Late last year, K Irving ’21 downloaded Tik Tok in a moment she only vaguely remembers. She never imagined that just months later, strangers in Moulton Union would approach her and reference her viral videos on the app.
“I was just doing dumb videos of my friends at parties, dancing and stuff, for a while,” she said in a video interview with the Orient.
Over winter break, however, Irving was traveling with friends when a random encounter shifted her perspective on Tik Tok’s potential.
“This is the kitschiest part of Tik Tok—there’s these little pockets of photographers who will take photos of people and then edit them up the wazoo and then post them,” Irving said. “So we were in one of those that went viral.”
Irving amassed about 50 new followers in response to the video, which, although a seemingly small amount, she cites as key to her initial success. In January she continued to post impression-based videos on the platform, including a satirical pregnancy “day in the life” vlog in which she documents herself bleaching her hair and eating sushi. In just a matter of days, this Tik Tok received 60,000 likes and 400,000 views.
Irving says that these small breakthroughs can be enough to establish a presence on Tik Tok. She now has over 15,000 followers, which she credits to several successes including a video of her friend dancing and a self-impression based on her queer theory class at Bowdoin.
“I feel like I’m tapping into this niche of liberal arts college student humor … there are very few of us,” she said.
Similarly to Irving, Ryan Winn ’21 has gained over 60,000 followers and two million likes since he began posting on Tik Tok over the summer. Winn’s posts encapsulate a broad range of humor and Tik Tok trends, including dances, skits and pranks with friends and family members. However, his most viral videos are centered around the Bowdoin men’s hockey team. In a post that now has over 550,000 likes and 2.8 million views, Winn and his teammates re-enacted their favorite celebratory moves on ice, including “ride the pony” and “the breakdancer.”
“We put it together as a compilation and it blew up,” Winn said in a phone interview with the Orient. “We didn’t really think it would … it just kept getting more views.”
Although Winn has a YouTube channel and background in media production, Tik Tok has presented a completely new medium with different tricks for expanding his audience. Both Winn and Irving cite the app’s algorithm as key to its user interface. In particular, Tik Tok’s “For You” page curates content for each user based on their preferences within the app.
“Who you’re following doesn’t carry as much weight—it’s more the videos that are getting the most likes or what [is] showing up for you,” said Irving. “There’s a very small demographic of people that are actually Tik Tok famous.”
Winn admitted his initial doubts about Tik Tok due to its widespread association with a younger teenage audience. But in the era of COVID-19, he feels that college students have opened their minds to this new social media platform.
“Tik Tok has changed so much, especially [during] quarantine,” he said. “Everybody has fallen in love with the app because it’s such an easy way to eat up time and take your mind off things.”
Irving echoed this sentiment, citing Tik Tok’s unique ability to provide users a space to share entertaining—albeit often mindless—content.
“I think we see it as a very expendable platform,” said Irving. “We don’t need to curate [it] as much as we curate our Instagrams and Twitters.”
While Winn’s Tik Tok videos are meant for harmless laughs, he hopes that his experience as a content creator will continue beyond the app.
“Whenever you’re attracting people and people like your content, it feels good,” he said. “I’m also a theater minor at Bowdoin, so I like the idea of directing and creating things … It’s definitely something I’m interested in [for] the future.”
Irving and Winn can be found on Tik Tok at @kirving2 and @ryanwinn44.