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What Is TikTok? A Comprehensive Guide to the Influential Social Media App

Published August 11, 2023

Originally a lip-syncing platform, TikTok is now among the most powerful social media apps on the market, its impact spreading far beyond its vast user base. Young people from all corners of the world use the app to stay in touch with their friends, follow trends, join dance challenges, and even inform themselves about current news. In fact, TikTok was the most downloaded app of 2022, and that trend is likely to continue this year too.

But what exactly is TikTok, and what makes it stand out from other social media platforms? If you need a detailed introduction, we are here to help. Our comprehensive guide will shed some light on Gen Z’s favorite platform and its unique features!

What Is TikTok?

Although it’s available on desktop too, TikTok is primarily a mobile app that allows its users to share short-form videos on any niche or topic they are interested in. Whether they enjoy arts and crafts, singing, or aesthetics, TikTokers across the globe can upload their content and connect to millions of people with similar interests, garnering a following. As their follower count grows, creators can earn substantial sums from the app and receive various other business offers.

TikTok may not be the only short-form video-sharing app on the market, but it’s particularly appealing thanks to the various features that allow creative expression. For instance, TikTok offers numerous in-app editing features, filters, effects, stickers, voiceover options, and a vast music library. As a result, it’s easy to make a video that stands out from the crowd without using any third-party apps.

And, of course, we can’t talk about TikTok without mentioning its legendary For You Page (FYP for short). In many ways, FYP is the secret to the app’s tremendous success. This endless stream of short clips is the first page you see when you open TikTok, and it is customized to suit your specific tastes and interests. Thus, it’s not a surprise that TikTok users spend almost an hour browsing the app daily.

TikTok’s Brief History

Though most people consider lip-syncing app Musical.ly to be TikTok’s predecessor, that’s not entirely accurate. TikTok is related to Musical.ly; that’s an undeniable fact. However, the popular platform is actually an international version of the Chinese app Douyin, owned by a Beijing-based company ByteDance.

After developing Douyin in 2016, ByteDance realized the untapped potential of the international market and decided to expand its reach. With that goal, TikTok was launched for the global user base in 2017. Still, it wasn’t until 2018 and its merger with Musical.ly that TikTok became available worldwide.

Once TikTok found its footing in the US market, there was no stopping it. Celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Tony Hawk, Justin Bieber, Will Smith, and Jennifer Lopez gave it the necessary boost. Soon enough, its user base was counting millions, giving birth to the first TikTok celebrities.

In 2021, TikTok officially reached a milestone of 1 billion users, and that number only keeps growing. The platform does, too, though – instead of hosting exclusively short-form content, now it allows its users to upload up to 10 minutes of video. On top of that, TikTokers can use various built-in tools to earn money and grow their brands. What was once just an app for entertainment is now a powerful business tool.

TikTok’s Key Features in 2023

If you’ve never used TikTok before but are considering giving it a try, you probably have many questions. For instance – what exactly can you do on the app? What are some of the features that help TikTok rise above the competition? Of course, the best way to find out is simply by using it. But in case you want to join the platform prepared, we will introduce you to some of TikTok’s basic functions.

Recording and Uploading a Video

The video recording and uploading feature is the cornerstone of TikTok – without it, the platform wouldn’t be what it is. When you open the app, tap on the + icon in the bottom sidebar to access the recording screen. There, you can record your video without leaving TikTok.

If you would rather upload an already recorded video, TikTok offers that option within the same screen. What’s more, you can use TikTok’s built-in editing tools even if your video wasn’t originally recorded in the app.

Editing Videos

TikTok’s simple, easy-to-use editing tools are undoubtedly one of the app’s main appeals. Anyone can use them – you don’t have to be a video-editing expert to create a funny and successful TikTok. Play around with cropping and flipping videos, changing their playback speed, or using the timer feature to achieve the desired results!

Effects and Filters

TikTok boasts an abundance of filters and effects to add a creative spark to even the simplest of videos. Some of the most popular ones are realistic beauty filters that have created quite a controversy on the platform and beyond. However, if you’re not interested in airbrushing your skin, you can try out stickers, animations, and AR filters that change your surroundings or facial features entirely. Let your imagination run wild!

Green Screen

Although technically a filter, the green screen feature deserves a mention of its own simply because of its impact on TikTok’s overall culture. It is one of the most beloved filters on the app, allowing you to add any background to your video in just a few taps. In other words, you can place yourself in an exotic location, showcase a picture of a product you want to review, or provide screenshots of comments you want to respond to. Options are truly endless!

TikTok Music Library

TikTok’s lip-syncing background shines through in its vast collection of popular songs and classic sounds, easily accessed in the app’s music library. Sounds in the library are categorized by genre, mood, country of origin, and popularity. Thanks to that and the music library’s search bar, finding the song that perfectly suits your video style is incredibly easy.

As you will quickly notice when browsing your FYP, there’s hardly a video that doesn’t feature a soundbite or a song. In fact, TikTokers use music so frequently that they’ve managed to launch many songs and artists to stardom through their videos. Lil Nas X with his “Old Town Road” and Doja Cat with “Say So” are perfect examples!

Live Streaming

Once you amass enough followers, you can interact with them in real-time using the live streaming feature. Going live gives you the opportunity to engage your audience and create a rapport that can’t be achieved through videos alone. In addition, your followers can send you gifts during the live stream, which you can later cash in. An excellent way to earn a few bucks!

