By Ivan Tran, Isha Shah, Kaushik Naresh, and Madison Kohls
TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app launched internationally in 2017, took the world by storm through its explosion in popularity in less than a year. It has managed to consistently stay at the top by garnering 2 billion downloads on the App Store and Google Play, as well as currently hosting over 800 million active users to date. Because of TikTok’s large user base and engaging 60 second or less videos, the platform has curated the perfect recipe for churning out new dance trends, lip sync songs, and “TikTok influencers.”
TikTok reaches all kinds of audiences with a variety of trending content, ranging from “being bored in the house” to “never seeing two pretty best friends”. But with over 100s of videos trending a day on the platform, what differentiates a trending video from a trending user? Additionally, what patterns can we notice in the top TikTok influencers in terms of their content and demographics? TikTok has been raved as a source of expression for many, but the app has also been criticized for instigating acts of exclusion such as censoring creators of color. Understanding the demographics of the top performers on TikTok can give a good sense of what a “top TikToker” looks like.
Although trending videos on the platform are most commonly thought of as dance trends such as the “Renegade Dance” and more recently the “WAP Dance”, there are a plethora of different trends that can help jumpstart one’s journey to becoming TikTok famous. Many of these trends that come and go usually involve a specific format to how the video is structured and, a lot of the times, a specific sound associated with the trend. In some cases, the content in a video is enough to make the video blow up and lead to TikTok fame. However, those instances are very rare and involve a large amount of luck.
We chose to conduct our analysis of TikTok with two different datasets, one with the 250 most followed TikTokers and the other with video data of around 42,000 videos from more than 1,700 unique users. From these datasets, we were able to look into TikToker demographics as well as factors that affect the performance of TikTok videos. Visit our Github for a more in-depth view on how we collected and cleaned our data.
Top TikToker Demographics
We define “Top TikToker/Influencers” to be the 250 most followed users on the TikTok platform (updated October 2020 via Influencer Grid). First, we created basic visuals on ratios and distributions of the top TikTokers, based on factors such as age, gender, and ethnicity.
From these graphs, we are able to become familiarized with the basic demographics of the top TikTokers. We can see that the most common age is 19–21, more TikTokers are male, 4.4% of creators identify as LGBTQ+, most TikTokers are from the US, and the most common ethnicity is white.
Knowledge of these demographics can correlate to better video performance. It’s important to not only understand what types of content, hashtags, and music popular videos have, but also what characteristics the creators have since they play a major part in the overall performance of a video. This knowledge can lead us to ask more thought-provoking questions like “Why do certain demographics perform better than others?”
Looking at the top genres for TikTok influencers, we are able to compare the differences in performance between male and female creators.
On average, a video from a top influencer can expect to receive around 2 million views and 525k likes. Typically, female influencers garner more likes in lip syncing and dancing, while males receive significantly more likes in comedy. However, males on average receive around 1.5 times the amount of views females receive, which may be attributed to there being more males in the dataset.
By calculating the ratio of likes per view, we can see that despite the close average of likes males and females share in dancing, females got around 12 more likes per every 100 views than males. However, when it came to comedic content, females had the lowest number of likes per view whereas males performed twice as well. These differences could possibly be attributed to gender stereotypes — males are thought to be more humorous while trendy dances are often feminized. Another possible explanation could be that the TikTok algorithm may favor one gender over the other for different types of content (i.e. more male creators appear on the FYP than female creators for comedic videos).
To gain further insight into the demographics of the Top 250 TikTokers, we also broke down the top genres in terms of ethnicity.
As seen in the stacked bar graph above, the 3 most popular “genres’’ of content that top TikTokers produce are comedy, dancing, and lipsyncing. This trend can be explained by the fact that many people view TikTok as an escape from their lives; short, comedic clips by your favorite creators are the best way to wind down after an exhausting day of online school. Dancing TikToks have also gained a huge rise in popularity in the past year or so with the most followed TikToker Charli D’amelio and many others creating unique, engaging dances. Lip Syncing videos have found a niche within the TikTok community as well, especially due to the app’s unique ability to add specific sounds to videos.
