Updated: Feb 16
500 thousand followers on TikTok and counting; a business and data science student’s perspective on developing work skills through TikTok.
Much like most “kids these days”, I am addicted to TikTok. Very addicted. The video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, has grown exponentially in the past few years reaching 800 million active users worldwide. TikTok is an app to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos, and has turned many everyday teenagers into social media celebrities.
I recently had a chance to reflect on my development of 10 “Future Work Skills” identified by the World Economic Forum “Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills, Workforce Strategy, for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” through my capstone assessment for my course, BSc Management Science at University College London. These work skills include:
Complex Problem-Solving Critical Thinking Creativity People Management Coordination with Others Emotional Intelligence Judgement and Decision-Making Service Orientation Negotiation Cognitive Flexibility
For the assessment, students were meant to discuss their development, or need for improvement, on these skills using examples from their courses and extracurricular activities in the past year.
When I was brainstorming, TikTok showed up in 7 of these 10 skills.
I’ve bolded the ones where I listed making TikTok videos or starting a TikTok group (I’ll explain what that is later) as one of the activities that have helped me develop that skill. Realizing this, I started to think about other skills I have developed through TikTok in addition to those listed in the WEF report. It was at this point where I started to truly ask myself the question:
Should I put TikTok on my LinkedIn?
Keeping in mind that putting “TikToker” on my LinkedIn might not be the most appealing to companies at first glance, the short and literal answer is… maybe not. But what this question is really asking, and what I will be reflecting on and discussing in this article, is:
Has TikTok helped me develop skills that companies will be looking for in the future, and if so, how?
This article is a holistic reflection on everything I’ve done with TikTok over the past while, and how I have been developing various work skills in the process. Note that the skills aren’t limited to the WEF Future Work Skills. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
How I got started on TikTok, and where I am now
TikTok Analytics & Content Optimization
Networking on TikTok
Founding my own TikTok group
How I got started on TikTok, and where I am now
Like most teenagers, I initially downloaded TikTok to have fun, maybe have the chance to get TikTok famous, and be able to tell my grandkids one day that I was famous on an app that was popular “back in my day”. My experience with TikTok started in December 2019 when I posted my first video. Since then, I have accumulated over 500 thousand followers and 14 million total likes on my TikTok account (@amanda.sze), where I make covers of viral songs on the app on the saxophone, violin, and piano. Pretty niche, I know. Exciting, right! (Figures last updated Jan 11th, 2020). While followers and likes are great for bragging purposes in the world of being a teenager, they also make me curious if there are reasons to explain the data, and perhaps a way come up with strategies to boost my engagement. This brings me to my first topic: TikTok analytics.
TikTok Analytics & Content Optimization
As a BSc Management Science student with an interest in data science and analytics, as well as being Head of Marketing at UCL Data Science Society, it is no surprise that I became very intrigued by TikTok analytics, and how I could use data to optimize my content… and well… conquer every teenager’s dream to become TikTok famous.
Above are screenshots of what the analytics page looks like on TikTok. You can see follower growth and profile views over time (1), audience demographics in time active on the app (2), gender (3), location (3), and content insights showing what videos and sounds my followers viewed (4).
Lots of information here. But how do I use it?
That’s a question every aspiring data analyst asks. After doing some research on Google and experimentation on my own account (keeping in mind that at times TikTok virality can be quite random), I started to use the data in my insights to optimize my content. While it is not nearly as complex as the models I used in my university Data Analytics course, the concept is the same: taking data and making use of it. Big data, data analytics, and data science have been buzzwords in industry for a while now, especially as companies transition to becoming more tech-integrated and data-informed. Data skills are consistently ranked at the top of “Most Desirable Skills Companies Want 2020” articles, or other similar titles, such as this article by Forbes which ranks data literacy as the top desired skill by companies. But what does that mean specifically for me, a teenaged girl making videos on TikTok?
Optimizing my content
The first example is understanding my follower demographic. Most of my followers are in the US, according to Graph 3. This means posting at peak times for my audience, not necessarily myself. I asked myself the question:
Well, when should I post my videos?
Graph 2 tells me that the greatest number of my followers were active at 2pm my local time. However, simple math and logic will tell you to post a few hours before the peak, to ensure the maximum number of hours with the maximum number of active users. In other words, where the lifetime of your TikTok video will cover the hours in which there is the biggest chunk of active users that could see it. For my math geeks, think of it like the area under a curve. Here’s what I mean visually:
Does knowing this really make a huge difference in popularity? It’s not certain. As there are many other factors that contribute to TikTok popularity that stretch beyond posting time, it’s hard to say whether or not using this knowledge has actually helped me tangibly, in that there would be a difference in my followers had I followed this method vs. not. However, any marketer or data analyst will tell you that it’s probably not a good idea to post when your followers are asleep, especially since researchers have speculated that engagement in the first few hours a video is posted is crucial for the overall growth of the video. TikTok analytics can also apply on an even more micro-scale with individual videos. For example, I did an experiment recently with one of my saxophone covers of a song by BTS, the K-pop boy band that has achieved rapid global popularity in recent years. BTS is also one of the notable groups that have a large fanbase on “Stan Twitter”, die-hard fans (aka. “stans”) of artists that are loyal in extreme ways, and appreciate content that celebrates them via Twitter. In other words, I identified this as a large and powerful market I could tap into. It’s also no surprise that numerous popular creators have come to the same conclusion and started making TikToks to BTS songs (despite reason to believe this is just a business strategy).
