A Beginner’s Guide To TikTok

A Beginner’s Guide To TikTok

It might not be your cup of tea or you might not have actually tried it – whichever camp you fall into, there’s no denying the impact TikTok has made on the social media landscape in a very short period of time. Given it looks like it’s here to stay, might it be time to get on board? Here we explain how it works, what to expect, and the basic features to get to grips with…

What is TikTok?

If you can believe it, the platform actually started life back in 2016, becoming instantly popular with teens and Gen Z. Initially finding fame for its dancing and lip-syncing video clips, TikTok has now been downloaded over 1bn times, including 96m in the US alone. Owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, it’s also been mired in controversy as several governments have tried to harness its popularity in tense trade negotiations, or ban it completely – notably, when former US President Donald Trump attempted to ban the platform unless they agreed to sell a stake of the business to a US company (it eventually partnered with tech firm Oracle). That said, not much has changed dramatically about the app itself since its inception – it still revolves around sharing 15-second videoclips, which are set to music often licensed from artists and record labels.

How is it different to Reels?

An excellent question. In short, it’s not massively different – in fact, it was Instagram’s (and therefore Facebook’s) decision to launch Reels once they realised just how popular TikTok was. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them. The convenience of Reels is that existing Instagram users can utilise the function and produce the same sort of clips they could on TikTok – the recording and editing features are incredibly similar. 

However, there are some drawbacks to the rival platform. For instance, on TikTok, users can record videos up to 60 seconds, and on Instagram Reels, users can only record videos up to 30 seconds. Aesthetically, the logo on a TikTok video is more prominent, alerting users who share these clips elsewhere exactly where it was made – that’s free advertising. Finally, the music licensing is different – on TikTok it’s made clear what users can and cannot use, while Reels seems more embryonic in this regard so far. 

Is Reels the only competitor to TikTok?

In short, again no. Snapchat and YouTube have both realised the power of short video clips on social media. Snapchat is currently busy implementing a new navigation style similar to what TikTok users are familiar with, and YouTube is testing a feature that allows mobile users to create short, 15-second clips as well. 

How do you set up an account?

The minute you download the app, you can start browsing videos. But to post any yourself, you’ll need to sign up for an account. You can make an account using your email, phone number, or a third-party platform like Facebook and the app automatically assigns you a username (don’t worry, you can change it later). Remember – by default – TikTok accounts are public, meaning anyone can see your profile and view the videos you post. To adjust these privacy settings, tap the three dots in the top right corner of your profile.

You’ll find an array of special effects and filters that can be used in videos – similar to Instagram stories – whether it’s changing the colour of your hair or eyes or adding background filters.

And how easy is it to navigate?

The first thing to know is that the app is divided into two main feeds. The default is For You, an algorithmically generated stream of videos akin to Instagram’s Explore page. The other, Following, features uploads from people you choose to follow – like your Instagram news feed. To the right of every TikTok video a series of icons. The first will take you to the profile of the user who posted it. Then there’s a heart, which functions as likes, similar to Instagram. Next are comments, then a right-pointing arrow for sharing individual TikToks to other platforms, like Instagram. Click the arrow if you want to copy the link to a specific TikTok, for example, to share it on iMessage. 

Who are some of the biggest TikTok influencers worth following?

In a similar fashion to other social media platforms, the success of a TikTok influencer is measured by their following. Here are five of the biggest stars, and why they’re worth a follow.

  1. Charli D'Amelio – statistically speaking, after launching her channel in June 2019, the 16-year-old from Connecticut is now TikTok’s biggest star. Through a mix of choreographed dances to viral songs, her success has meant her family – including sister and fellow TikTok star Dixie – now have their own reality show.

  2. Addison Rae – another huge star on TikTok, and a best friend of Kourtney Kardashian, Rae has more than 50m followers on the platform. She wins hundreds of thousands of views on videos where she dances and lip-syncs to popular songs and now hosts a Spotify-exclusive podcast called "Mama Knows Best" with her mother, Sheri Nicole.

