How to Use TikTok for Beginners: Get Started Today!

How to Use TikTok for Beginners: Get Started Today!

TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app that took over social media platforms in what has felt like a storm, going from a relatively unknown app, to one that dominates numerous industries. Unlike many other platforms that allow you to share original videos, however, TikTok use is not always straightforward, and many people who are not familiar with the platform are unsure of where to begin.

TikTok is focused on the development of creative, engaging, and especially trend-driven content that follows a steady stream of inspiration, with users and content creators bouncing off of one another. In a move that separates it from virtually every other social media platform, TikTok’s content is highly diverse. Content ranges enormously, from dances, to lip-syncing, comedic skits, tutorials, information videos, product reviews, hauls, and much more.

The age range on the platform is also substantial, with users who are quite young and keen on using the interactive aspects of the platform, like its duet feature, while others are well into adulthood, happily scrolling through the site to take in videos on topics that capture their interest. TikTok’s user base is truly massive, with over a billion active users, and has demonstrated rapid growth to become a major social media force, with an ongoing stream of videos to consume.

Now that I have established the true powerhouse that is TikTok, download TikTok, and I’ll dive into how to to use it as a complete beginner.

How to Set Up Your TikTok Account

Once you have downloaded TikTok, the next step is to actually set up your account. As anyone who has set up a social media app can attest, setting up your TikTok account is not as simple as plugging in your name and information, creating a username, and going about your day; instead, you need to select your profile photo, set your preferences, and more.

The basic steps of getting set up are downloading and installing the app, creating your account, and putting together the basics of your profile to ensure you reach your target audience and curate a video feed that actually reflects your interests and ideal audience.

Download & Install

The Apple app store on iOS devices and the Google Play Store on Android devices can be used to find the Chinese company, using the search term “tik tok”. It is a simple download and install process that you are likely familiar with from the other apps on your phone. This is the easiest part of the process, as it only requires that you snap a few buttons, and carry on.

Creating an Account

There are different sign-up methods, depending on what you feel most comfortable with, or what you prefer regarding your online presence. You can sign up with your email, a phone number, or even by linking your existing social accounts, including Facebook and Google. If you do not want your social media accounts linked, there is no harm in using a simple email or phone number, instead.

That being said, make sure that as you are creating your username, you are considering the different ways in which potential customers will search for you and stumble across your name, or consider how exactly people will be able to find you.

If your name or a company or brand name is not clearly utilized in your username, it can be difficult to find you or determine what exactly your content is all about. Select a username that is relevant to the content you are creating or plan to create, and make it both memorable and easy to discover.

Profile Basics

The two basic components of your profile are your profile picture and your bio. When you select a photo to represent your video content, make sure you select an image or photo that represents you or your brand, and that image in question is both clear and visually appealing. Consider that when someone sees your profile picture–in my case, the image of my face–they can effectively associate your content or your brand with something or someone concrete. This can help them associate their favorite videos with an actual person, logo, or company.

Your bio is your chance to demonstrate what TikTok’s many monthly users will be able to expect from you and your social media channels. A concise bio that highlights your content niche or focus will help you more effectively gather the target audience you would most like to bring in.

A little personality and humor can work well in your bio, to help popular users and newcomers alike get a feel for what to expect from you and your video feed. Whether you intend to create slice of life videos, product explanations, or something else entirely, make sure that you give some idea of what to expect within the body of your bio.

How to Navigate TikTok’s Interface

TikTok’s user interface differs somewhat from the standard settings, including privacy settings, of many other social media platforms. Navigating its interface is not always easy, so take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the ways in which this platform differs from others, including the different voice effects and special effects that are embedded within the platform.

There are 3 important areas I encourage newcomers to focus on: the available feeds (“For You” and “Following”), key icons and the bottom bar, and content searches. I will delve into these in greater detail below.

