What makes us addicted to TikTok?

Text by Patricia Duran Alamo, Professor of E-Commerce and Investigative Department at Mercados Unla UA, University of Alcala; Pablo Gutierrez Rodriguez, Professor of Marketing, University of Lyon; Pedro Cuesta-Valiño, Professor of Marketing, University of Alcala. This text was originally published on The Conversation France.

The digital environment in which we live, especially social networks, has completely changed the way we interact.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp are platforms where users communicate not only with friends and family, but also with brands and public organizations, creating an ecosystem that has become a part of society.

In this context and in recent years, TikTok – a social network launched in September 2016 by Chinese company ByteDance for the non-Chinese market that aims to create and share short videos – has established itself as one of the most used applications in the world, especially among young people. In fact, it became the most downloaded app in the world in 2020, and in the US it managed to overtake Instagram in terms of popularity among Generation Z. This data shows the rapid growth of the app industry.The platforms that provide viewing and creativity from short videos.

The popularity of these tools makes them phenomenal for study; One of the most popular approaches to social media, both in academia and in the professional world, is the membership approach. It is about how to manage the interaction of users in the digital world, and motivate them to spend more and more time on the platform.

What attracts us?

Previous research has shown that three variables directly affect the number of hours a user spends on these platforms, i.e. the degree to which they are connected.

The first variable studied is the presence of a constant motivation, understood as leading the user to continue using the platform and which is an extension of the social network’s demand. This persistent motivation is directly related to the satisfaction we experience when using social networks, as well as the satisfaction that results from receiving positive comments, likes, or other rewards in this environment.

The second driver of social media use is the desire to share experiences. When we use social media, we are not just looking to consume content. We also want to create it, because through this process of participation we generate a sense of belonging to the community, by making our contributions. If collaboration is encouraged within the community, users develop membership and greater use of the platform.

Finally, in the case of platforms that provide the possibility of creating video content, the ability to produce high-quality videos is also taken into account. We see that because users feel they have a real ability to create good content in video format, they tend to make more consistent use of the social network.

Generational differences

Given the above and the fact that those who spend the most time on these networks are generations Y (Millennials) and Z, we conducted research to analyze whether and to what extent these variables influence their use of TikTok. A total of 1,419 Millennials and 882 Millennials (born in 1995 and 2011) participated.

After our study, we found that while everyone claims that all three variables directly influence platform membership, the weight of each variable varies with generation. While millennials show a strong relationship between level of engagement and the ability to share behaviors or create videos, millennials report a stronger relationship with the ability to consistently receive incentives to use them more.

Looking at the case of TikTok, it’s worth noting that the impact of the community’s perceived ability to create these videos is also visible. If users feel they have the ability to create great content on TikTok, because others check it out, they will be more committed to the platform.

So it can be concluded that the sharing of behaviors, the possibility of creating videos, and the constant renewal of motivations directly affect the commitment to TikTok of these two generations.

It has been proven that the variable most affecting the stickiness generated by this type of video platform is the ability to share content. Users’ willingness to do so, as well as to have other experiences or receive feedback, leads to more consistent use of TikTok. These results underscore the purely social nature of this type of platform.

Understanding what directly influences social media users’ sense of connectedness is essential not only to developing more effective advertising, marketing and communication strategies, but also to mitigating and treating negative effects – such as addiction – that may result from their use.

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