TikTok vs Instagram - unlearning the digital rulebook

I am now a TikTok convert. More and more people seem to have downloaded the app in the time of social-distancing and lockdown, and while I was initially resistant, I succumbed to the implied pressure. To my astonishment, I had almost instant success. As one of my first pieces, I made a silly video introducing my family and for some reason known only to the gods of the algorithm, it took off. That video now has 100k views and counting. While there is something to be said for hashtags and pleasing the app’s algorithm, I still can’t work out why it has been so widely viewed. Each of my family members believe they are to take credit.

I’m fascinated by digital culture and an avid consumer of social media. But at first, I dismissed TikTok, as I think many of my generation did. I thought it was for young teens. I had been playing around with it for a few weeks and a journalist got in touch and asked me a question; did I feel pressure to look like the girls on the app and produce certain types of content. Good question. It got me thinking about how I might use TikTok compared with other social media.


In my view TikTok conventions are different, especially if you compare them with Instagram. While there is some overlap - beautiful people are often successful - I don’t think the approach is the same. Among the dances, the pretty, skinny girls, there is a more grounded component. There is a massive section of comedy, often which is self-deprecating. Even the beautiful people sometimes show themselves in a less flattering light. When people post dancing videos, they’ll do it multiple times and include takes where they mess up. Unlike Instagram, where the feed is carefully curated and each shot has to be perfect, TikTok is more about producing mass content hoping something goes viral. In my view the TikTok fun, stupid, wild, ratio is higher than the Instagram equivalent. Sometimes you’re more successful when you mess up or don’t look good.

Since my small bout of TikTok fame (did I mention, 100k views?), I’ve posted a few others which haven’t gained anything like the same attention. I’ve been experimenting and the results have surprised me. I did a filter challenge where you’re supposed to look your best under a certain light. I thought putting my face in it, where I looked quite nice, would help - but it’s been among the least successful of my videos. My most successful video of my family and I being silly, I’m wearing no makeup - it is unfiltered. The next couple have a higher fun component. And therein lies a lesson.

There have been times when I have paused before posting something on TikTok. Why? Because I’ve not been wearing makeup, didn’t look my best, and thought I could get a better shot. In a sense, I was applying the principles by which I use Instagram to TikTok. But it seems I need to unlearn the digital rulebook. The content which succeeds is genuine, fun and sometimes less than beautiful. It’s often shot in bathrooms and bedrooms, in bad light, in trackies. TikTok is teaching me to take myself less seriously online, and enabling me to have fun and create in different ways. Perhaps it is a lesson we should be applying to all our platforms - not to be such a perfectionist, not to take ourselves too seriously.

If you’d like to follow my experiment and future imperfect adventures, follow me on TikTok @lexi.l.lawrence.

I’ll see you there - makeup-free, badly lit and possibly in my pyjamas.


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