Please don’t make me download TikTok

As much as I'd like to resist it, the short-form sensation is becoming too significant to ignore

Despite my long-established love of technology, I’m not what you’d call an early adopter when it comes to social media. My Instagram profile is woefully neglected, I'm baffled by whatever BeReal is, and although I'm quietly smug about my (OG) blue-check status on Twitter, my actual posts are becoming less and less frequent.

On the other hand, the nature of my role as a journalist means that it's often beneficial for me to be familiar with all of the various social platforms that are being used in the market - and unfortunately, I don't think I can avoid downloading TikTok for much longer.

This week, I hosted PodPod's first industry roundtable, where I sat down with representatives from the IAB, Newsworks, Fresh Air Production, Publicis Media, Acast, HSBC and William Hill to discuss building podcast audiences and revenues. It was a fascinating discussion, and one of the most interesting takeaways from it was that TikTok is becoming an enormously significant channel for user acquisition and listener engagement.

Most of the participants left the conversation with the goal of exploring the platform in more detail - if they weren't already active on it - and at the risk of sounding full-on 'old man yells at cloud', if I want to remain in step with the industry, I fear I'll need to do the same.

Please understand, reader, that this isn't some crusty old Luddite digging his heels in and rejecting TikTok as a brain-melting social blight that's only good for viral dances and teen trends. In fact, TikTok is a deeply engaging and vibrant platform which has picked up the torch of short-form creativity that was last carried by Vine, before Twitter perplexingly bought and murdered it.

No, my problem with TikTok is that it's too engaging. One of the most commonly remarked-upon elements of the platform is the accuracy of its algorithm in determining exactly what content you personally are going to find most appealing; within just a few days of creating an account, TikTok's systems will supposedly have you so thoroughly sussed-out that every single video that comes into the feed on your automatically-curated 'For You Page' will be relevant to your interests.

I find this a little worrying, because I know for a fact that it won't take much for me to fall into a TikTok rabbit hole and waste hours (or possibly even days) watching videos while I should be working, sleeping and eating. Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are both attempts to mimic TikTok's formula, and while by most accounts, neither algorithm is anything like as effective as Bytedance's at hitting your dopamine buttons, I've frequently found myself accidentally losing hours at a time to the false promise of 'just one more video'. 

Of course, there are other, less flippant reasons to be wary of TikTok; the platform has faced accusations of being a thinly-disguised data harvesting tool for the Chinese government, and its cyber security policies have been called into question more than once. TikTok’s Western leadership has denied that Beijing has any control over its decisions or access to its data, but some concerns are understandable.

On the other hand, its increasing value as a tool for both organic and paid marketing can't be overlooked. The anecdotal reach figures I've heard would bring tears to the eyes of anyone that's watched their carefully-crafted social media strategy triumphantly deliver a grand total of four shares and zero click-throughs.

In all honesty, I can't see myself posting my first TikTok any time soon (at least, not voluntarily), but it probably won't be long before I have to finally bite the bullet, move with the times and surrender myself to TikTok - if only in the name of cultural anthropology.