With all that 2020 has already thrown at us, our government moving to ban your kid’s favorite social media platform should be no surprise. On July 31st, the president announced that he would be banning the app unless its entire US operations were sold. Between all the concerns over politics and data privacy, you might be wondering “what’s the big deal with TikTok anyway?” The truth is, it’s one of the most innovative products to emerge from the tech industry in years, and if you pay close enough attention, it might even teach you a thing or two.
The beauty of TikTok doesn’t only lie in its content, but also in the features that allow that content to be made. TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, is the love child of Musical.ly and China-based Douyin. Musical.ly was a platform that allowed its users to create short lip-sync and comedy videos, so it’s no surprise that much of that legacy can still be seen throughout the app today. The features that make TikTok so engaging have lead it to become the world’s fastest-growing platform by a distance, and the concepts behind these features are even more insightful. Here are a few lessons that I learned from TikTok:
Fail Quickly & Fail Often
TikTok currently has over 800 million active users, with 80 million in the US alone. This means that naturally, the platform is very competitive. With the low barrier to entry, creators have to compete with millions of other users for that precious attention — and as always, content is king. This has resulted in the adoption of one major strategy that’s been used by the top creators across the platform: create, create, create.
Influencers like Charlie D’Amelio regularly make up to 10 videos a day, which is almost unheard of on any other platform. This is due to the length of the videos and TikTok’s algorithm which responds positively to quantity, but it’s also a lesson that we can observe in real life. The truth is, the more you produce, create, attempt anything, the higher the likelihood that you will eventually hit gold. On TikTok, this might mean making 9 average videos and 1 really good video that ends up going viral. But in life, this is the story of trying and failing and trying again. Failure is almost guaranteed when producing at this level, but the knowledge from those experiences is so important. There are only so many times you can miss the mark, so fail quickly and fail often.
Embrace Your Niche
TikTok is a powerful platform not just for its accessibility, but also for its ability to promote voices and ideas that have been previously ignored by the mainstream. Beneath all the dance challenges and funny videos, there is a buzzing creative community made up of smaller communities, each with their own interests and passions. From avant-garde amateur filmmakers to experimental home chefs, to hip-hop loving classically trained musicians, there is a space for everyone. All you have to do is look.
This feature of highly-focused community building might seem quirky to some, but there is power in finding and growing in your niche. Creators on the platform benefit from passionate and dedicated communities of supporters who allow them to grow even while small. The popular saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” has been used with varying connotations, but the principle at its core is valid. Though it is useful to be a generalist, understanding your individual strengths and interests, and constantly working towards them, may not only give you success in your professional life but may even guide you towards self-fulfillment. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals and growing in the areas that you genuinely care about is often more rewarding in the long-run, so why not embrace your niche?
Stand On the Shoulders of Giants
One of TikTok’s most popular features is its remixes where users can take the sounds from other videos and make them their own. This feature allows creators to put their own spin on someone else’s concept, sometimes producing videos that become even more popular than the original. There is a common idea that originality is somehow superior, but the entirety of human history would have to disagree. History is made up of countless examples of individuals iterating on good ideas, using knowledge from others to create something better, until one day it eventually becomes great. After all, there wouldn’t be an iPod without the cassette player or a Tesla without the Model T Ford.
TikTok shows us that there’s no shame in borrowing a few ideas. There aren’t many things more helpful and reassuring than knowing that you’re working with knowledge passed down for hundreds of years and through thousands of minds. Originality is valuable, but knowledge and education exist because of our commitment to sharing our ideas. Don’t be afraid to look to others for a little inspiration, everybody does it. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Though TikTok may seem to be just another app that teenagers spend way too much time on, it’s no surprise that it has an unflinchingly loyal userbase doing everything they can to keep it alive. The qualities that allowed TikTok to capture the hearts of millions and achieve unprecedented success could also help you do the same in your own life. So think about what you might change today, maybe it’s time for an update.