What Makes Tik Tok so Addictive?

In 2016, Tik Tok, the remake of Vine and Muscial.ly, was released on app stores. Quickly, it became the most popular social media application as viewers became obsessed with endlessly scrolling their personally curated For You Pages. The problem? The hours that were disappearing as they aimlessly devoted a large quantity of time to this activity.

Tik Tok in its current state has amassed over 800 million users, and just recently surpassed Google and Facebook for the most used Web platform. What’s significant, is the average person using Tik Tok spends around 52 minutes daily on the platform, and the app receives more engagement per user than Instagram. But why? Why are users so infatuated with Tik Tok’s algorithm? Is it imitable and how do other companies apply Tik Tok’s successful blueprint to enhance their respective services?

Tik Tok’s surface level algorithm is similar to those of Netflix and similar user-driven applications. Content is released to you based on your previous watch history, tracking how long you stayed on a particular video before scrolling to the next. If you’re watching the same content as others, Tik Tok’s algorithm becomes stronger as it’s collecting data from multiple different users and able to predict the preferences of how you’d interact with a piece of content based on the preferences of similar users, in turn drawing you back to the application. The bottom line, the more you use the application, the more it designs the For You Page strictly for your personal preferences.

Tik Tok’s For You Page. Circled at the top is the option to see content based off of creators you follow. However, when opening the app every time it’ll start you on the For You Page. Image by Isabelle Sim via Screenshot.

So what separates Tik Tok’s algorithms from others? Why is Tik Tok so addicting and not Instagram? Typically, with an application like Instagram, the user is in control. You get to decide who you follow and what content shows up on your feed. Yes, with Instagram you’re introduced to a new feed, but, the content you’re seeing is being produced by users you choose to follow. Tik Tok, while having a section that is similar to Instagram, in which you can see content from people you follow, its main feature is the For You Page that generates content from recommended users. As soon as you open the app, you’re presented with a nearly infinite scrolling journey filled with 15 second to 3 minute videos of users you would never typically choose to follow.

The audience of the app, could be a reason for the popularization of the platform seeing as though 41% of such are between the ages of 16-24, this demographic is incredibly young and impressionable. These young users are being exposed to thousands of behaviours and actions. The issue is this easily influenced demographic may develop blurred insight regarding socially acceptable behaviour. For example, if a young teenager sees a video of someone similar in age vaping, or performing a dangerous stunt, and the video has millions of views and likes, not only will the impressionable user want to recreate the behaviours in the video to gain the same notoriety, but it creates a sense of lost identity. If young users, in the crucial identity development stage, and are mimicking behaviours of people online, the line becomes blurred. Tik Tok becomes a distraction from users completing crucial self-identifying tasks which in turn can hurt their personal self-reflections later in life.

Instagram’s feed when opening the application. Immediately showing you content from people you follow. Image via Isabelle Sim.

Tik Tok targets this young demographic not only because it’s nearly the majority of their primary users, but also because the more impressionable the user, the higher the rate of disengagement from real-life and loss of self-control, making it difficult to distance away from the platform. When adding in the curated For You Pages, specifically made for each personal user, based off previous enjoyed content, it becomes an addiction.

Psychologically, Tik Tok uses Pavlov’s dog theory by rewarding users. For example, characteristics of an addiction are the incapacity to stop using, obsessive behaviour and escape from real-world problems. Studies have found that content that shows users new information, that is right to the point (15 seconds or less) is captivating for audiences. This new information we’re given, improves our decision-making as we’re understanding an entire range of topics. Therefore, this new information rewards our brain. This act of being rewarded is constantly repeating as we aimlessly scroll the infinite For You Page. Similar to Pavlov’s theory that rewarded dogs for ringing a bell prior to eating, we are being rewarded twice, once with a new video after we’ve finished the previous, and second, by receiving new information…whether it’s misinformation, or really useful to us at all.

In a day where all social platforms and companies are constantly competing for your attention, Tik Tok successfully is able to captivate that younger audience, that every business wants right now. With the ability to remain anonymous and not needing to create a profile to use the application, helps users not feel judged for engaging with certain creators. As well, everyone is talking about funny videos they’ve seen on the platform, current trending songs being overly-used through the app, and other social apps talking about Tik Tok’s recent content…it’s hard to escape it. In fact, Tik Tok will send you several notification throughout the day with the attempt to bring you right back into the never ending cycle. Tik Tok has created a well designed platform that makes you dependent on the app, drawing you right back, keeping you away from competitors.

What do you think? Do you think Tik Tok has used its captivating algorithms to attract you? Have you ever found yourself scrolling through the app and realized hours have gone by? Let me know below!

READ: Why we’re so addicted to Tik Tok! https://bit.ly/35hEwtC

Want to know why your child is constantly glued to your phone? READ: Why Tik Tok is so Addictive #TikTokAddiction https://bit.ly/35hEwtC

2 thoughts on “What Makes Tik Tok so Addictive?

  1. What a great read! I wanted to keep reading because although I’m a mother of tweens and teens who are obsessed with TikTok, I too catch myself scrolling longer than anticipated. It’s like once I start I can’t stop! The video’s are most definitely curated to things I like, which makes me want to keep going.

    When I think of TikTok I seperate it significantly when it comes to personal and business use. Personally, I can spend hours on it but in a business perspective, I struggle with how to utilize the platform with the work I do. It is time consuming to create (especially if you have no experience with this) and also difficult when what you are trying to promote isn’t always black and white.

    I’m interested to see how TikTok continues to evolve and how it will impact me on both a personal and workplace level.

  2. I think it’s a little scary how well the app knows you. Everyone’s For You page is different curated to the what the person watches, and gives you the exact kind of content that you interact with often. With that being said, I think it is a brilliant algorithm because it keeps you coming back, and it encourages you to keep scrolling because you know that you will continue to see the exact kind of content you want to see. Whenever I go on tiktok, I know that I won’t go and watch a handful of videos and that’s it – on the contrary, I spend way more time than I’d like to admit just scrolling through my feed.

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