I have yet to hear a single descriptor of a generation that sounds any different from how another generation has been perceived. We know the claims that are usually made: a new generation ‘wants brands to be authentic’ or they ‘value experiences’ – as did the generation before them. Sure, age may point to a certain life stage, but there’s more to it than that. Generations are fake and it’s time for the industry to change this way of thinking.
Defining Generation TikTok
We often hear that sentiment in relation to the TikTok community. Too often we confine the variety and pace of that very special group of people to a single defining feature: youth. While Gen Z undoubtedly makes up a large chunk of our audience, the characteristics of the people on the platform simply cannot be limited to a segmentation driven by the number of years one has lived.
The truth is that Generation T (for TikTok, of course) is age-agnostic. It’s wrong to treat generations as separate groups with very different characteristics, because on TikTok, mindset trumps generations.
Different age groups may lightly mock each other on the platform – such as in the ‘War of the Emojis’, where so-called Millennials and Zoomers show off their generation’s catchphrases – but the irony is that they have a lot more in common than what separates them.
While their respective generational influences have shaped the ways in which they express themselves online, users across age ranges share similar values, behaviors, and attitudes. Three, in particular, stand out, which appeal to all of Gen T, both young and old: community, subcultures, and knowledge.
Gen T are into community
Firstly, Gen T are community builders. They want to create shared moments with other people, uniting different ages and interests together. This might involve kids getting their parents to do dance challenges, or older parents reclaiming their coolness by gently (but firmly) mocking their grown-up children.
This can be more heartfelt too – Granddad Joe (@granddadjoe1993) has been documenting how he and his niece are rediscovering and reinvigorating their relationship through TikTok. It’s not restricted to families either. Gen T’s interest in community means they want to connect with anyone, particularly if they share a passion.
Gen T are into subcultures
It’s this interest in connecting that means Gen T is well versed in the weird and wacky world of subcultures. The pockets of the unknown, remote, slightly weird side of humanity suddenly find a place, and that place is algorithmically democratic and non-judgemental.
The “losers” who once were made fun of for walking outside in goth clothes and resigned to talking to a small circle of virtual friends on Tumblr or forums are now virally celebrated in the open and groups of devoted fandoms revolving around them. From #farmtok to #witchtok, people are finding their communities, and in turn creating new connections and relationships with each other.
Gen T are into discovery
Finally, Gen T has a thirst for knowledge. Besides entertainment, discovering new things (and therefore brands) are some of the main reasons people use TikTok. It is therefore no wonder that hashtags and challenges like #EduTok and #LearnOnTikTok are incredibly popular, with over 130.9 billion and 88.5 billion views respectively.
Some of the most popular creators on TikTok are experts sharing their passion for a subject, for example, psychologist Dr Julie Smith (@drjuliesmith) who has been sharing mental health tips during lockdown.
Combined with the traits we identified earlier, this means that Gen T are also more likely to share their newfound knowledge, creating a generation of engaged users who celebrate educational content and have the ability to see anyone as a potential teacher.
All in all, Generation T is a more accurate representation of people today – contradictory, active, engaged, generationally fluid, and raw – and perhaps the secret to why TikTok is so genuinely fascinating and slightly addictive is just that: it enables a much more random and multifaceted optic on human life, and for humans to express every minute, weird and wonderful side of themselves.
Characteristics are more than just a number
There’s so much more I can say here about this subject, for now though, I encourage other brands to follow suit and ditch age-constrained demographics.
As an industry, we need to think harder about the audiences we want to reach. Using age as a lazy shorthand for characteristics like curiosity and community building will no longer work. If we want to create content that customers and potential customers engage with, we must first work out exactly what makes people collectively tick.