  3. Loren Gray another TikTok-er with more than 50m followers, Gray was a star on TikTok's predecessor, Musical.ly, at only 13. Frequently taking part in the lip-dubbing trends and viral dance challenges, she’s garnered nominations at the Teen Choice Awards and People's Choice Awards for her social media presence. A career in music is rumoured to be forthcoming.

  4. Bella Poarch – Poarch was one of TikTok's breakout stars in 2020, making the most-liked video of the year – a zoomed-in lip-sync to British rapper Millie B's "M to the B." Mysteriously, some of Poarch's personal details like her real name and age remain unclear, but she’s also known for her beauty and gaming content.

  5. Savannah LaBrant – harnessing her family’s popularity on YouTube and Instagram, LaBrant is the mother with a wildly popular social media presence. Her husband, Cole, is a former Vine star known as part of a dancing trio dubbed "Dem White Boyz”, while a couple's YouTube channel about their family has more than 10 million subscribers. Each of their two children — age 6 and 7 months — has Instagram followings of over 1 million, too.

Aside from that, there’s the usual roster of famous faces now on TikTok – whether it’s your favourite fashion influencer from Instagram or David Beckham.

How do you make your own video?

Once you’re in the app, start by tapping the plus sign at the bottom of the screen. The camera will open, revealing a red record button that you’re probably already familiar with from Instagram or Snapchat. Before you start recording, you can add a song, so that your lip-sync, dance, or skit is in time with the music. But you can also start recording without a musical track and add it later if you prefer.

You’ll then find array of special effects and filters that can be used in videos – similar to Instagram stories – whether it’s changing the colour of your hair or eyes or adding background filters. Tap Effects on the left-hand side to browse. You’ll also find the Beauty button on the right-hand side, which subtly erases the dark shadows under your eyes. Unlike Instagram, whose filters have names, TikTok’s are numbered. The last and most important feature is the timer, which lets users film videos without continuously holding down the record button. It’s what makes those signature dancing videos possible to film.

Music is what TikTok is really all about – picking a popular song can be the main reason a video goes viral.

Music is massive on TikTok – what are the key things to know?

Music is what TikTok is really all about – picking a popular song can be the main reason a video goes viral. There are no full-length songs on TikTok; the platform is dominated by short clips, which can’t be edited. However, to get around this problem, many TikTok users simply play a song from another device – such as a computer or stereo – while they’re recording. TikTok will then register the track as an “Original sound,” which other users can then add to their own videos. Just be sure you’re on the right side of copyright law if you decide to go down this route.

To add music to your video clip, tap add a sound on the right side of the recording screen. A Spotify-style streaming menu of artists and songs will appear. Here, you can browse the most popular tracks, as well as check out songs from Apple Music.

What are TikTok #Challenges?

Think of challenges as the thing that unite the TikTok community – they’re often sponsored by advertisers. For example, Google recently ran a similar challenge campaign with the hashtag #HeyGoogleHelp, and there’s been one called #HappiestMinuteHeroes, which marked a collab between TikTok and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway to help highlight those people who have made a difference during the pandemic. When you’re browsing the music streaming menu, you’ll probably find some of the most popular songs associated with TikTok #Challenges, too.

Can people go ‘live’ on TikTok like on Instagram?

Yes – as users, you’ll be notified when popular TikTok-ers are live streaming (just be aware the feature isn’t available for every user). If you like the content, you can even tip creators in virtual goods, which are purchased with TikTok Coins. Creators often acknowledge their fans or answer questions they ask in exchange for these gifts, a portion of which can then be converted into regular currency.

If you decide to give it a go, how do you keep track of your profile/views etc?

You can check how many people have watched them by looking at the view numbers on your profile – much like on Instagram Stories, IGTVs or even Reels. Tap the notifications icon at the bottom of the home screen to see who has commented or liked your videos – again, much like Instagram. It’s here you’ll be able to see who has looked at your profile or followed you, too. Just be aware TikTok is notorious for sending loads of push notifications to try to get you to engage with the platform. If that sounds annoying, you can turn off the notifications in your phone’s settings menu.


Download TikTok here 

Fashion. Beauty. Culture. Life. Home
Delivered to your inbox, daily