Taking another look at the graph, we can see that there is a significantly higher number of white TikTokers compared to TikTokers of other ethnicities engaging in dancing, comedy, and lipsyncing. Not many of the top 250 TikTokers engage in lifestyle or promotional TikToks comparatively, but even here white TikTokers dominate. The acting genre was the one exception to this trend in which South Asian TikTokers led the way. This could possibly be attributed to the strong presence of Bollywood (the Indian version of Hollywood) in South Asia. Overall, the pattern of white TikTokers having the most popularity in most genres alludes to their general popularity over creators of other ethnicities. This could, however, be attributed to the demographics of all TikTok users, since if there are more white people who use TikTok, there is a higher likelihood for white TikTokers to be the most popular on the app.
Okay… But Can I Get Famous?
The answer is yes! Looking at this breakdown of the top 250 TikTokers, we can see that there is a fairly even ratio of TikTokers who had pre-established fame and “celebrity status” compared to those who built their fame only after garnering a huge following on TikTok. Thus, TikTok isn’t an app that is just dominated by celebrities from other industries/platforms. Instead, due to its immense current popularity and 850 million global users, there is a lot of opportunity to convert TikTok fame into real fame. After all, Addison Rae and Charli D’amelio — two of the app’s biggest creators — started off as ordinary people; now they are some of the most well-known people in the world! If you play your cards right, you could be hanging out with the Kardashians and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the industry!
Looking specifically at TikTokers in the US who were not previously famous we can see that the majority of “Breakout” TikTok Stars are white, male, and/or make content pertaining to dance. With this in mind, making dancing videos might give you the best chance to kick starting your TikTok career. However, there are still many more aspects to consider that can help you on your journey to fame.
In this segment, we explore the best practices when it comes to making and posting TikTok videos that will better your chances of becoming TikTok famous. One thing to note is that for some of our analyses, we used standard deviation to distinguish a portion of our video data as higher performing/outliers based on the amount of views it had relative to each user.
So how does a video make it onto the For You Page?
Much like most other social media sites, everyone’s TikTok feed is unique to them and is based on their preferences and interactions, which usually reflects their interests. According to TikTok, the main factors that the TikTok Algorithm uses to create the For You Page are first, the videos and accounts that you share, comment on, and like, second, the videos you create, third, the captions, hashtags, and sounds of the videos that you interact with, and lastly, your device information such as your language preferences, country settings and device type.
Now that we know how TikTok suggests videos to users, what would be the ideal way to make your video pop up consistently on thousands of users’ For You page?
Short and Sweet
Let’s begin by looking into TikTok’s key characteristic, the duration of videos. Looking in the past, there have been many attempts to capitalize on short, low commitment videos (i.e. Vine). TikTok has been able to capture this market by perfecting the format of short content. Videos on TikTok are required to be at least 3 seconds long and can last up to a minute.
This visualization of the distribution of video length distinguishes between average (non-outliers) and higher performing (outliers) videos. As seen from the graph, the majority of videos are under 20 seconds long. There is, however, a slight peak around 60 seconds. This might be due to users opting to just use up all 60 seconds rather than stopping at a specific time before 60 seconds when making longer videos. Looking at the outliers, we can see that the density of videos are concentrated near the shorter side. In fact, 15 seconds seems to be the sweet spot for the outliers, having the most amount of videos of that length.
Here, we took a different approach in measuring the performance of videos based on their length. Unlike the previous visualization, the length of the video is plotted against the number of views it has along with a relative metric of each users’ following size. We can see that TikTok tends to favor videos shorter in length, with the length of videos with a high number of plays being around 10 to 15 seconds long. In addition, we can see that users with larger followings seem to post shorter videos. In fact, the average video length for the top 4 most followed TikTokers is 14.7 seconds. Around 52% of the top performing videos are between 10 and 20 seconds long, while around 74% are shorter than 20 seconds long.