The ‘For You’ and ‘Following’ Feeds

The 'For You' and 'Following' Feeds

The “For You” page is a curated feed created using the TikTok algorithm. This feed shows videos TikTok thinks its users will enjoy based on past activity. Using the algorithm, TikTok will recommend the most popular videos within the niche you are creating and consuming content within. The highly intensive nature of the algorithm essentially hopes to avoid placing a random video in your feed, in favor of short-form mobile videos that will keep you coming back.

The “Following” page shows videos exclusively from accounts you actively follow. This is arguably the area in which TikTok most resembles other social media channels, as it highlights the social media posts of accounts you actually follow. Like other platforms, make sure you engage with that content to stay up to date with new videos.

Further Reading: How Does the TikTok Algorithm Work: The Definitive Explanation

Key Icons and the Bottom Bar

Key Icons and the Bottom Bar

There are 5 icons that are important to keep a close eye on as you investigate TikTok and its many users. These icons include the Home, Discover, Create (+), Inbox, and Profile icons.

The home button returns you to the main feeds, both of which are mentioned above. This is a good icon to familiarize yourself with, as it forms the basis of your TikTok experience and will provide you with an easy out should you wish to change your direction as you browse.

The Discover icon essentially functions as your search bar. it allows you to search directly, or explore different trending hashtags, original sounds, and general content.

Your Create icon is the icon you will use to develop your content, and begin posting it. It is under this icon that you will find special effects, speech bubbles, sounds, and more to begin creating your own TikTok videos. Using this button, you can record video or bring in your own, already-created video.

Your Inbox icon is the one you will use to locate notifications regarding likes, comments, follows, and direct messages. Keeping an eye on your inbox will help measure engagement.

Your Profile icon is the point from which you will access your profile page, all settings, and your previously posted videos, much like other platforms such as Instagram. It is here that you can access additional settings, and get a feel for exactly what your feed looks like to visitors coming to your page.

Searching for Content

The search bar is found at the top of your Discover tab. The Discover feature is arguably one of the most compelling aspects of TikTok, as it can help users stumble upon a host of content creators and niches that will meet their interests and needs.

That being said, the search function will help users find users by their username, can help target specific trending hashtags, or even find videos according to specific sounds. This is one of the many ways you can find viral content and an individual or company’s social channels.

Watching and Interacting with TikToks

Watching and interacting with TikToks is one of the best and simplest ways to familiarize yourself with the platform. It is through individual posts and popular concepts and hashtags that you can get a feel for how TikTok works, what users might expect, and how to begin taking advantage of the platform for your own marketing campaigns and social media efforts.

I have gone over the ins and outs of using TikTok, from basic viewing to engagement options, and understanding the different creator profiles on the platform.

Basic Viewing

Automatic play is the default for TikTok videos, and videos begin playing automatically as you scroll through them. This is one of the many ways people often find themselves losing track of time as they scroll through videos; there is not an “off” button that stops the playback of videos as you scroll.

Scrolling through videos is an intuitive choice; you simply swipe up to see the next video in a scrolling sequence, and swipe down to see the previous one.

Liking, Commenting, and Sharing

Liking, Commenting, and Sharing

There are buttons found on the right-side panel of each video you watch. These buttons include the Like, Comment, and Share buttons, all of which will help you engage with content. Liking, as is the case with most social media platforms, shows appreciation for a piece of content.

A comment allows you to share your thoughts or start up a conversation with other viewers. Finally, the share button gives you the option to share a video to other social platforms, or send videos directly to other TikTok users. This is an essential part of social networking, as it allows you to cross videos from one platform to another.

Understanding Creator Profiles

Understanding Creator Profiles

Creator profiles can be viewed and understood from the lens of their profile page, and their following page. The “+” button on a creator’s profile allows you to follow them, and stay on top of their personal branding and any videos they develop. A creator’s profile page displays their posted videos, their follower count, and their bio.

Creating Your First TikTok

Congratulations! You now understand the basics of the social media giant, and how it can be used to understand creators and their profiles. Once you have familiarized yourself with the ins and outs of TikTok, and how it works, you can begin creating your own content on your social channel and bring in authentic video views.

