How to use TikTok, the short-form video app Gen Z loves and that's ushering in a new era of influencers



  • TikTok is a wildly popular social media platform that lets users create short-form videos, and is sparking a new generation of influencers and viral memes.
  • The app has been downloaded more than 1.2 billion times, and is especially big among Generation Z.
  • Here’s how to navigate through the TikTok app, including how you can create your own videos and follow along the latest trends.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For teens around the world, the social media scene has seen a new app making its way to center stage in the last year: a short-form video platform called TikTok.

TikTok is a product of Chinese company ByteDance, and came to the U.S. in August 2018 after merging with the similar platform Since it first launched in 2017, TikTok has garnered more than 1.2 billion downloads according to analyst firm Sensor Tower, and its popularity has skyrocketed as users — especially Gen Z — are increasingly turning to the video app as their go-to social platform.

If you need proof that TikTok is the wave of the future, look no further than Old Town Road, the mega-hit song of the summer, which got its start on the app. 

TikTok doesn’t necessarily bring anything especially new to social media, but it brings together the most popular and Gen Z-adored features under one app: Vine’s video snippets for copious amounts of content consumption; Instagram’s user feeds for easily following influencers; Twitter’s trending hashtags for keeping up with what’s going viral; and video game-inspired techniques for encouraging in-app spending.

Essentially, if you’re not already on TikTok (or at least familiar with it), you’re already behind.

Here’s how to use the TikTok app — from tracking the latest viral memes, to following the newest crop of influencers, and  creating your own short-form video:

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The first thing you’ll see upon opening the TikTok app is a feed of content from people you follow, similar to Instagram or Twitter. You’ll only see one video at a time, but you simply swipe up to continue through your feed and see more content.

My biggest gripe with TikTok is the setup of the feed, which can be especially daunting for first-time users. There are a lot of options in front of you and not a lot of direction.

It’s likely why I’ve heard from many people — particularly some of my curious, millennial-age colleagues — that when they first opened TikTok, they got so overwhelmed they never opened it again.

The TikTok home page, where your feed lives, is split up into two sections: “following,” to only see content from users you follow, and “for you,” which amasses popular content from across TikTok, similar to Instagram’s Explore page.

Switching between the two home feeds is as simple as swiping left and right — you’ll know which feed you’re on because the title will be bolded.

In order for TikTok content to end up in the “For You” feed, videos have to be posted with the hashtag “#foryou.” More on video-posting later.

The second tab in the menu running across the bottom of TikTok, represented by a magnifying glass, is where you’ll find what’s trending on the app. This is TikTok’s bread and butter: it’s where the latest viral trends are found, and associated hashtags are tracked.

For anyone looking to capitalize on trending tags and viral memes in their next video, this search tab is the place to go. Having your video appear high in the results for a certain popular hashtag can get your content seen my millions, and potentially push you a bit more toward viral fame.

The next tab in the menu bar is your inbox, where you’ll find notifications for followers, mentions, likes and comments on your videos, and notifications about people you follow. You can also access direct messages with users in the top-right corner.

Notifications on TikTok can easily be filtered, which can be especially helpful to popular users who have lots of followers and mentions to sift through.

The right-most tab in the menu bar is where you’ll find your personal TikTok profile. I personally have yet to post anything so my feed is empty, but here I can also edit my profile and bio.

In the top-right corner you can also access your “TikCode.” The barcode works exactly like a Snapchat SnapCode — basically, it’s something you can show other users and have them follow you with one click. 

Now onto all those icons dotted around each video in your feed, because there’s a startling amount of options TikTok gives you for interacting with each post. If you want to see more info about the account that posted each video, you can either click on the username toward the bottom of the video, or the top-right icon to follow the user.

You can also swipe to the left on the video to pull up the account’s profile page.

Clicking on a username will bring you to the account profile page, which isn’t so different from an Instagram profile. Here, you’re able to view all the videos posted by the user in a single feed, and check out the users other social accounts (marked by an icon like the YouTube play button or Instagram camera). In the top-right corner, you can easily share user profiles to social media, and toggle notifications for each user.

Certain profiles, like the one above, will be marked with checkmark icon. It works similarly to checkmarks on Twitter and Instagram signaling that you’re a verified figure, but TikTok also uses them to designate “popular creators” with hundreds of thousands — and even millions — of followers.