Keeping these trends in mind, as well as that the band’s largest fanbase is still mostly in Asian countries, I posted my cover during peak hours for the Asia time zone*, slapped on #BTS#BTSCover#K-Pop#Asia and other similar hashtags, and hoped for the best. Also knowing that I was targeting BTS fans, I put in my caption the simple question: “Who’s your BTS bias?” or in other words, “Who is your favourite member in BTS?” — a strategy to get more engagements on my video to “boost” it further. While this tactic might not have worked on teenagers who can see past engagement-fishing captions, my audience is mainly young girls 11–14, who are more likely to go along with it.
*Note that this is not completely counterintuitive to my conclusions about posting during “peak” time, as TikTok videos are shown to both public (relevant non-followers determined by TikTok’s algorithm), and one’s existing followers. The data I have on posting times are only for my own followers! The ratio of non-followers to followers depends on the algorithm and changes per video.
The result was fascinating: a viral video with over 630k views, 3.5k comments, and 1.7k shares (Edit: The video has over 2.1 million views now as of October 16th, 2020!). The primary audience being — you guessed it–– countries in Asia. And also a couple of tweets on “Stan Twitter”:
A couple of key skills here:
- Understanding and interpreting data (aka. Data Analytics) - Understanding market trends and market leaders - Understanding my audience (or “customers”) - Coming up and executing a plan to capitalize on all of these factors to achieve a goal
Taking away the context of TikTok for a moment, I realized that companies undergo this same process when they release a product or service. And that it might actually be a good thing that I go through this thought process naturally with my personal brand on TikTok. Underneath all the data, trends, audience analysis, and engagement strategies, at the end of the day, I truly am just a girl making saxophone videos to songs by her favourite K-Pop boy band. But of course, my analyst persona tends to creep into everything I do, which leads to my habit of trying to optimize everything!
Applicable WEF Future Work Skills: Complex Problem Solving, Creativity
Networking on TikTok
The reality is, I do a lot of networking on TikTok, and my experience as a business student has undoubtedly helped in this process. Over the past few months, TikTok has allowed me to form many friendships and connections with other creators from all across the globe. Reaching out to a person with a much larger following than you can be intimidating, but it’s really a similar process to sending a connection request message on LinkedIn to someone at a company.
You don’t know if they’ll even see your message, but you best make sure it’s written well.
Actively networking on TikTok has allowed me to test and practice what works and how people respond, and also how to best sell myself, especially with looking for collaborations or negotiating paid brand deals with real-life companies. Whether it’s wanting to say “Can we do a collab on TikTok?”, “I think I should be paid $X for this video”, or “Can you put me in touch with person Y from company Z?, it’s the same concept of learning how to ask people things, nicely. I’ve also had the additional perspective of creators coming to me – some with well-written messages, others not so much – to ask for collabs. This has made it even clearer to me the importance of phrasing a proposal well and suggesting something with mutual benefit.
Some key skills here:
- Networking - Negotiation - Personal Branding - Marketing (“Selling Oneself”)
Much like it’s inevitable (and desirable) to reach out to people more senior to you in the business world, it’s the same with TikTok. To grow, you have to be able to sell yourself to people who are already there. And in both situations, it’ll be scary sometimes! Some people I’ve met on TikTok are truly my close friends, but others are like the TikTok version of a LinkedIn connection.
Applicable WEF Future Work Skills: Emotional Intelligence, Negotiation.
Founding my own TikTok group
What on earth is a TikTok group?
The term “TikTok group” is one foreign to most people, as it has only emerged in recent months. A TikTok group is an established group of TikTokers that collaborate and create videos together. The goal of being in a TikTok group is mutual benefit: sharing followers, growing one’s account, and helping others people grow. Moreover, TikTok groups usually have their own branding and social accounts, like a hub of content for all the different creators. The most well-known TikTok group, called “The Hype House”, consists of primarily caucasian TikTokers with massive followings in the millions. The name “Hype House” comes from the house in LA the creators collectively rent to live together and make content. Another well-known TikTok group is SDG, aka. Social Demographic Group, with members primarily of Asian descent. SDG was one of the first TikTok groups originating from friendships between members, and eventually integrated business aspects such as selling merch and having paid meet and greets. Some TikTok groups have requirements for members such as age, ethnicity, gender, and others have a common theme, such as “The Harmony House” consisting of all singers. As the concept of a TikTok group started to spread, smaller creators begun making their own groups and making applications for members through Google Forms. Others though, only recruit through the grapevine. Anyone can technically create a TikTok group; they just have to have the people and create the socials for it.
