Gen Z and Their New Found Love of TikTok

GenZ and TikTok
I consider it one of my responsibilities to keep you all informed on the latest with Gen Z. I’m in the fortunate position to have two Gen Z daughters but also access to larger groups of teenagers I speak with often around the Bay Area at different High Schools. As of late, TikTok has been one of the more interesting conversations, and it is at the point we need to discuss some observations.

Three months ago, when I asked a bunch of teenagers about TikTok, they all said it was stupid, and they, as well as their friends, all considered it a waste of time. I asked if anyone they knew was on TikTok, and universally their answer was “no one cool.” At that time, their social media investment of personal time and effort went into Instagram and Snapchat primarily. It’s important to know the differences in how both those platforms are used, and I’ll get there in a moment.

Fast forward until about two weeks ago, when I noticed some of the girls and their friends putting a lot of effort into producing a video. I noticed this because there was choreography, multiple scenes, and music, and I knew this was not for Instagram or Snapchat. I assumed this was maybe for something for school, but I thought I’d ask. When I inquired about what they were making, they all yelled a TikTok. To which I immediately said, “I thought you said TikTok was stupid?” To which they replied, “well, it’s not anymore.”

So what happened? Apparently, an awful lot changed for these teens in a short amount of time. The first was their realization of dancing and music (things they all seem to love), which seems to be a good portion of trendy TikTok videos. Most of them were on and used Vine, so it seemed TikTok should have taken off sooner, but it didn’t. When you ask them what TikTok is, they quickly explain it is basically and Vine. But what changed was their peer group, mainly High Schoolers, got on TikTok and upped the production value of the content. This was one of their biggest criticisms of, which was the production value was low because it was largely used by pre-teens. Apparently, High Schoolers and college students make better videos they feel worth watching. Really, I think it is about seeing kids their age use the platform, and that has now happened in a significant way.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in my kids’ times using TikTok vs. Snapchat and Instagram. All three platforms offer something different, but the most significant difference is the time, thought, and planning they put into a TikTok video. Snapchat has evolved into mostly a chat app for all the teens I talk to. Even they largely admit this that their primary use for Snapchat is to message friends. Instagram is where they have the most friends, for now, but it is also a shorter production for most of them. Yes, many Instagram influencers put a lot of production time into their posts, but most teens use it for quick sharing of a life moment. TikTok interests me because it seems to be combining several things that I thought were interesting about Snapchat and Instagram.

When Teens used to use Snapchat for, when they posted more publicly, it was what I considered more fun and whimsical content. It showed a different more fun side of them, while Instagram showed a more refined side of them. TikTok appears to have a bit of both with the addition of some clever tools to help edit videos in a way that goes beyond what Vine offered. This is why I observe their TikTok videos taking quite a bit more time and practice as well as many takes to get it right. They want to show their fun side, but it also has to be produced in a way that they appear the way they want. I had to video one of these for a group of them, and it took more than a dozen takes to get it right. I know..

TikTok seems to be cementing itself as the third platform. TikTok is very meme friendly as trends emerge of types of videos, and the kids pick up on it and duplicate it in their own creative way. I’m also noticing that, like Instagram, TikTok already has a lot of diverse users on the platform. Snapchat is largely a US phenomenon, but you see people of all ages, races, and genders, on TikTok already.

TikTok already seems to be monetized in a more relevant way than Snapchat, in my opinion, or at least quite similar. I’ve noticed ads for very Gen Z specific products and ads that clearly learned best practices from Snapchat and were ready to add TikTok to their ad spend quickly.

The last observation I want to make on this topic, for now, is how most videos on TikTok are either a meme or a video being used to promote someone’s Instagram account. For the teens I talk to, their goal is not to become famous or get tons of followers but simply to have a video go viral. That appears to be their primary ambition for now. As TikTok evolves as a platform, it will be interesting to see what it becomes. As of now, Influencers use it to promote their other platforms, but whether TikTok can become a primary platform of influence or just a compliment to Instagram is still unclear.

From the data I’ve seen, it seems TikTok is just now ramping in the US and parts of Europe. Six months to a year from now, it could be a very different place, which will make tracking it interesting. But the main point I want to make is how different it is from the other social platforms, as well as the reality that it is here to stay, so expect to keep hearing about it.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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