These observations seem to support the general trend seen on social media where shorter content is more widely preferred.
On almost every social media platform such as Youtube and Instagram, tags or hashtags are used to categorize content. In theory, hashtags are meant to help videos or posts reach users who have shown interest in and interacted with similar content that have the same hashtag attached. On TikTok, users can click or search up specific hashtags and see all the videos that contain that specific hashtag. However, it remains unclear how TikTok’s algorithms use hashtags to affect the performance or reach of videos. Luckily, we were able to analyze the impact of hashtags, more specifically the amount of hashtags on videos.
By plotting the number of hashtags of each video against the number of plays it has, we can see that more hashtags does not necessarily mean more views. As seen by the axis means, most users only use 1 to 2 hashtags on their videos. Creators with higher amounts of followers tend to use fewer hashtags, but this may not be indicative of hashtags not being important since they just might not need a lot of hashtags because of their already established following.
In this graph, we took a deeper look into higher performing videos (outliers) specifically and used boxplots to visualize how the number of hashtags affected the performance of this subset of videos. The subplots at the top and right display the frequency distribution of both of the axes. Although videos with no hashtags are the most abundant in comparison to videos with different amounts of hashtags, 62% of the videos have at least 1 hashtag. In fact, videos that have 2 hashtags have the highest median of plays out of the rest of the videos with different amounts of hashtags. This suggests that videos with at least 1 hashtag, especially 2, have a better chance appearing on someone’s For You page and being watched.
♫ Original Sound — @DataRes
Considering that most of the viral TikTok trends revolve around music, picking the right sound could go a long way. To decide what songs to look at, we first looked at some of the top trending songs on TikTok based on a couple of articles from Cosmopolitan and Buzzfeed, and the trending data we collected. Using this combination, we collected data for around 12 songs. We then chose the top 2 songs (by likes) to analyze, both of which had an average of more than 1 million likes..
There is a high concentration of videos posted by creators with a smaller following immediately following the posting of videos by creators with a larger following which depicts the ability of large creators to set the trend, with smaller creators being able to capitalize on trends by hopping on the trend asap. Additionally, as time goes on, the videos become less and less popular since trends do not last for too long and viewers are quick to move on to the next trend. Altogether, we can see that when it comes to music, it is best to pick a song that is “new” to TikTok so that there is an opportunity for it to propel your video.
So to summarize our key points for the best practices that can help propel your TikTok career:
- First, follow the principle of “the shorter the sweeter” since the sweet spot for videos seems to be around 15 seconds, and videos that are longer are not as successful.
- Second, try to use only 1 to 2 hashtags that are focused and effectively describe your general content to help reach your ideal audience..
- Lastly, use songs that are part of the latest challenges or that are being used by large, influential creators.
However, not everything is 100% in your hand. In fact, TikTok has been accused of several discriminatory methods of promoting videos. For instance, a “moderation document” allegedly stated that content by “unattractive, poor, or otherwise undesirable users” should be excluded from the For You page. TikTok also allegedly suppressed the spread of videos posted by “disabled, overweight, and LGBT” creators for reasons similar to the above. Our demographics analysis gives additional support to these findings, confirming the majority of top content creators to be heterosexual, cis, and white. Additionally, within the top genres of content made by these top TikTokers, there is suspected favorability on the platform for males creating comedic content and for females creating dance content.
TikTok is still bringing representation to all different kinds of people. TikTok has been used to promote body positivity, spread awareness on current events and issues (like the lifestyle of those incarcerated), and educate many on matters like mental health and climate change (which can be found on TikTok’s “For Good” page.) Our analysis of our TikTik data set considers the factors and demographics we feel have the most impact to the performance of videos. However, the content of your videos, especially the quality of your content, still plays an important role in whether you achieve your dream of becoming TikTok famous.
See our GitHub repository to learn more about our data sourcing, cleaning, and analysis process.