Creating the group: branding, marketing, and recruitment
I always had the idea to start my own TikTok group at the back of my mind. However, I was always held back by the idea that I didn’t have enough followers to be a founder of a TikTok group, until I realized that in many cases, the founders don’t have the most followers in the group. This comes down to once again: networking, and also marketing the group. Marketing a TikTok group is quite similar to marketing a company. Brand image. Logo. Marketing materials. Catchy name. Brand reputation. Brand concept. These are all things that I thought about when starting my group – The TikTok Band – with two friends I met on TikTok.
We came up with an approach and got to work: Group Concept > Name > Branding > Recruitment > Marketing > Auditions > Consistent Posting
We wanted the group to be a global community of musicians on TikTok to be able to make friends, talk about music, and collaborate on content. From there, we got our name, The TikTok Band. As we are the first virtual TikTok band to welcome musicians of all genres (i.e. instruments, vocalists, producers), we wanted a more inclusive name. “The TikTok Band” was ruled preferred to “TikTok Band” as it sounds more official, and is easier to say when spoken. We went through many name drafts and concepts weighing the pros and cons of each.
Is it memorable? Is it appropriate? What are the connotations of the word we might not necessarily have control over?
After was logos and branding, which was exciting for me given my experience in graphic design. We wanted something music-related, but not solely a music note or treble clef on a plain background. I decided on contrasting colours with pink and blue, a modern text-face, and still including a music note.
Next, recruiting members. As most TikTok groups list their cumulative following count on all their group socials, members with more followers mean a better overall reputation of the group, attracting more large creators in the future. However, my co-founders and I felt the social aspects of a TikTok group, as well as their musical talent and ability to contribute to projects, were equally as important, and thus factored that in as well into recruitment. I then looked down my imaginary TikTok equivalent of a LinkedIn connection list and picked members. Our eventual goal was to have every single major TikTok musician join The TikTok Band, so that also meant reaching out to people with big platforms who I didn’t personally know.
Now, starting up our social media. Posting consistently with our logos and colours, collaborating with other TikTok groups’ pages, “shouting out” the accounts on our personal pages; essentially any method under the sun to grow the group’s page. My experience managing socials for UCL Data Science Society, as well as sending many LinkedIn connection requests, definitely came in handy with The TikTok Band’s approach here.
On an everyday basis, members text on our Instagram group chat and discuss content for our group socials, opportunities to collaborate between members, music, TikTok drama, and more. Another important aspect of The TikTok Band, like many other TikTok groups, is having a place to look for help for video ideas and also helping others on theirs. All members can contribute content ideas, however, it is my responsibility as a co-founder to look after the brand and fill in the gaps as needed. If we haven’t posted in a while, it’s up to us to identify that and initiate new collaboration ideas. Creativity and musical ability are crucial here: coming up with a way for all musicians to pitch in, knowing what’s trending/what our audience would like, picking a song that works for all instruments, coming up with the arrangement/score… the list goes on. It also takes a great deal of organizational and communication skills when trying to set up a virtual collaboration between musicians from every part of the globe, needless to say. It’s also up to the co-founders to discuss and make the key decisions: who gets let in, who gets kicked out, our group goals and values, and the overall direction of The TikTok Band. This is especially crucial as many of our members are pursuing music as their full-time career; The TikTok Band is one channel in which they can get their name and brand out to the public further, if we do it right.
The essence of The TikTok Band, as official and corporate as it may look, is really just a group of friends who all like music and TikTok. My hope for The TikTok Band is to be able to spread music and talent virtually, which is especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key skills as a founder of The TikTok Band:
- Branding and Marketing - Leadership - Initiative - Decision-Making - Team Management - Organization - Communication - Persuasion and Negotiation (co-founders don’t always agree!) - Dissolving Conflict - Musical Ability - Creativity
The TikTok Band is currently undergoing initial marketing, and will open auditions to the public very soon. Excited for the next stage!
Applicable WEF Future Work Skills: People Management, Service Orientation, Negotiation, Creativity
For me, TikTok is a blissful intersection of my interests in music, video production and editing, social media, analytics, marketing, and just being a social teenager. After reflecting on my TikTok experience, I’ve realized that it is very possible to develop work skills, even through a social media app “just for fun”. It is also about seeking out these opportunities to improve oneself in the first place. However, I’ll acknowledge that for many academics like myself, sometimes we really just need to tune out and browse TikTok for a couple of hours, and not think about our CV, work skills, or building a LinkedIn. It’s probably healthy to do that too. But even so, I personally find it interesting to reflect on how many different work skills one can actually further in the non-conventional method that is TikTok. It also makes me wonder if one can develop skills in unconventional ways elsewhere, and I encourage all of you to think on this question as appliable to your own lives.