure you make the most of this step:
- Personalize and brand the photo: A personal photo is nice, but make sure that you have something unique about it, too. Your photo should look like the brand you want to communicate. Browse TikTok profiles like Tim Dessaint’s and you’ll see how seamlessly he connects his profile photo with the minimalist content of his fashion videos.
- Link your social media accounts: Did you know you can link other social media accounts to your TikTok? It’s especially useful with other video social media, like YouTube and Instagram.
Using TikTok Search
One of the most underrated tools is TikTok search, also known as “Discover.” Using this tool, you can browse through videos, sounds, hashtags, and even sponsored content to see what’s resonating on TikTok. This is a great way to get ideas for creating fresh content.
The way to use it is simple. Tap Discover at the bottom of your screen. Enter specific words into the search bar to find hashtags, user profiles, and videos that match your description. You’d be surprised at what you can dig up for inspiration.
Here are some ways to get the most out of TikTok search:
- Don’t just search for videos: For example, a trending song that’s almost automatically giving TikTokers views is a great way to come up with some original content. You’ve probably encountered the “Watermelon Sugar” remix on TikTok—at least if you’ve spent more than five minutes on the platform. Find trending sounds like these to capture the wave.
- Explore other hashtags: Let’s say you’ve done 50 videos in a row with the same hashtag, with mixed results. You might need to expand a bit. Do some regular searches on that same hashtag and see what else people are tagging. You may be surprised to find hashtags in your niche with millions of mentions.
- Watch the strategy of experienced TikTokers: Look at an established TikToker and search their profile to see if you can pick up on patterns. What hashtags get them the best results? What video styles? What drives the most engagement? You can emulate what’s working best without stealing anything.
Watch Videos on TikTok
If you’re wondering how to watch TikTok videos, you won’t have to wonder very long after your first TikTok download. But it won’t hurt to review the four essential ways you can find videos to watch:
- Following someone: After you follow friends and family, you’ll be able to see their TikTok videos right from your feed.
- Checking the “For You” feed: This is TikTok’s algorithm trying to predict what you’ll like. Remember to fuel the “For You” feed by engaging with content you like and making an active experience.
- Searching for specific TikTokers and videos: You can seek out niche-specific videos by looking at trending hashtags or entering a search in the discovery section.
- Browsing one user’s profile: If you encounter a TikToker who seems to upload nothing but great content, you can simply tap on their profile and look at their past videos for inspiration.
If you want to watch TikTok videos online, you can do so via the web or via a TikTok app download directly to your operating system.
Apps Like TikTok (That Aren’t TikTok)
Let’s be honest: If you download TikTok, you’ll have mountains of new video content to scroll through—enough that you’ll never run out. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll always want to use TikTok exclusively. Let’s explore what some apps like TikTok are doing.
Triller already has a strong celebrity presence, includes video editing and post-production effects, and lets you share music. So why isn’t it quite like TikTok?
Simple. It’s not a social media platform. But it is a powerful app you can use to create content before uploading it to your favorite social media platforms. That’s one reason people gravitate to it as a supplement to TikTok. It makes it easy to build videos and add filters Snapchat-style, but doesn’t do the social networking itself.
With over 100 million installs, Dubsmash is like an app built on one of TikTok’s most notorious types of videos: the lipsync. Just like TikTok, you can add caption stickers and other effects to your videos, and there are “news” feeds and friends sections that will be intuitive to anyone who’s ever used social media before.
Cheez emphasizes socializing, especially when it comes to vlogging about fashion or comedy. You can cut, trim, and edit videos within the app itself. It also brings in the social element with supplementation through DanceOff, a sort of game-within-the-game that people can use.
Instagram wasn’t going to stand idle and let TikTok’s unique features draw people away from its platform. So they introduced Reels, which included some TikTok-like features. You can now search through an Instagram music library, for example, when creating a video. Or you can add effects before you share a reel. Speeding up or slowing down videos, another favorite TikTok feature, is on Reels as well.
Remember Vine? Byte is a response from the original creators of Vine. But they differentiate themselves by sticking to Vine’s old rules—short videos without much time to do sharing—and splitting up videos according to genre. Although Byte doesn’t offer the plethora of effects you’ll find on TikTok, it’s a nice alternative for anyone who wants the TikTok experience but with the quick-hit spin that Vine used to provide.
Getting Started on TikTok
“I used to be with it,” said Abraham Simpson of The Simpsons. “But then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”
He may as well have been someone new to social media talking about TikTok.
But even if it’s not intuitive to you at first, TikTok shouldn’t seem weird and scary. It’s simply a medium for sharing videos and music—and having a little fun along the way. Once you know how to get it and how to get started on TikTok, you’ll likely find it’s far more entertaining and worthwhile than you imagined.
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