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Let Me Entertain You: TikTok, Liam Payne and Creating an Online Community


At the recent Collision (2021) event, singer-songwriter Liam Payne joined Nick Tran— Head of Global Marketing at TikTok— to discuss how the platform has influenced pop culture and the power it has given to artists, brands, and online communities.

Ever since its launch in 2016, TikTok has gained immense popularity all over the world. With its easily digestible short-video content, users can dance, lip-sync, act out sketches and share the latest tutorials on the social media platform. With over 60% of TikTok’s users of the younger generation (Gen Z)— loosely referring to those born between 1997-2012— they are said to be responsible for “fueling the rise” of the app, in the same way that millennials fuelled the rise of earlier platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Young people have been using TikTok to share political messages, discover new music and engage with communities of like-minded people spanning a diverse range of content. TikTok’s younger users are not just spectators of the latest dance trends either; they play an active role in discovering fresh talent. And in doing so, give chances to those unconventional artists who would usually go unnoticed.

On the 22nd of April at 9:30 pm (BST), Liam Payne sat down with Nick Tran and Rebecca Jennings— the Senior Reporter of Vox Media — to discuss how TikTok differs from its competitors. For Liam, TikTok encourages self-expression in a way that other applications lack: ‘It’s a way for people to learn new skills, to show things off and have a little more fun [...] To show a bit more personality; there is no need to be perfect as with other social media apps." Despite TikTok’s frivolity, the platform excels in creating genuine human connections. And in comparison to the way people interact on Instagram or Facebook— often seeking affirmation or validation for their digital selves— TikTok is an oasis for light-hearted and humorous content.

According to a recent study, “Gen Zers value individual expression and avoid labels”, in contrast to millennials who ‘got their start in an era of economic prosperity and focus on the self’. Perhaps then, could we argue that for the generation coined as truth-seekers (“True Gen”), this type of video platform is exactly what they want? One where social entertainment surpasses social media. TikTok’s USP has always been showcasing people’s talents and ideas. It inspires users to be inventive, to re-enact their favourite movie moment or remix songs by taking apart a clip and reimagining this as something else entirely. It is not a platform for documenting your personal life, thus in part, evading the toxicity which comes with social comparison, an issue that is prevalent on other social media platforms.

Nick Tran believes TikTok’s success is due to features that are native to the platform, which initiate close interactions between people in a community. ‘Stitch’ and ‘Duet’ are features that allow users to pick and choose scenes or audio from other videos and use them as the backdrop to their own. In some cases, the outcome is a stroke of genius, as was the case with the ‘Bridgerton’-inspired TikTok musical, which allowed other users to join in on the fun and display their vocal talents. From there, #BridgertonMusical was formed, with the TikTok account achieving a staggering 40.2k followers to date.


TikTok fosters a ‘community that includes everyone and fits everyone’. Whether this is through food, cleaning, gardening, or the notable sea-shanty trend that took the internet by storm (pun intended), Nick has seen ‘sub-communities thrive on the platform and engage their audience in a meaningful way’. Authenticity is a term that was frequently used throughout the talk— and the Collision event itself— referring to the type of content that communities want to see. A universal piece of advice that Nick offers to those just starting out or those who are new to the app is to be yourself: ‘don’t make ads; make TikToks’. But this counsel sometimes falls on deaf ears. 

Brands have struggled to capture the attention of potential clientele via the social media platform because their conventional methods of advertising are typically ineffective. TikTok is built on a foundation of creativity. Thus, if the ad does not bring value to the community, it will not work.

The Ocean Spray ad is the perfect example of authenticity and what other companies should strive for when seeking to advertise on the platform. The quirky commercial features Nathan Apodaca skateboarding to work while drinking Ocean-Spray cranberry juice and singing along to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. It is human, unconsciously uplifting and unforced; essentially everything ads are not. Viewers took a shine to the 38- year- old factory worker from Idaho for his carefree nature and striking positivity, which resonated with people across the internet— providing momentary relief from the online weariness. 

According to The Guardian, Nathan was commuting to work from his trailer after his car broke down. In an attempt to make the best out of a bad situation, Nathan turned to his longboard for help. Within days of posting the video, Nathan had received a brand new truck and is now looking to buy his own house. As for “Ocean Spray, it "started trending on Google almost immediately after the video’s release and has continued to gain attention from micro-influencer marketing.”

TikTok is growing rapidly and it’s showing no sign of stopping any time soon. As Nick mentioned in his conclusive statement: ‘TikTok is moving at the speed of culture’. They have a fast turnaround for content and as Head of Marketing, his role is becoming more demanding. He has to keep up to date with the latest trends and news, for the hottest topic of conversation today could be forgotten by tomorrow. One thing Nick has seen recently is household names starting on TikTok, with various songs becoming TikTok sensations through the platform. Olivia Roderigo’s ‘driver’s license’, which she advertised on her account, accumulated 76.1 million streams in the US in the first week of its release in January 2021. 

TikTok users quickly latched onto the Disney star’s hit track and created response videos. Mel Sommers started the viral TikTok trend after "she was inspired by Rodrigo’s music video, particularly the moment when the singer looks into the camera and falls back". This undoubtedly launched the song even further as thousands joined in with Sommers' trend. Exciting times lie ahead for the social media platform, as TikTok recently announced the movie 'He's All That' — a gender-swapped remake of the 90s film starring TikTok star Addison Rae— was bought by Netflix. The platform is expanding in unexpected ways, which only leaves the question: what will they do next?

Megan Howe 
Editor, Writer and Podcaster at Social Songbird
A recent BA English graduate with experience in writing, acting and editing. Bit of a bookworm; a lover of Shakespeare and all things theatre

Let Me Entertain You: TikTok, Liam Payne and Creating an Online Community Reviewed by Megan Howe on Sunday, June 06, 2021 Rating: 5
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