TikTok now aims to turn the app into a social media platform

TikTok now aims to turn the app into a social media platform

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As dot.LA’s resident economics reporter, I spend a lot of time wading through TikTok’s endless algorithm. But unlike other social media platforms that primarily show content from people you know. On TikTok, I could scroll for hours without seeing a single recognizable face.

But signs seem to indicate that TikTok is increasingly investing in pushing its users beyond the platform’s stars and most viral content. A decision that feels like a reversal of the company’s previous claims that it was an “entertainment platform”, not a social media site. In fact, the latest features of video sharing apps seem to suggest that they are seemingly and suddenly more interested in community building as a way to increase engagement.

Post to see

TikTok’s new feature, known as TikTok Now, encourages people to post a photo at random times throughout the day. This is undoubtedly TikTok’s attempt to replicate the success of photo-sharing app BeReal. BeReal rose to fame over the summer, with users exchanging photos once a day in what many have called a more authentic way to connect with friends online.

Not only does the feature mimic BeReal, but it also encourages people to create more content on the app: the only way to see other people’s TikTok Now content is to post your own.

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It’s a cheeky way to engage those who are just wondering about the app. Sure, TikTok has one billion monthly active users, but not everyone contributes videos.

Will it work? It is hard to say. If, like me, you’re a lurker, you’ll probably just keep scrolling. Or worse, like other users, you’ll find the in-app request annoying: “No, TikTok, I’m not going to post for views,” said one user. “What’s the point?”

Follow your contacts

TikTok also pushes users to share phone contacts with the app to connect them with people they know by adding a pop-up notification that appears on the About page. This is no different than Snapchat and Twitter or other social media. And declining to do so just means the app will ask you again the next day.

Naturally, the more sinister take on this update is that TikTok is asking users to willingly give the company access to even more of their data. But it also proves that TikTok is trying to encourage users to engage with the app beyond mindless scrolling.

Theoretically, if someone sees their friends posting, they may be more likely to create their own content. Which should ultimately help further accelerate the spread of viral TikTok challenges that often spread when users ask their friends to try the activity.

Friends tab

Giving users the Friends tab to watch videos from their social networks also indicates that TikTok isn’t just a place to see what influencers with millions of followers are up to — it can be a place to keep up with your friends.

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This is not a monumental change. After all, many users already interact with their friends on the app. The difference is that now TikTok is actively trying to get users to do so.

Maybe the higher ups on TikTok can see what has been obvious to many for a while. That the social media landscape is at a breaking point – one that TikTok largely helped usher in. Instagram emphasizes its short-form video feature. Facebook changed its algorithm to highlight suggested content over posts made by people you follow. And Snapchat has seen low engagement in its TikTok copy, Spotlight. Ironically, these platforms that were once the best places to connect with your social network have destroyed themselves in their various attempts to chase TikTok’s success.

So what does TikTok do?

Perhaps and for the first time, by pushing people to connect with friends, it is TikTok that is imitating the other social media companies. By doing so, the video-sharing giant risks doing the very thing that led to its competitors’ declining rankings — annoying users by trying to integrate features from other platforms instead of focusing on the features that users already like.

Nevertheless, these latest moves show that TikTok is trying to be both an entertainment platform and a social media platform. If it can manage to succeed at both, TikTok will become an even bigger powerhouse than it already is. – Christine Snyder

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