What Is TikTok and How Does it Work?

The popular social media app that takes advantage of short attention spans

Social Media spelled out in print blocks


Leila Mendez  / Getty Images


TikTok is a popular social media and short video app that allows you to edit and post short videos and view the video posts of other TikTok app users.

The app also allows you to add fun extras to your videos like stickers, face filters, and even free music and sound clips.

News outlets use TikTok for local news and segments that are much more casual than on TV and other traditional platforms. Regardless of the user, expect to see a lot of memes.

The app is free to download and is available on Android and iOS.

How to Browse and Watch Videos on TikTok

Browsing and watching short videos from TikTok's vast collection of user-generated content is half the fun of the app. Like many other social media apps, there's a seemingly endless variety of hashtags and video genres to explore and follow.

To browse and watch videos on TikTok, start by launching the TikTok app. Once the app is open, you can browse and watch videos in three ways.

When you first open TikTok, it automatically populates a list of suggested videos ("For you") you can scroll through. The first video in the list will automatically play as soon as you open the app.

You can also search for videos by tapping the magnifying glass icon on the bottom of the screen. The next screen that pops up has a search bar at the top you can use to search for TikTok users, sounds, or hashtags. The rest of this screen is a list of currently trending hashtags you can browse for videos to watch. Once you select a hashtag, you'll see a grid of video thumbnails. Tap a video thumbnail to view its video.

A screenshot of the TikTok app's Following screen which allows you to follow your friends and watch their videos.

Finally, if you tap the Home icon in the bottom left corner of the screen, then tap Following, you'll be able to view a list of videos from TikTok users you follow. You can sync your contacts on this screen to find your friends, connect with them, and watch their videos on TikTok. Once your friends' videos fill this section of the app, you can scroll through the list to view them as you did in the suggested videos section.

How to Add a Face Filter to Your TikTok Video

TikTok has a fun collection of face filters you can use to add some sparkle and whimsy to your videos.

  1. Tap the Plus (+) icon at the bottom center of the screen to create a video.

  2. Since it's a filter for your face, make sure to tap the Flip button in the top right corner of your screen to flip your phone's camera towards yourself.

  3. Tap the Effects icon (smiley face on a black square background) on the bottom left corner of your screen.

  4. Tap Face Filters.

    A screenshot of TikTok's Face Filters menu and a preview of what the author's face would look like if she added a rainbow colored cat face filter.
  5. Position your phone in front of your face like you're going to take a selfie, then choose a filter to try it on. If you decide you don't like it, tap the filter's menu icon again to remove it.

  6. Once you find one you like, tap the upper part of your phone's screen (away from the filter menu) to exit the menu with your face filter selection.

  7. Press and hold the bright pink video camera button at the bottom of the screen to record a video with your face filter. Release the button once you're done.

  8. Tap the pink and white checkmark button to allow TikTok to process your video so you can watch it play before you post it.

  9. Tap the pink and white Next button in the bottom right corner of the screen to finish publishing your TikTok video.

How to Add a Music Clip to Your TikTok Video

TikTok is also unique because it allows you to add audio clips of your favorite songs or silly sound effects to create a fun mini-soundtrack for your short video.

  1. Tap the Plus (+) icon at the bottom center of the screen to first create a video.

  2. Before you record your video, tap the Pick Sound icon at the top of your phone's screen. It should have a white musical note next to it.

  3. The next screen is TikTok's Sound menu. Here you can search for music clips from popular songs or sound effects.

  4. You can browse songs and sounds from curated themed playlists, use the search bar at the top of the screen to search for something specific, or scroll through a list of audio clips at the bottom of the screen.

    A screenshot of TikTok's Top 20 music clip playlist within its Sound menu.
  5. Tap an audio track to preview the song or sound.

  6. If you want to use it, tap the pink and white Shoot with this sound button.

  7. If you don't want it, tap the track again to stop it from playing.

  8. Once you select the one you like, the app will take you back to the main video screen. Your selected track should be loaded and displayed at the top of your screen.

  9. Press and hold the pink and white record button at the bottom of the screen to record your video along with your audio track. Once you're done recording release the record button, then tap the checkmark to process your video and view the video before posting it.

  10. Tap the Next button to finish posting your video.