By Fatema Lokhandwala, Senior Content Editor, Socialize
Gen Z turns to TikTok for everything, from financial advice to the latest news, with the platform overtaking Google as the generation’s preferred search engine. In order to keep up, brands are jumping on the proliferation of micro-trends generated on the platform, one of the more recent being ‘Girl Math’ which refers to how Gen Z women justify buying certain higher ticket items, with the #girlmath hashtag gaining over 155 million views on TikTok.
But despite the wealth of media attention and analysis devoted to Gen Z and TikTok, some marketers still labor under commonly held misconceptions.
In my role as a content editor at a social media agency, and as a member of Gen Z myself, marketers and clients ask me more questions about TikTok and the role it plays in the lives of Gen Z than just about anything else. Here are some of the most common myths around Gen Z and TikTok.
1. We’re “addicted” to TikTok thanks to its magically powerful algorithm
No one’s going to argue with the idea that Gen Z spends a lot of time on TikTok. There are so many headlines on TikTok’s addictive appeal and powerful algorithm that anyone could be forgiven for buying into this myth.
But addiction is a strong word as it implies unhealthy usage and has negative connotations attached to it. Instead, Gen Z is simply finding a way to make TikTok a practical tool by realizing the usability of the platform to its fullest extent. Hence, ‘TikTok dependent’ might be more accurate to use in this context, much like millennials with YouTube.
TikTok once had an algorithm so perfectly tailored that you could almost identify people’s personalities based on what their feeds looked like. But there’s been a shift in behavior on the platform, with Google data showing that nearly 40 percent of young people use TikTok and Instagram as a search engine. TikTok has become a source of not just entertainment but information and news. This has created new opportunities for brands, allowing them to tap into informative content that features their products and services in a way that adds value to TikTok viewers.
2. We’re only there for the latest TikTok crazes
Sure, TikTok crazes were the kind of content that we loved initially - the viral TikTok challenges, watching teenagers (now wealthy Gen Zs) gaining fame overnight with a single catchy dance. Then there was the phase where TikTokers redeployed audio extracts from popular films and TV shows in their videos, usually in incongruous everyday scenarios that made them so funny and relatable. But now Tiktok has evolved.
It's no longer limited to absurd or fun clips designed solely to entertain or grab attention. It’s become a more rounded platform that offers everything from fashion tips, recipe inspiration, relationship advice, news, and reviews – see #BookTok, #CleanTok, and other hashtags that end with “Tok”.
3. We can’t tell when we’re getting misinformation
Gullibility isn’t a generational trait, it’s a personal one. Growing up in an age where information spreads so quickly has made Gen Z more skeptical than previous generations. A CM Group report found that Gen Z consumers are more skeptical than Millennials.
We’re aware that people can say whatever they like on social media, but we also know our way around the functions on the app that help us to weed out disinformation. This allows us to go on detective missions, running to the comments section as soon as we see a video that has something surprising or controversial in it. The comments section is where TikTok users habitually call out something wrong when they see it – and this behavior helps us identify false news.
Additionally, there has been recent buzz about hyperlinked keywords on the app, enabling viewers to quickly access similar content to the video they just watched with a simple click. This feature allows viewers to scroll through a topic, conduct research, and form their conclusions.
For marketers concerned about brand safety: TikTok has policies in place designed to combat misinformation about civic processes, public health, and safety - and the platform has recently added new policies on AI and climate misinformation. Of course, it’s not a guarantee, but it helps.
4. TikTok is the be-all-and-end-all of Gen Z social platforms
It’s true that TikTok has a big presence in our lives, but not to the extent that it excludes other platforms.
Instagram was there first and remains hugely important; the same applies to Snapchat and Reddit. In fact, data shows that Instagram usage went up for both Gen Z and Millennials this year. Gen Z’s appetite for new platforms can be seen in the initial hype that surrounded Threads, which promised a text-based platform without all the baggage of Twitter/X.
For brands wanting to reach Gen Z on different platforms, it’s worth considering what purpose they serve in our lives. In my case, Instagram is great if I want to see what my friends are up to, and Pinterest is for when I’m putting an outfit together. As long as we can escape the real world to learn, laugh, or be inspired, we’re happy. The content and its message matter more than the platform.
5. If it’s not video, Gen Z isn’t interested
Gen Z has grown up consuming social media in all its forms. Text? Check. Photo? Check. Photo, but only for 24 hours? Check. Video? Check.
TikTok stepped in with something new and showcased our behavior to the point where we became known as the generation that loves video content. But that doesn't mean that other forms aren't relevant anymore.
UGC content, for example, has been on the rise because it provides what we want as a generation – authenticity. We’ve ditched highly polished influencers for something real and relatable. It doesn’t matter if the content that shows up on our feeds is a carousel or a video, if it’s compelling and authentic it will cut through.
TikTok has a valuable role to play in getting important messages out to Gen Z, but you don’t have to rope your entire company into sheepishly doing a dance together to succeed. The possibilities, just like the ways in which Gen Z uses the platform, are limitless.