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TikTok: What it is and how to use it to possibly achieve internet fame

You, too, can star in your own music video with TikTok.

Tik Tok

It's harder than you think to get popular on social media.

Chesnot / Getty Images

TikTok is a social video app where you can watch people lip-syncing or dancing to songs, or create videos of yourself doing the same. With over a billion downloads on Android and iOS, TikTok is a fast-growing social network that's especially popular in Asia.

TikTok follows in the footsteps of Twitter before it shut down the Vine app in 2017. A new app, Byte, is expected to replace Vine, highlighting the demand for this type of social video.

Most recently, ByteDance, the company behind TikTok is reportedly working on its own phone. The device will come preloaded with its own apps, like TikTok. 

How to get started with TikTok

Start by downloading TikTok on iOS, Android or from the Amazon Appstore. Videos will automatically start playing and you can poke around the site, but if you want TikTok's quirky videos to get you your 15 seconds of fame, you'll need to make an account.

To sign up, tap the profile icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen. You can sign up with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, your phone number or an email address. The app will link to the platform you choose or you can sign up manually.

If you're signing up manually, you'll need to input your birthday. Next, enter your phone number or your email address and set a password. TikTok will verify that you're not a robot and you're all set.

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Here's what you can expect to see in the TikTok app.

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Making sense of the TikTok app

OK, don't panic. Until you start following some people or liking videos, the For You feed is going to be a fairly random hodgepodge of content. So start by scrolling and see what you find, or you can start in the Following tab and sync your contacts to find your friends who are using the app. The Discover tab is also a good place to find content. See what hashtags are trending and search for what you're interested in.

If you like a video, double-tap it or hit the heart button. Most of the ways you can interact with a video are on the right side of the screen -- the creator's profile, the "like" heart, the comment section, share options and the rotating icon that will show you other videos that use that particular song.

If you long-press the screen you can save a video, add it to your favorites collection or say you're not interested in it. You can also access the creator's profile by swiping left. From there, you can follow that creator. The layout is similar to Instagram, except it's only videos, so it shouldn't feel too foreign.

As you get more involved in the platform and engage with more people, you can find likes and comments from your followers in the Notifications tab. Your private-message inbox is also in the Notifications tab. To make any adjustments to your account, like privacy settings or push notifications for example, tap the profile icon, then the three-dot settings in the top-right corner.

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If you ask nicely, your friends might help you film. 

-AFP/Getty Images

How to make a TikTok video

Ready to make your first video? Tap the white "+" at the bottom center of the screen and give TikTok the necessary permissions it asks for. You can either film something new or upload a video. I uploaded an old Snapchat video of my cat in a dresser drawer because, why not? You can trim a video immediately after uploading.

Now you can get fancy. Your sound editing options are at the top right, and the video editing controls are at the bottom left of the screen.

To add a song to your post, tap Select Sound in the top right. From there, you can search for songs by playlists, popularity or hashtags. Once you find the perfect tune, tap the red checkmark to add it. Use the Mixer tool or Trim to get the song just how you want it.

You can choose basic filters by tapping the three-colored icon at the bottom of the screen or by swiping left. Tap the smiley face to add stickers, GIFs or emojis. Some of the stickers are animated. Once you drop one in your video, you can drag it into place or, if you'd rather delete it, to the top of the screen where a tiny trash can will appear.

TikTok

The popular social video app has been downloaded over a billion times.

César Salza / CNET

Take your video to the next level by tapping Effects. Here you'll find more visual filters to drop over your video like Rainbow, Water, Snow and Feathers. The cool part is, you can change filters as much as your video allows. Simply long-press on a filter to apply it and let go to stop. Tap Stickers to add Snapchat-style face filters to the video.

In Effects, you can add transitions like Scroll, Rotate, Slip and more. Tapping Split, well, splits the screen however you like up to nine ways. Finally, you can add reverse effects, flash (like a double- or triple-take) or slow motion to your video. Before you publish, tap Select Cover to create a thumbnail that other people will see when they find your video.

Are you dizzy yet? If your video is ready to go, tap Next. If you use Instagram, the publishing screen is similar. There's a text box where you can write a bit about your video, add some hashtags or tag friends. Customize your preferences by tapping Who Can View This Video and choose between public, friends only or private (meaning only you can see it). You can also toggle comments on or off. Save your video to drafts, automatically post it to Twitter or post it to TikTok only.

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Double-check your privacy preferences before publishing a video.

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

No matter what privacy settings you selected for this particular video, TikTok will ask for confirmation before posting. You'll see an alert letting you know your account is public and any public video is visible to everyone. TikTok goes on to tell you about private account options in settings. TikTok also notes in a separate alert that even if all your settings are private, your videos still have to adhere to community guidelines.

Go check out your profile to see your uploaded video.

That's fine, but how do I get famous?

While internet fame might seem easier than ever, we can't guarantee anything. A one-off video going viral and skyrocketing a person to internet fame is fairly rare, but here are some general tips that'll have you on your way to a verification badge in no time.

1. Post a lot. Like a lot
Unless you luck out on a viral video out of the gate and maintain that momentum, establishing a presence on TikTok takes time and commitment. Create a schedule for yourself so you're posting regularly enough to establish a steady stream of content. Also, don't be afraid of livestreams; try to do them about once a week.

2. Find your 'thing'
Everybody is good at something. Unfortunately, the internet is huge and a lot of people are good at the same thing. As you embark on your journey for internet fame, look for that extra something to set your videos apart from everyone else's. The more niche, the better. Once you find your stride, keep it consistent. Don't do a makeup tutorial one day and then demonstrate how to fix a TV the next.

TikTok

Getting famous on TikTok will take up a lot of time.

AFP/Getty Images

3. Make high-quality videos
You don't have to go to film school, but if you're serious about creating an online presence, you should present a polished product. You wouldn't want to follow someone who doesn't post quality videos either, right? Don't go broke on camera equipment, but maybe invest in a tripod for your phone (they can run as little as $5 at Staples or $8 from Amazon). Read up on video composition while you're in the checkout line.

4. Connect social accounts
Odds are, you'll have more luck if all your social media accounts are linked together. You'll have even more luck the more social media accounts you're on. You probably follow your favorite celebrities and influencers on multiple platforms, so wouldn't you like your followers to do the same? More platforms to follow means more exposure and a bigger audience for your videos to reach. That said, don't compromise your safety for internet fame. Perhaps create a Finsta and protect your private Instagram. Additionally, if you get enough followers, you can create a Page on Facebook, and keep your personal account on private.

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Hashtags are one of the most important parts of social media.

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

5. Follow for follow
Engaging with your followers is a big deal. You know how exciting it is when your favorite podcaster or a celebrity retweets you or likes your Instagram post. There's no need to give someone the cold shoulder. If they comment on one of your posts or a video, like it and comment back. Of course, keep safety in mind, as always. Some negative comments can be constructive as they could help you improve your content; if you're going to be in the public eye, not everyone will like what you make. Other comments or messages might be harassment, creepy and abusive. Use your discretion. Report and delete the trolls. Don't forget to interact with other TikTok creators too! What are they doing well? 

6. Do your homework
What's trending is important to a video's success on any social media platform. Pay attention to hashtags, what's popular right now and what's trending in the Discover tab. This might seem like it contradicts the "find your thing" tip, but you can stick a hashtag on your video to make it more findable -- but it doesn't necessarily have to be centered around the hashtag. Sneaky, I know. However, the more relevant your content is, the better it'll do with your audience. 

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