Sometimes when you go to a TikTok user’s profile, you’ll see a pink circle around the icon with a “Live” button. That indicates the user is live-streaming, a popular feature within TikTok that allows popular creators and influencers to interact directly with their fans. If you have notifications turned on for any users, you’ll get notified in your Inbox tab when they go live., TikTok’s predecessor, used to have a separate app dedicated to live-streaming called However, that app shut down when merged into TikTok, and now live-streaming can occur directly inside the same app.

In livestreams, users can add comments and emoji reactions. But more importantly, users can purchase “coins” on TikTok, which can be given to live-streamers — sort of like a tip.

These live-streaming gift add-ons alone have brought in more than $100 million in revenue for TikTok, according to data from mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Back in your news feed, videos will often be posted with hashtags in their descriptions. Clicking on these hashtags will lead you to individual landing pages, where you can find the number of videos using that hashtag and see just how viral it’s went on the platform. You can click on the “save” button to bookmark a certain hashtag for easy tracking in the future.

Hashtags that have been recognized as viral movements may have TikTok-given descriptions explaining a bit more what users have been using the hashtag for.  So although #plankton has apparently been used more than 13 million times, it doesn’t have the same clout as trending hashtags that have hundreds of millions of uses.

For TikTok, each posted video requires the use of a “soundtrack.” That doesn’t mean you can’t record your own sound — it’ll be denoted as “original sound,” which makes publicly available for others to use by clicking on the music track located at the bottom of a video. In turn, for your own videos, you can overlay them with popular music for lip-syncing videos, or for tracks that have been meme’d — like this “Rich boy check” audio.

The “rich boy check” meme has been used almost 138 million times on TikTok by users showing off their opulence and wealth, and others in turn satirizing that privilege with parody videos.

All of the content that you save on TikTok — videos, hashtags, sounds, and video effects — lives in a bookmark tab that’s found on your profile.

The bookmark feature making it easy to find the latest posts under trending viral memes, keep track of  your favorite videos, and save sounds you want to use for yourself in the future.

Now, for creating your own content. To create a TikTok video, click on black square in the middle of the menu bar. Doing so will open up your camera and all of the features available to use within your video.

TikTok offers a number of templates for users to draw inspiration and ideas for creating videos. TikTok users have gone to great lengths with their videos to create masterpieces that I still have yet to figure out how they were made.

TikTok videos can go up to 60 seconds in length. The endless number of features you can apply to content makes it easy to make personalized videos — you can slow down or speed up your video, add Snapchat-like effects, and record and stitch together multiple clips.

Instead of turning to the numerous apps out there for tech-savvy photo and video editing, TikTok lets you do custom editing in the app itself. Adding effects and special touches is easy, which makes the app even more accessible for its younger users.

When it comes time to add a sound, TikTok has a vast library to find music, from snippets of the latest hits, to TV show theme songs, to clips from movies. If there’s a sound you want but it’s not in the library, that’s where your “saved” tab comes in, where you can add your own spin on someone else’s soundtrack.

If you decide you don’t want to add someone else’s sound until later, that’s okay — TikTok lets you play with the volume, so you can mute your own sound and add a soundtrack on top after recording.

Once you create your video (like this one of me watching the US women’s soccer team play in the World Cup at work), there are even more effects at your disposal. Here you can trim your video as you want, add transition effects for between video clips, and add stickers and text similar to those on Instagram Stories.

These numerous effects have led to the creation of memes, like the “Karma is a b—h” challenge and this super cool subway ride warp.

Once you’re done creating your video, you’ll be sent to a screen where you can control how your video is used. Just like Instagram, you can add hashtags and friend mentions. You can also choose video-by-video whether you want the post to be public, private, or visible to friends only.

You can also choose whether to make your video available for duet and react videos, which is how TikTok enables users to collaborate and interact with each other in video form.

Outside of creating videos, TikTok also allows for users to create two other kinds of videos: “reacts” and “duets.” With a “duet,”on the left, users can add to already existing videos can add their own commentary and effects to existing videos online. With a “React” (on the right), videos are similar to reaction videos found on YouTube where your video is minimized into the corner of an existing one.

You can find some good examples of TikTok duets and reacts on YouTube.

In order to create a Duet or React video, click on the arrow that appears on any TikTok video. If the user has enabled duets and reaction videos, you’ll find the options in the menu that pops up.

Remember, this is only a comprehensive overview of what TikTok can do. With the number of features that extend across the app, TikTok can be incredibly overwhelming to the unsuspecting user. But with more than a billion people using the app, there’s likely a niche area of TikTok somewhere on the platform just for you.