I have created a step-by-step guide to creating your first TikTok, to ensure you have the tools necessary to get started on and subsequently utilize TikTok.

Further Reading: How to Make Your First TikTok Video: For Newbies Only!

Accessing the “Create” Menu

Accessing the "Create" Menu

The create menu is found by pressing the prominent “+” button located at the center of the bottom bar. This will always be the button you press to begin your creation journey.

Camera Options & Features

Camera Options & Features

There are different camera options and features available for creators. You can toggle between the front-facing and rear-facing camera to either record selfies or film your surroundings. This is a convenient way to develop your videos, as it allows you to shift between more personalized videos and videos that give you some element of distance.

The speed of your video can also be altered using the camera features on TikTok. You can use TikTok effects to slow down or speed up your recording for creative effects within your videos.

Filters and effects can be found in large volumes on TikTok, in order to develop videos with a truly massive host of different looks. Augmented reality (AR) effects are also available on TikTok. The bite-sized videos unique to TikTok are often rife with different filters, effects, and AR to create compelling and intriguing content.

Further Reading: How to Make Your First TikTok Video: For Newbies Only!

Recording and Editing

Recording and Editing

You can take an image and convert it to video on TikTok, achieved by using segmented recording, or tapping the record button to start and stop. This is useful for multiple takes pieced together, or images pieced together.

To create a continuous recording, press and hold the red record button. Finally you have the option of uploading a pre-recorded video, or a video filmed outside of TikTok that can be uploaded onto the platform.

Further Reading: How to Edit Videos on TikTok Like a Pro: 5 Actionable Tips

Adding Music and Sounds

Adding Music and Sounds

As you have browsed TikTok, you have likely discovered just how pervasive music and sounds are on the platform, where videos are largely made up of different audio clips, altered to fit a particular meaning or niche. The TikTok sound library has a massive collection of popular songs, sound effects, and original audio clips to use in your videos.

You can search for specific sounds or music by name or artist, or you can discover trending sounds, where popular sounds are being used in other TikToks, and listen to and view these popular choices for inspiration. Adding sounds and songs can require a bit of a learning curve, so do not be afraid to experiment as you learn.

Post Captions & Hashtags

Post Captions & Hashtags

Captions are used for several different purposes, when using TikTok for marketing, or even using it as a personal platform. Captions can be short descriptions, calls to action, or simply a space for relevant keywords. Whatever the precise format they are packaged in, captions should be kept catchy and engaging to draw your audience in.

Hashtags are also important, as using relevant hashtags boosts your discoverability. Some hashtags are simple or basic–think #funny or #tutorial–and some are more complex, as might be the case with a branded hashtag. Research trending hashtags in your niche to use them effectively, to boost reach, increase visibility and discoverability, and stay on top of trends.

Further Reading: TikTok Hashtags: Where to Find and How to Use to Grow Your TikTok

Additional Features to Explore

There are plenty of additional, amazing features to explore on TikTok. Duets and Stitches, Live, and direct messages are all important parts of TikTok’s system that can be used to effectively leverage the platform. I have included some of their most valuable uses below.

Duets and Stitches


Now Introducing: STITCH! Make the ultimate collab with your fav creators 🎬

♬ original sound – TikTok

Duets are side-by-side videos that are created with another creator’s content. The duet feature is perfect for reactions and collaborations both, and can be a great way to inject some lively, fun entertainment into your overall content.

Stitches allow you to take a few seconds from another user’s TikTok, and incorporate it into the start of your video–stitching them together, essentially. Stitches can be used to answer common questions, react to other user’s videos, and more. They, too, can be a source of levity for your content, or can be used for more serious content.

TikTok Live

Tiktok Live

TikTok Live allows you to go live, or start a real-time video stream in which to interact directly with your followers. Lives are useful for many reasons, not the least of which is its ability to help creators and their audiences feel connected.

Typically, an account must have a certain follower count to unlock this feature, so it is considered an advanced tool. Nevertheless, preparing to include lives as part of your TikTok functionality can unlock another world of possibilities for content creators and brands.

