For Gen Z, TikTok is the new search engine

Communications and social media coordinator Alexandria Kinsey (right) and her friend Tayah Barnett, uses TikTok to research happy hours in Washington, recipes to cook and films to watch. PHOTO: NYTIMES
New: Gift this subscriber-only story to your friends and family

When Ja'Kobi Moore decided to apply this year to a private high school in her home town of New Orleans, she learnt that she needed at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher. She had never asked for one, so she sought help. "Teacher letter of recommendation," she typed into TikTok's search bar. Ja'Kobi, 15, scrolled TikTok's app until she found two videos: one explaining how to ask teachers for a recommendation letter and the other showing a template for one. Both had been made by teachers and were easier to understand than a Google search result or YouTube video, said Ja'Kobi, who is planning to talk to her teachers this month.

TikTok is known for its viral dance videos and pop music. But for Generation Z, the video app is increasingly a search engine, too. More and more young people are using TikTok's powerful algorithm - which personalises the videos shown to them based on their interactions with content - to find information uncannily catered to their tastes. That tailoring is coupled with a sense that real people on the app are synthesising and delivering information, rather than faceless websites.

Already a subscriber? 

Read the full story and more at $9.90/month

Get exclusive reports and insights with more than 500 subscriber-only articles every month

Unlock these benefits

  • All subscriber-only content on ST app and

  • Easy access any time via ST app on 1 mobile device

  • E-paper with 2-week archive so you won't miss out on content that matters to you

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.