Kaksi kuvakaappausta TikTokista.

“You can find fun videos there, and it’s never boring” – What draws young people to TikTok, and does youth work have a place there?

08. December 2020

My studies in civic activities and youth work at Humak University of Applied Sciences were nearing their end, and I only had my thesis left. I wanted to study young people and social media, so I ultimately opted for TikTok, the application on everyone’s lips. “Now you’ve got your finger on the pulse!” was my thesis supervisor’s comment to this. The application is the world’s most frequently downloaded, and its largest user group consists of young people. What attracts young people to the application, and could TikTok offer a place for youth work as well? These were the questions that I embarked on in my thesis.

Why do young people use TikTok?

One of my objectives was to find out what makes young people use TikTok. The primary reason is to view funny and hilarious videos, which make them feel good and are a source of joy and laughter. Young people also share TikTok videos with friends. While funny photos used to be posted in WhatsApp groups, these days it is TikTok videos that are posted to the same groups. Various challenges and pranks are also of interest. Young people want to try them out with their friends, which is one reason for the application’s popularity. Testing everyday challenges and pranks is something new, different, amusing and entertaining.

“The platform has become the new world of memes”

The positive aspects of TikTok, as described by one of my thesis interviewees

In addition to seeking amusement, young people also use TikTok for the very simple reason that they get hooked on it, which they, too, have noticed. Many of the young people who answered my thesis survey, listed the addictiveness of TikTok as a downside of the application. The application is designed to be as user-friendly as possible, and young people can easily spend several hours a day on it.

However, amusement is not the only content on TikTok. The application also offers educational content. Most of my respondents said they had come across educational content on TikTok, and for some, this was one of the reasons they used the application. This aspect is of particular interest to youth workers. Could educational videos for young people offer an appropriate approach for youth work on TikTok?

What content should youth work offer?

My respondents said they would like youth workers to provide fact-based content related to their own field of expertise. Behind-the-scenes material was of particular interest. Since young people do not yet have much experience of workplaces, they would like to hear descriptions of the daily work of, say, youth workers or sports coaches. A TikTok video showing what your day is like, what kind of a person you are and what you do puts you closer to young people. The more you give of yourself, the easier it is for young people to approach you.

The content should be targeted at young people and created with their needs in mind. It is worth noting that young people do not necessarily want the same things as youth workers. This makes it extremely important to pay attention to their wishes regarding content. Keeping these points in mind, the youth-work account can be developed to ensure that the content expressly serves young people instead of catering to the wishes of youth workers. This fuels engagement among young people and ensures that the content is specifically targeted at them.

What to take into account if TikTok awakens your interest?

TikTok is a youth application. Young people have drawn inspiration from TikTok, which has also influenced their behaviour. Young people identify the dances, moves and challenges familiar from the application. TikTok has become part of their daily lives, growth and adolescence. Most young people only follow the For You feed that is based on algorithms, meaning that TikTok decides which videos show up on the screen. The For You feed displays the trendiest pieces of music, challenges and ways of making videos. A youth worker who wants more visibility for their videos must ensure that the material is topical enough and suitable for TikTok’s culture at the time. This is the only way to attract wider popularity and reach as many young people as possible. Simply attracting followers for an account does not automatically guarantee a high number of views for your videos.

The results of my thesis indicate that young people do not see a need for youth workers on TikTok. However, this does not mean that youth work could not join the application and create successful content there. The Myllyoja youth centre in Oulu is a good example of this. This is something to keep in mind if you are planning to join TikTok. If you do join the application, take advantage of your organisation’s strengths. Even though my results indicate that young people do not want dance videos from youth-work organisations, it is nevertheless true that the performance of a skilled dancer is always a pleasure to watch. If your organisation has skilled musicians, why not make use of their skills in content production and put the organisation’s strengths to good use in this way. It is also important to stay true to the youth-work approach on TikTok.

Users can quickly achieve great popularity on TikTok, which also means it can be used to increase awareness of youth work. By joining TikTok, youth work can make itself more visible to young people and lower the threshold for young people to approach youth workers. The application is a way to spread the image of youth workers as a cool bunch, as long as the content is carefully designed. Listen to what young people in your area want, and start building new ideas based on your own strengths.

Another aspect that I wish to emphasise in relation to TikTok is goal-orientedness. It does not make sense to join TikTok as an organisation just for the “sake of joining”. You should specify goals for your activities and plan in advance how you can assess and develop the activities. Planning, specifically appointed employees and working hours allocated to the activities guarantee a considerably higher quality of content. However, keep in mind that digital youth work must not eat into face-to-face activities but instead support them. Be present when you are present.

Even if TikTok does not seem suitable to you, I nevertheless encourage you to get acquainted with it. TikTok is a huge phenomenon among young people, and understanding the application makes it easier to understand young people. Youth workers do not need to be experts in using the application. It is more important that they show an interest in the application and its impacts.

I recommend that everyone download TikTok to gain a better understanding of the world of young people. I understand if your comment to this is “I don’t need to download applications like that, I can manage perfectly well without them.” However, I would counter by saying that a sprinter doesn’t need sprinting shoes, but they sure are helpful.

To conclude

The purpose of this text and my thesis is to help youth workers to better understand the world of young people. As a future youth worker, I consider it my duty to learn about their world so that I can be a better, safer and more easily approachable adult to them. Work with young people should be bidirectional so that both parties get their voices heard. My thesis follows this principle as regards TikTok. Feel free to adapt the findings of my thesis to your own work. It was meant to benefit you.

My thesis  “TikTok, youth and youth work” is available on Theseus.

I would be happy to tell your more about the themes discussed in my thesis, if you have questions related to any of them. I can also give a presentation of the results and/or hold a lecture on the topic if there is interest for this in your organisation. All other questions, comments and observations are also welcome. I can be reached by e-mail at miro.ruismaki(a)hotmail.com.

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