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Heading Into Year 2, TikTok Focuses on the User Experience

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Perhaps no online video platform has found a following as quickly as TikTok. Not quite a year old (counting from its merger with Musical.ly in August 2018), the mobile-first platform has created a breakout music hit, been embraced by major companies and individual users alike, and launched a thousand memes. Celebrating that accomplishment, TikTok general manager Vanessa Pappas took part in a VidCon fireside chat.

Pappas has been running TikTok for six months now, and loves the diversity it attracts. The platform stands out because it’s easy to use. When viewers open the app they’re immediately presented with full-screen vertical videos. There’s a feeling of accessibility that isn’t part of other platforms, and an aesthetic design that’s unique to TikTok.

“it’s just incredible the diversity of the content and the creators who are making that content,” Pappas said. “It frees you from the constraints of your social network” since people don’t need to have a group of connected friends before they can enjoy TikTok.

The platform’s success comes from its ease-of-use (there are plenty of grandmothers on TikTok, Pappas noted) and the range of people it attracts. Viewers see videos from a variety of creators, which opens up new worlds to them. Because videos are pushed beyond a social graph “every video has a chance to succeed,” she said.

For individual creators and brands, the formula for success is the same, Pappas said: Be your authentic self. One brand that’s found a home on the platform is the Washington Post. While it’s one of the world’s most respected papers, the Post uses TikTok to communicate with readers in a personal and relatable way. “it puts them on the same playing field as a firefighter who’s taking a five-minute break,” Pappas said.

TikTok has already had a string of viral hits. The biggest is Lil Nas X’s country rap sensation “Old Town Road.” It’s success on TikTok got its creator a deal with Columbia Records, and it’s still the country’s number one song.

“it really goes back to showing the power of this community,” Pappas said. “It’s huge.”

The song’s imagery made it easy for people to “meme-ify” themselves into cowboys, taking part in the trend. Pappas is also a fan of the gummy bear challenge and the microwave challenge, both born on TikTok.

As TikTok looks to year two, Pappas said her biggest challenge is staffing up to meet the demand, while maintaining the same user experience. She listens to fans to understand how they want the platform to grow. By being mobile-first, TikTok is part of many people’s daily lives, and that lets it carve out a unique space. The right content can make someone’s day, Pappas added.

Photo: Kathleen Grace, CEO of New Form, in conversation with Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok, at VidCon 2019.

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