What is TikTok? Understanding the Success of the Lip-Synching App

TikTok isn't just a 2009 song by Kesha: it's also one of the most successful social media apps of the decade. Started in 2016 in China by Bytedance as Douyin, the app allows users to record video of themselves lip-synching popular songs, movies or web sketches. In 2017, TikTok merged with musical.ly, another popular app where users can sing along with popular songs. The platform has developed quite the audience, hitting 500 million monthly active users in July of 2018.

What is TikTok?

Users who download the app can make an account and start creating videos of themselves. You can pick a "sound" from TikTok's large collection of user-uploaded music and pair an action alongside it. Maybe you really like Joji's new single "Slow Dancing in the Dark" so you capture yourself singing, dancing or whatever it is you do with the app. You can add effects to make yourself into a zombie or a glamorous doll, speed up or slow down your actions or turn on "beauty mode" to remove blemishes from your face. More than 4,000 people have already posted Tik Toks of themselves alongside this song, doing everything from petting their cat to crying into the camera.

TikToks don't necessarily require much creativity or effort. You can post yourself singing alongside a remix of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song in a matter of seconds. The ease of content creation has made the app huge with a younger generation that can just upload and share with their friends and potentially gain internet stardom. Users can comment or like videos, allowing them to engage with the content even further.

The app shares a lot of similarities with Snapchat, but appeals to a much younger crowd. Scrolling through the thousands of videos uploaded in the last few hours, a considerable portion of them are preteens or teenagers. They've moved on from Snapchat.

Internet fame has become a huge driving force behind today's social media addicts. Whether it's taking down Ninja in a Fortnite game to become the next Twitch superstar or having a YouTube vlog that gets watched by millions of adoring fans, kids today want to go viral. TikTok capitalizes on that goal with the "trending hashtag." Each day, TikTok posts a list of terms and challenges fans can complete to potentially end up on the trending page for the app. TikTok influencers have built up audiences after making it to the trending page multiple times.

What are Tik Tok's trending hashtags?

Trending hashtags" like #pickmycostume, #talingtools and #halloweenswitch allow users to show some form of creativity that lets them stand out from the pack. Others like the #pillowchallenge just have users doing a mundane activity, like lying down on a pillow. Like any social media platform, success is determined by an invisible algorithm, the amount of times you post and the content you produce. The promise of internet fame is enough for some people to post a dozen times a day, hoping that just one of their Nicki Minaj lip-syncing TikTok's will propel them to the trending page.

Users can also perform "duets" that split the screen between two videos. Like YouTube collabs, TikTok duets allow users with large followings to help out smaller creators who may just be starting out. It can also help cross-pollinate a TikTok influencers audience with another large creator, reaching an even larger audience.

If you search YouTube for TikTok, you'll find hundreds of "cringe" compilations, capturing clips of young and old awkwardly making faces at their phone camera while pretending to sing alongside a clip from popular media. These memes and videos amass millions of views, with many viewers confused as to why anyone would watch or partake with this content. It can be hard to watch a six-year-old in his room pretend to sing into his mother's smartphone, which can definitely be viewed as cringey.

TikTok is going to continue to gain success, until the next big social media app takes over. Until then, get your smartphones ready and belt out your best (silent) cover of Katy Perry's "Firework."