How TikTok is once again democratizing content creation
By Liran Friedman, Head of Creation and Digital at List of artists
TikTok is built differently.
I mean it in both senses of the word. The way TikTok’s algorithm is designed, built, and implemented is rather unique to the application, or at least that was before its myriad of copiers appeared. But I also mean that TikTok is “built differently” in the way kids on TikTok use the term, that is, he’s in a league of his own, as absurd or savage or funny or blatantly ridiculous.
Unlike any other social platform in the world, TikTok’s advanced algorithm creates a fully personalized experience on all fronts – a hyper-responsive experience in countless different directions. It allows creators and users to find their favorite spaces in the TikTok ecosystem. This is the new frontier in the democratization of content.
A brief history of being online
The democratization of content is not new. It has been woven into the very fabric of the Internet since its humble beginnings. Democratized video content happened with the launch of YouTube in 2005. Anyone could make a video, and they downloaded it by the millions. In what we now consider to be the earliest eras of YouTube, vlogging, low production values, and totally unmediated creative energy reigned supreme. It was easy to get started with a simple camera and a good idea. The platform encouraged him, as home video after home video has gone supersonic. It sounded crazy and terribly “authentic,” something no one would necessarily blame YouTube for now.
And then came Vine.
You can’t talk about TikTok without talking about Vine, because you can’t access TikTok without Vine. The creators of Vine envisioned the app as a social platform with family and friends, a way to share small videos of everyday life. When it took off as a content creation platform, they were taken by surprise. TikTok’s comedic sensibility and creative potential has been nurtured here, as has the endless, transparent scrolling built into the UX. Vine has not only democratized video creation; he transformed it with a mobile-only interface. No camera gear was required, just your phone – a welcome change as YouTube production values skyrocket.
But Vine ultimately failed because it failed to reward the creators who did. These creators naturally abandoned it for platforms where they could make money. TikTok was careful not to make the same mistake, and the coincident monetization opportunities for successful creators – both niche and mainstream – made all the difference.
TikTok has effectively done the impossible on two fronts. On the one hand, it became a multinational social giant at a time when existing social media giants seemed almost impenetrable. On the other hand, it has turned the model of Internet creation superstars upside down. YouTube’s drive to democratize stabilized when it got down to its greatest creators. In 2016, the top 3% of channels accounted for 90% of viewer traffic. And only a fraction of that 3% actually made a living from their videos.
TikTok isn’t any less video-centric than YouTube, but it took a different approach to its creators. And that changes the situation.
TikTok’s “it” factor
TikTok creates monetization opportunities for niche and mainstream creators. This, combined with some very specific UX and design choices, makes it lightning in a bottle. Creators on TikTok benefit financially from a platform that, unlike almost every other social media platform, is organized so that the creators that a given user follows are only a fraction of the main stream.
It sounds like an oxymoron: TikTok’s algorithm is constantly expanding, but always getting closer to the most precise content desired by an individual user. The TikTok Home feed is an endless supply of new content from accounts a user follows and, more importantly, accounts that they don’t.
TikTok’s focus on discovery and its decentralized aspect go hand in hand. As a platform, TikTok is what we call sticky. You never log into TikTok, watch a video, and log out. The interface is scroll dominated and the UX is effortless. You never decide what to watch on TikTok the way you decide on Netflix or even Instagram’s Explore page. A TikTok is simply waiting for you the moment you open the app. It always goes forward, never brings you back to something you’ve seen before, forever customizing its algorithm to your choices.
But TikTok doesn’t just want you to watch. TikTok wants you to do TikToks. It’s like YouTube used to feel: all you need is a good idea and a phone camera. And like YouTube before it, it creates its own stars. These stars are setting trends, partnering with brands and building audiences, all without the blessing of traditional players in entertainment establishments.
