A Millennial’s Guide To TikTok & Navigating Gen Z’s Fave Viral Playground

by Sophie McEvoy
Anatoliy Sizov/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images

As an introvert, the prospect of staying at home and social distancing wasn't too daunting. But even for me, there are points in the day where I need something other than Animal Crossing or countless episodes of ER to distract me. And that's where TikTok comes in... well, kind of. Up until now, I've been watching compilations on YouTube rather than in the actual app. Whether that's because I'm a millennial or just haven't got round to it, that's all about to change. So here's how to navigate TikTok if you're not a Gen Z.

What is TikTok?

For the uninitiated, TikTok is a short-form video social network built on the shoulders of the lip-synching app Musical.ly. Popular among tweens and teens, TikTok has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times, per Business Insider, and even outstripped Instagram by roughly 238 million downloads in 2019. (Notably, TikTok is not owned by Facebook, which Instagram is.)

Journalist and podcaster Dolly Alderton hilariously tweeted: "Millennials must not join TikTok, I feel very strongly about this. Very boomers joining Instagram, very ungroovy. We must pass the baton on with grace and composure." But self-isolation means we're firmly holding onto the baton, so to being your TikTok experience...

How To Get Started On TikTok

You know the drill. As with most apps, you'll find TikTok on your device's App Store. From there, open the app once it's finished downloading and you'll be greeted with a screen asking to choose your interests. You don't have to do this, but if you want a feed to immediately scroll through, I'd recommend choosing a couple. There's quite the selection, which includes comedy, animals, beauty & style, gaming, DIY & life hacks, dance, and daily life.

Note: you will need headphones. This is not a social media platform you can engage with without the sound on.

Setting Up An Account

If you're not intending on keeping a catalogue of dog videos like I am, you don't actually have to set up an account to watch videos. You can watch what's trending and discover videos online without having an account. But if you want to like or follow users, you will need to set up an account.

It's easy enough, and you can link it to other social media platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. I used my Apple ID for convenience, but you can also sign up with your phone number or email address. From there, you input your birthday, create your username (which you can change later), and you're good to go.

What's The Deal With Personalised Ads?

Before you jump in to watching videos, you'll be notified about personalised ads. You can opt in or out of this by going to your settings. Basically, you if opt in the adverts you see will be "based on your activity on and off TikTok," as described in settings.

To manage these settings, go to your profile, click the three dots in the right hand corner, go to privacy and safety, then personalisation and data.

How To Navigate TikTok

There are two main feeds: Home and Discover. Whenever you open the app you'll be brought to the home screen, which splits into two further feeds, which you can navigate on the top of your screen: Following, for the accounts you follow, and For You, compiled by an algorithm depending on your interests. Discover is akin to Instagram's explore page: a curated selection of trending handles and accounts. Wherever you are, you just need to continually swipe up for new videos to appear: your very own never-ending variety show.

You can also find videos in the Discover tab, which features trending hashtags and QR code scanner for TikCodes. Like Snapchat, these codes enable you to find and follow profiles quickly instead of searching for them in the app.

What Do All The TikTok Icons Mean?

On the right hand side of each video, there are a column of options. The first takes you take you to the profile of the user who posted the video you are watching. Then there’s a heart, which functions just like "likes" on Instagram. Note: once you like a video, it'll be added to your liked videos on your profile, which can be made private or public via your settings.

Next are comments: does what it says on the tin. Then a right-pointing arrow for sharing individual TikToks to other platforms, like WhatsApp etc.

Last but not least: the spinning record. This represents the song excerpt used in said TikTok. Click on it to see the track’s name and artist, as well as a feed of other TikToks that also employ it.

Creating content is a whole other kettle of fish, but now you have all the tools you need to browse the app and find those funny videos everyone is talking about. Now, fellow millennials, go forth and enjoy!