Further Reading: How to Go Live on TikTok: The Ultimate Guide

Direct Messaging

Direct messaging on TikTok functions much in the same way as most other social platforms; you can send private messages to other TikTok users you follow, and who follow you back, depending on the user in question’s settings. Direct messaging is useful for answering questions and queries, and offering another way to connect with users.

Expanding Your TikTok Strategy

Once you have familiarized yourself with the ins and outs of TikTok, and you know how to use it to your advantage, you can begin to expand your strategy, and make the most of the platform to suit your purposes.

To fully flesh out your strategy, it is important to find your niche, investigate trends to understand them, develop your posting schedule, and engage in cross promotion to make sure all platforms are being leveraged to the best of their ability.

Finding Your Niche

Your content focus is the driving force that will help you find your niche. Identify a specific content area in which you are interested or already proficient, and adopt your niche. This can be anything, from beauty tips, dance tutorials, and comedy skits, to educational content in your given field of expertise. Having a niche is not only for brands and companies; influencers and general TikTok users can all benefit from finding and operating within a specific niche.

Make sure your niche aligns with your goals. Whatever segment of the platform you choose, make sure it aligns with your interests, brand identity, or business goals. This is not the time to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing; instead, you will best be served acting as a sheep in sheep’s clothing.

Understanding trends requires that you are first able to spot those trends. Pay attention to the different sounds, challenges, and video formats taking the “Discover” page by storm. This will help you stay abreast of all circulating trends, in order to participate in those that you are able to participate in. As you do participate, however, make sure that you are adapting trends to your niche or content style rather than simply copying beat for beat.

Establishing a Posting Schedule

Having a posting schedule is less a hard and fast rule, and more a guideline under which to operate. A posting schedule supports consistency, which in turn helps your posts stay visible in your followers’ feeds. Prior to committing to a specific schedule, experiment with different posting frequency to determine what will work best for your audience, your content creation capabilities, and your rates of engagement.

Cross-Promotion with Other Platforms

Cross promotion across different platforms means sharing on Instagram via Instagram Reels, or sharing links to your TikToks on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook to expand your reach. Cross promotion is important, because it extends your reach, and increases the likelihood of drawing in as great an audience as possible.

TikTok for Businesses and Marketers

While it is true that TikTok may have once been designed for a more youthful exuberance, it has grown exponentially, and has become absolutely filled with businesses and brands, looking to capitalize on its popularity. To leverage TikTok as a valuable marketing and social media tool, consider using TikTok Ads, influencer marketing, and analytics.

TikTok Ads

There are different ad formats in TikTok ads, but all have the same goal: exposure on TikTok. In-feed ads, branded takeovers, and sponsored hashtag challenges are all possible forms of TikTok advertisement. TikTok provides targeting options, in which you are able to target your ideal audience based on demographics, interests, and behaviors.

Influencer Marketing

Finding creators is best achieved by identifying influencers within your industry or niche with highly engaged followings. Numbers alone are not enough to determine a good pairing; engagement matters far more. To work with influencers, develop collaborations that include sponsored videos, product reviews, or basic content campaigns that utilize your products or services.

Tracking Analytics

Although analytics aren’t available to everyone, users who upgrade to a pro account are granted access to detailed analytics regarding video views, reach, and audience demographics, all of which can provide further insights into how to use TikTok effectively. Tracking key metrics can help you understand what content performs best, in order to optimize your strategy and improve your performance on the platform.


Learning how to use TikTok is not always as straightforward as it may initially appear. The short-form video content unique to TikTok and the highly trend-based nature of TikTok content means that learning how to use it and leverage it effectively is often a matter of exploration and experimentation. Thankfully, I have found that there are plenty of effective ways to make TikTok work for you, whether you are an influencer, a marketer, or a simple TikTok user or enthusiast.

Using the techniques I have outlined above, you can begin your journey using TikTok and develop a plan for the platform that works for you, in order to meet your goals and see greater engagement.

Have you gotten started on TikTok? Let me know!

Hero Photo by Mourizal Zativa on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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