Gen Z to Gen T
Users on TikTok may well be Millenials or Gen Z – but what does it mean when their parents are also on the platform? More a mindset than a generation, Gen T(ikTok) are tearing up the rules of demography as fast as the platform is changing attitudes and behaviours.
Generations are fake. In my 26 years on earth, I have yet to hear a single descriptor of a generation that sounds any different from what the generation before them was supposed to be. We know the claims that are usually made: a new generation “wants brands to be authentic!”. And they “value experiences” and “seek purpose” – as did the generation before them.
We hear a lot of talk about TikTok users, and too often we confine the variety and pace of that very special group of people to a single definer: youth. While Gen Z undoubtedly makes up the larger 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 and I’m here to show you why.
The truth is, 67% of TikTok users are over 25 (Kantar, The Power of TikTok report, 2020). But it’s wrong to silo them and treat them as separate groups with very different characteristics, because on TikTok, mindset trumps generations, and users across age ranges share similar values, behaviors and attitudes. Three in particular stand out: community, subcultures and knowledge. Gen T encompasses all of them, with the young and the old both engaging with and exhibiting behaviours linked to those three macro-categories, albeit not in the exact same way. Why?
Because their respective generational influences have shaped the ways in which they express themselves online. 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.
These themes of community, sub-culture and knowledge can be dissected into two main strands: attitude and behaviour. Here, attitude involves the mind’s predisposition to certain ideas and values (Google Dictionary, 2020). Behaviour, on the other hand, relates to the actual expression of feelings, action or inaction (ibid.)
Gen T Are Into Community
And the attitude is involved and collective: Gen T cares and shares. From teenage nieces to older grandparents, Gen T leaves nobody behind. While off the platform hanging out with older relatives as a teen might be deemed awkward or weird, on TikTok it becomes a moment of pride and bonding. Moreover, and perhaps supercharged by lockdown, TikTokers have made their communal spaces the backdrops for their content creations. Living rooms have become stages where entire family dramas or coordinated dances play out, and kitchens suddenly offer plenty of cues for pulling pranks: for example, parents pushing their kids’ faces in buckets of flour in a round of “Have you ever…?”
Meanwhile, the behaviour is to co-create shared moments. Gen T wants to do things together and isn’t afraid to get everyone involved. Some of my favourite examples of this include showing off cross-generational fun, where four or five generations of mothers and daughters record themselves together. Another is parents reclaiming their coolness by gently (but firmly) mocking their grown-up children on the platform. And finally, rediscovering and reinvigorating relationships with grandparents like Granddad Joe (@granddadjoe1993) and his niece have been doing for over seven months now, spending quality time together by creating content every day. But community for Gen T doesn’t only revolve around the nuclear family. It can also be analysed in a much broader sense, where people come together through passion points and tribes. And that’s why…
Gen T Are Into Subcultures
The attitude is positive, accepting and all-encompassing, and TikTok is where the internet’s sub-reddits come to life. 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. Gen T is all-encompassing: it elevates and awards the different, the unpolished, and anything that doesn’t belong to the highlight reel of one’s life. In short, it doesn’t leave anybody out. The weird become admired: strippers dress in the vests of empowering life gurus, polyamorous triples inspire a new kind of love, and the girl with the highly niche hobby of baroque lace-making gives out small business tips. On TikTok, fun becomes layered and and so do users’ personas, and this translates into a behaviour which is about creating, discovering and embracing multifaceted online personalities.
At this point in the history of the internet, online user profiles are becoming a lot closer to their real life counterparts. The communities themselves aren’t siloed, and online personas do justice to the beautiful and decidedely un-one-sided human form. Just the other day I came across a TikTok mortician: @beforethecoffin shares tips on how to get into mortuary school, whilst also being a special effects artist, having an obsession with halloween, sporting a dark Addams family-inspired aesthetic, and acting as a history guide for ancient cemeteries and churches. The notion of a simple, laser-focused profile suddenly feels rather outdated. And because the fyp (For You Page) and the amazing algorithm pick up on these different facets of people’s personalities, it keeps showing users content that they care about. In turn, users share more than just one side of themselves, making this a virtuous circle of creating and embracing multi-faceted online personalities. Which brings me to my next point: the curiosity around the discovery of those facets triggers learning.
Gen T Are Into Knowledge
Knowledge is served, sought and shared by Gen T, and the attitude is intrigued and curious. Perhaps fuelled by the fact that new content which people care about is constantly being shown to users, Gen T maintains the explorative attitude of discovery. In fact, besides entertainment, discovering new things (and brands) is the number two reason for using TikTok, with 48 per cent of users agreeing to this, far exceeding other platforms (Walnut Unlimited, TikTok shopping behaviour research, 2020). It’s no wonder that hashtags and challenges like #EduTok and #LearnOnTikTok are incredibly popular, with over 126bn and 37bn views respectively. Gen T is keen to learn – and to learn now – about everything, which translates into more inquisitive interactions and educational content being created and celebrated. And because on TikTok everyone can be an authority, Gen T has a very democratic view of success.
This translates into behaviour defined by the constant exchange of knowledge. Gen T aren’t only better informed, but they act on that knowledge and multiply it. They are knowledge seekers and knowledge givers. They use TikTok to educate themselves about almost anything from personal finance and home improvements to how to write a CV, how to speak in public, and what to wear to a protest in order to stay safe. They also take bite-sized math lessons, and get expert advice from gynos and psychologists like Dr Julie Smith (@drjuliesmith) – all through the platform. But it doesn’t stop there. In a brilliant act of political sabotage in late 2020, Gen T claimed responsibility for the poor attendance at Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally by block-booking tickets, and then not showing up. Gen T has the strength of knowledge in their hands and it is a very powerful weapon.
All in all Generation T(ikTok) 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.
Of course this is only how Gen T looks today, and the picture could be completely different in six months, or a year, or a decade from now, given the speed at which the platform has been growing and continues to explode. But one thing is guaranteed – it will be lit.