Between the abrupt departure of its CEO and the impending sale of its US operations, TikTok has been making headlines recently. Unsurprisingly, many TikTok users are anxious over the uncertainty around the platform’s future. Our research shows that TikTok is seen uniquely in the social media landscape as the most goofy, quirky app that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which means changes to TikTok could leave a void for users looking to be their most silly selves.

So who are TikTok users, and how exactly are they engaging with the platform? Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we conducted a deep-dive study into TikTok, using qualitative and quantitative methods, spanning people aged 9 to 30 in 5 countries – Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, UK, and US.

Here’s a snapshot of what we learned about how TikTok users are engaging with the platform:

Most find TikTok through word-of-mouth. Like many social media services, friends drive word-of-mouth buzz – they’re the #1 way users found TikTok. Social media ads also play an important and unique role in driving awareness of the platform. While only 16% of people found TikTok through ads on social media, this is much higher than for any other social media service.

Features that help with content discovery are most popular. TikTok’s most used feature is the “For You Page,” the default landing page that plays a curated assortment of videos, which 57% of users say they use most days. Next is the “Following Page,” which shows videos from people users actively follow (53%), followed by the search function (51%) and “Discover Page” (47%), which shows top trending hashtags and videos. Tied at 42% are “Filters,” which change the look of the video being shot, and “Hashtags,” which categorize videos much like on other social platforms. Content creation features like “Video Shooting” are slightly less popular than those that aid discovery.

Funny content is #1. No matter the user’s age or location in the world, their favorite type of TikTok videos are comedy or just plain silly. Users see TikTok as the place to be goofy and quirky, and that is directly related to their preferred content on the platform. Beyond comedy, the other most popular genres globally are ‘Trends,’ music videos from other TikTokers, and animals/pets. Dance videos are also popular in several markets.

TikTok users are equally likely to watch videos posted by creators/influencers or friends. And this is unique compared to what they watch on other social media platforms. YouTube users consume more content from creators, while Snapchat and Instagram are dominated by content from friends – placing TikTok on an interesting middle ground between those apps.

Six in 10 users post their own content on TikTok – and most do so regularly. Among users aged 9 to 30, 59% say they post their own content on TikTok. Within that group, 78% post at least weekly. Among kids 9 to 17, 70% say they post their own content and 67% of those do so more than once a week.

Users post different content on TikTok than on other apps, with more focus on comedy and music. The content being posted on TikTok reflects what users like to watch there – silly stuff, music and dance videos, and ‘Trends’. In contrast, Snapchat and Instagram users share more day-in-the-life updates on those apps, while YouTube is for gaming and Facebook is for big life updates.

A desire to be noticed and just for fun in general are the main reasons people post on TikTok. Self-expression is an important reason for TikTok users to post their own content, with 64% doing so for their own pleasure. But even more (68%) post in hopes of becoming famous or receiving acclaim. Posting to share with friends (58%) or family (53%) are secondary to these goals.

In summary, TikTok is about getting a good laugh and enjoying content from influencers as much as friends. Self-expression is an important reason for posting on TikTok – but so is the chance that the content they share will spark a new ‘Trend!’