TikTok is shaking up content creation because it makes finding an audience, even a niche, easy and possible. Simple, straightforward, amateur content is welcome, as long as it’s also fun, informative, authentic, or engaging. Its format is infinitely adaptable, i.e. there is a -Tok sub-community for everything: BookTok, WitchTok, MoneyTok, FashionTok, etc.
Anyone can contribute to a trend or start a new one. The videos’ built-in brevity, combined with their ease of production, has made creators the main attraction, more than any TikTok a creator can produce. And those content creators, especially those doing something very specific that may never have made their way to YouTube, are finding an audience ready and waiting on TikTok. They are also courted by historic brands and large corporations for partnerships and sponsorships. It’s an absolute game changer.
And then there are the memes. Memes on TikTok don’t necessarily come from top creators. Instead, they are bubbling. Memes are often related to using a specific song, sound effect, sound byte from other TikToks, Movies, and TV. Clever creators are using sounds for comedic effect not as an addition to the narrative, but as an integral part of it: from dads doing daddy things to the Home Depot jingle, for example. Song clips are assembled and remixed; lyrics are edited inside and out. Once a song is used, it can be developed endlessly.
TikTok’s encouragement to UX assisted publishing is incredibly thoughtful. You can reply to comments in videos, and the comment will float on the screen during said reply videos. TikTok’s built-in layering and sewing capabilities encourage user after user to step up and join. This is how sailor songs go viral.
Generation Z drives the democratization of content
TikTok doesn’t just replicate the democratization impetus of early YouTube, though, like YouTube before it, it has implemented a massive paradigm shift for digital creators and consumers. It is a major social media app and it pulls data for targeted ads. Its algorithms don’t exist just to focus on the tastes of a given user. But it’s different, and it’s certainly part of that initial internet lineage.
The fragmented, decentralized, and viral nature of TikTok is extremely pedestrian and accessible – a huge advantage that has created a new creative paradigm. Anyone can participate, really. TikTok’s format allows creators to create great content quickly, especially since the content is already expected to be short and enjoyable. And the creators themselves are the main attraction. Likewise, no creator has a monopoly since everyone watches multiple TikToks from multiple creators each time they open the app. It changes everything.
The democratizing impulse of TikTok drives the application. The large amount of videos that users watch during an app session (thanks in large part to the brevity of the average TikTok) and the decentralized feel and ever-increasing amount of new videos on the stream – all of this makes the visibility for small designers and niche designers again feel possible. Combined with TikTok’s emphasis and encouraging user participation and creation, this is a boon for the democratization of content. And it is changing the nature of digital creativity.
It’s also worth mentioning that TikTok is no longer the Wild West of content production it was about a year ago. The days when you could go viral easily and quickly are drawing to their natural and inevitable end. Competition for subscribers and views has accelerated along with the huge increase in the number of creators creating accounts and posting content on the platform. It’s a kind of experimentation in the making: we will soon be able to see if the democratizing power of TikTok can resist an increasingly populated and, by extension, more and more professional platform. The jury is still out.
The future remains to be seen. As for the past and the present? It’s an interesting dynamic in itself. Gen Z weren’t online during the initial heyday of the democratization of video content, but somehow their social media platform of choice dates back to those early days when everything’s fine. . Like Vine and Snapchat before it, young people were first on TikTok, and they determined its tone, humor and sensitivity. Seniors and businesses came later. Whether that means TikTok will continue its massive growth or that new platforms emerge and take over is uncertain, but content creation will undoubtedly continue to evolve. Thanks to TikTok, at least for now, it could become democratic again.
About the Author:
Liran Friedman is responsible for creation and digital at Arlist. Previously, he worked as a freelance video maker, film teacher and co-founder of Friedman Brothers Creative & Video in 2012. He has written, directed, filmed and produced hundreds of commercial videos for clients around the world. He joined Artlist in 2017 and has served as Creative and Digital Manager since 2019, focusing on leading the content creation strategy related to performance marketing, branding, marketing visual design, social presence and video content. He lives in Israel.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.