Video Replying

Do you want to interact with your audience but aren’t ready to start often unpredictable live streaming? TikTok offers the possibility to engage directly with your followers using video replies. Essentially, you need to select a comment you want to reply to, record a video in response, and attach the comment to the video. Usually, it looks a little like this.

Duet

Duet feature is arguably one of the main reasons TikTok has edged out its competition and become Gen Z’s number one social media platform. In short, this option allows you to create a TikTok featuring another user’s video. The two videos will then play side-by-side simultaneously, opening up endless possibilities for collaborations, memes, and creative duet trains.

Stitch

The duet and stitch features are similar in many ways, but there is one key difference: when you stitch your video to someone else’s, it plays only after the original ends. As a result, the stitch feature is an excellent tool for responding or reacting to other creators’ videos or answering questions.

With millions of videos uploaded to the platform daily, TikTok is a place where everyone can find their niche. Whether you’re into arts and crafts, fishing, cars, or cooking, you only need to use the search bar, and you’ll discover thousands of videos on the topic. Once you view enough videos using a specific hashtag, TikTok’s algorithm will do the rest.

To help you get started on the platform, though, we will introduce you to a few popular communities on TikTok.

1. Dance TikTok

Once again, TikTok’s connection to Musical.ly comes to the forefront through its dance community, arguably the largest on the platform. Members of this community usually come up with a simple choreography for a song and film themselves dancing. Then, thanks to TikTok’s duet feature and incredible algorithm, many of the dances go viral, inspiring hundreds of creators to join in. Some of the most popular TikTok creators, such as Charlie D’Amelio and Addison Rae, rose to the top in the dance community.

2. Beauty TikTok

Beauty TikTok is all about makeup, skincare, cosmetic products, and self-love. It’s a large and versatile community that covers everything from beauty tips and showcasing unique and artistic makeup looks to movements that promote embracing your imperfections and loving yourself nevertheless.

Lately, the beauty community has entered its de-influencing era, a controversial trend that sparked a discussion on influencers’ impact on our buying habits. Many creators are fully on board with the trend, while others believe it’s yet another, albeit hypocritical, attempt by influencers to exert their power over their followers.

3. BookTok

Book lovers are more than welcome on TikTok, where creators love sharing recommendations, showing off their book hauls, and reviewing the novels they’ve read. In fact, BookTok is so influential that there are sections in actual book stores dedicated to the books TikTok reads. And some authors, such as Colleen Hoover, owe their popularity almost entirely to BookTok!

4. MoneyTok

TikTok may not be the first place you’d visit in search of financial advice. But judging from the number of videos regularly tagged with #moneytok, many other people would. MoneyTok contains advice on budgeting, saving, and becoming financially independent. In addition, you’ll find plenty of videos showcasing coins, dollar bills, expensive watches, and the like. Within the community, this content is considered motivation for those who struggle to lead a hustle life.

5. WitchTok

When you delve into WitchTok, you’ll encounter broomsticks, spells, tarot cards, and crystals – everything you might expect. However, WitchTok offers much more than that. Even the most skeptical of souls can find a home in this welcoming community that promotes mental health, wellness, spirituality, and connection to nature. Plus, no one can deny that witches have an unparalleled aesthetic and creativity!

6. FoodTok

If you like to cook or watch delicious food being made, you’ll absolutely love TikTok. The FoodTok community is full of mouth-watering videos of burgers and lasagnas, as well as recipes for dishes from various parts of the world. What’s more, mukbangs have also found their place on TikTok, so if you enjoy watching people eat, you’ll find plenty of content!

7. ArtTok

Aspiring artists will feel welcome in the ArtTok community, where they can share their experiences, pencil recommendations, and other tips and tricks with other artists. If you’re looking for inspiration, ArtTok is the place to go, as this side of TikTok contains thousands of paintings, drawings, and other crafts. In addition, you can watch the creative process unfold in a video, which is satisfying even for those who aren’t artistically inclined themselves!

Find Your Place on TikTok

Although no one knows what the next big thing might be, the future looks bright for TikTok. The platform consistently stays on top of trends, rolls out exciting new features, and introduces new ways to engage with followers, grow your audience, and promote your brand. If it continues the same way in the years to come, it might overtake social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

So, if you want to join a vibrant social media platform with exciting communities and fun trends and challenges, TikTok is the right choice. You might need some time to get used to the app, of course, but the learning curve is not particularly steep. And if you need more help to master TikTok, check out our other tutorials!

Explore Further on TikTok

  1. Is It Safe to Buy TikTok Followers?
  2. TikTok Shadow Ban
  3. Mastering the TikTok Repost
  4. Is TikTok Safe for Kids?
  5. How to Get Verified on TikTok
  6. How to Delete a TikTok Account
  7. How to Add Clickable Links to Your TikTok Bio
  8. How to Stop TikTok Ads
  9. How to Remove TikTok’s Watermark

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Written By:
AUTHOR & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Jessica is a writer who specializes in social media, marketing, and digital strategy. She is a graduate of Antioch College and earned her MBA at Boston College’s Carroll Graduate School of Management, specializing in STEM Management. Her work has been published in numerous academic journals and mainstream publications. She lives in New England with her husband, two children, and three dogs.
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