TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms on the planet, with more than 500 million active users. Only YouTube, Facebook and Instagram boast more. And yet, millions of people over the age of 15 have never heard of it.
TikTok allows users to create short videos with music, filters and other features. But while it’s now used globally by young people, many adult social media users have never heard of it. That’s by design.
In 2016, we conducted an ethnographic study on social media use among families with preteen children in Melbourne. Although most young participants in the study were considered by their parents to be “too young” for social media, some had accounts on a new platform called Musical.ly – now known as TikTok.
We soon realised that the preteen demographic was central to Musical.ly’s success – and to its evolution. The rapid increase of smartphone ownership among preteens presented a relatively uncaptured potential user base for social media.
Many big players have made recent attempts to capture this particular audience. Snapchat’s SnapKidz, YouTube Kids and most recently Facebook’s Messenger Kids all focused on creating a “child-friendly” version of the main app.
The creators of Musical.ly did their homework. They not only identified potential future users of the app, but also non-users that might hamper their success. In order to reach preteen audiences, social media apps need to get past the gatekeepers of preteen online engagement: the parents.