IT’S BEEN MORE than three years since the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, first became popular among tweens and teens. The social network has since spread far beyond Generation Z: TikTok has been downloaded over 1 billion times, including 96 million in the United States, according to estimates from the research firm Sensor Tower. It’s also owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, now considered one of the most valuable startups in the world. The app itself revolves around sharing 15-second videoclips, which are set to music often licensed from artists and record labels.
TikTok is now beloved not only by lip-syncing 14-year-olds, but also by comedians, athletes, and, yes, brands. Major corporations like Coca-Cola, Nike, ABC, and Google have run advertising campaigns on TikTok. Even Khloé Kardashian has been paid to post sponsored content on the platform. But the app isn’t just home to ads: TikTok is also ground zero for some of the internet’s most popular memes.
You can be forgiven if you feel like you don’t understand TikTok. The app is fast-paced and chaotic, combining elements of Spotify, Snapchat, Vine, and Twitch into a single social network. Here’s what you need to know to get started, from TikTok “Challenges” to Coins and Original sounds.
Getting Started: Set Up Your Account
The first thing you’ll need is a pair of headphones. There’s just no way to enjoy TikTok with the sound off. After you download the app, you can immediately start browsing videos. But in order to post any yourself, you’ll need to sign up for an account.
You can make an account using your email, your phone number, or a third-party platform like Facebook. The app automatically assigns you a username. If you sign up for TikTok with your phone number, the app will generate a generic username such as user1234567. Using an email address generates a more personalized ID (although that may present a privacy issue for users).
To change your username, tap the icon in the right bottom corner that looks like a person’s upper body. Then hit Edit Profile. Here, you can change it to something more unique, as well as add a bio, picture, and Profile Video.
By default, TikTok accounts are public, meaning anyone can see your profile and view the videos you post. To adjust these privacy settings, tap the three dots in the top right corner of your profile.
Now that your profile is ready to go, it’s time to watch some TikToks. The app is divided into two main feeds. The default is For You, an algorithmically generated stream of videos akin to Instagram’s Explore page. Swipe left and you’ll find the other, Following, which features uploads from people you choose to follow. TikTok is like a never-ending variety show; it’s pure entertainment. Follow creators who make you laugh, like @k.chh, who posts hilarious skits, or opt instead for adorable accounts like @cute_puppies12, which posts the tiniest dogs I’ve ever seen.
You’ll notice to the right of every TikTok video a series of icons. The first will take you to the profile of the user who posted it. Then there’s a heart, which functions just like hearts, or likes, on Instagram. Next are comments, then a right-pointing arrow for sharing individual TikToks to other platforms. Click the arrow if you want to copy the link to a specific TikTok, for example, to share it on iMessage. (One note for left-handers: You might find TikTok hard to use, at least at first, since it’s often right-oriented.)