How to blow up on Tik Tok

Graphic by Delta Wise

By Delta Wise | Social Media Editor

Last July I downloaded the app Tik Tok as a joke (as many people will claim if they downloaded it before it was deemed “cool”). Since no one followed me, I decided to post an old video of me dancing kind of goofy. I threw some music on it and hit post. Immediately to my surprise it got thousands of views. I was stunned. Someone commented, “Remember me when you’re famous!”

It seemed like this untapped gold mine of social media where you didn’t have to already be famous or a celebrity to get views. As long as you made a video that followed a general theme of videos that were trending at that time, you had a chance to “blow up.” But you had to be pretty fast at it, meaning you also had to watch enough Tik Toks to know what was trending at the time.

One night in November I was sitting on the floor of my room lost in a trance of swiping through videos when I noticed a theme. It was so specific, people telling an embarrassing or crazy story… but in auto tune. It was entertaining to say the least, so I thought, well I have a good story. So without any makeup on, late at night, in an oversized t-shirt, I set my phone down on the bathroom counter and told my most embarrassing story from high school prom. Now… I don’t know if it was because of the trend, how early I was with it, the story, the way I told it, the t-shirt that said “Baylor” on it, or what… but I woke up the next day to a text from Preston (a friend who also used TIkTok) saying “I hate you” because I’d gotten tons of views overnight.

The day kept going and the views kept rising. I walked into Brit Lit and the girl that sat behind me said she saw me on her For You page on Tik Tok. Then the texts from friends started pouring in. Not only did it prove to me that more people had the app than were letting on, but how crazy big the video had gone. I ended up with about 1.4 million views. 1.4 million people evidently thought my prom story was funny enough to watch.

The video took maybe 10 minutes to make but it had about 240,000 likes and 700 comments as well. I couldn’t believe there were even that many people on the app in general. Thinking about my 240,000 likes in relation to the 16,000 student population at Baylor put things into perspective.

I realized how easy and random it is to become an internet sensation — if you keep up with it. Of course I didn’t exactly keep up with it as I am a full time student, now 23 (yikes), and I have a job. I just didn’t have the time. But the way it is now I wish I had.

Around the same time I downloaded Tik Tok last summer, 15-year-old Tik Tok star Charli D’Amelio was starting to make videos too. I remember scrolling past her dances and not really thinking much of it but she created a lot of the popular Tik Tok dances and seemed to know what viewers liked. She kept up with her dancing, and since then has astonishingly raked in 50 million followers on Tik Tok and 16 million followers on Instagram. She has merchandise, sponsors and celebrity friends — in less than one school year, starting as just a high school girl from the east coast.

Tik Tok seems like this new world where anybody, not just the rich and famous, can get big if they do it right. Sometimes it’s not even the “algorithm” people talk about that gets you the most views (i.e. if you use the G6 filter with flash and bling effect). Like Charli, most Tik Tok stars weren’t anybody of notoriety before.

Personally I think it’s because the users are majority young people. It’s the giant underbelly of an iceberg full of everyday kids across the world — Gen Z kids who grew up on social media, who were born in the 2000s and raised on overstimulation from the internet.

The level of understanding it takes to scroll through and appreciate a video is mind blowing to me. You have to have watched certain movies, know references to old Vines or YouTube videos, remember old songs, be up to date with memes and current events. If I show one to my 65-year-old mother, while I’m hysterically laughing she is completely confused and to explain it I find myself having to break it down to several layers of understanding that I have as a young person on social media 24/7.

Tik Tok is the next generation’s entertainment industry. Songs that trend on Tik Tok immediately take over Spotify’s top charts. So now, random teens making songs from their laptops in their rooms somewhere in the suburbs suddenly make thousands of dollars per day just because their one song was made popular on Tik Tok (probably because Charli did a dance to it) whose following flooded into Spotify. The song aspect alone could be an entirely different and long story: genres are bending and remixes are raising old random songs out from their early 2000s graves.

Instead of watching movies and TV shows, many kids would rather swipe through Tik Toks. They’re so short it doesn’t take much attention span to follow. It makes me wonder what’s in store for the future of celebrities. Incredible actors and actresses or singers don’t even have as many followers as some of these Tik Tok creators do, who arguably don’t have the same level of talent. They’re closer to influencers than anything else.

So… the answer you’ve been waiting for, how does one blow up on Tik Tok? I’ve come up with my own algorithm. For starters, I think you have to be young, somewhere between 15 to 27, to relate to the majority of users.

Pick your niche, are you a dancer? Are you funny? Are you a story teller? What makes you different? Wearing trendy clothes really helps, right now it seems like cropped jackets, grey sweat pants, and bucket hats are the thing at least for girls.

The lighting for whatever you’re doing should be pretty good, luckily we don’t have a problem with that in Texas, but if it’s at night you better have the infamous Tik Tok colored string lights (about $50 on Amazon).

Since you’re probably not related to anyone famous or already famous yourself, you’re trying to blow up from scratch, so you should follow some kind of trend or hashtag to get some followers. If you can blow up once you can guarantee at least a few thousand viewers from then on.

But to get big, you have to keep up with it. Popular teen creators who moved into a house together in LA called the “Hype House” say that they spend hours planning one Tik Tok that will last anywhere between 15 and 60 seconds. They say it’s hard work.

Personally my favorite part is reading the comments, so another way I’ve found to gain an audience is to comment on videos. If your comment gets tons of likes you can get noticed for your quick wit. And that’s one of the main proponents, just watching, liking and interacting with Tik Toks every day to keep up. You’re basically learning a new language, the Gen Z language, and practicing it daily. I notice after a few days of not opening the app I’m already confused by some videos and trends. (However I am proud of myself for posting an outdoor mirror selfie on Instagram before Charli D’Amelio did. I felt like I was ahead of the trend.)

Arguably there are downsides to the app like the fact that some kids aren’t ready for that kind of viewership or responsibility of influence and can make mistakes that cost them a good not-so-old-fashioned “cancelling.” Tik Tok loves cancel culture and people are quick to collectively bash someone. But is it all worth it for the chance at becoming the next big someone?