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How to use TikTok: Make videos, go live, gain followers and maybe get famous

It seems like everyone is on TikTok these days. If you're thinking of signing up or trying your hand at being an influencer, here's what you need to know.

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Angela Lang/CNET

While TikTok, the wildly popular social video app, is still not on the best terms with the political establishment (read our full recap of TikTok's saga with the US government here), it has no plans of going away anytime soon. 

The short video app has skyrocketed in popularity in the US during the pandemic, amassing over a billion downloads on Android and iOS, even while consistently coming under fire for poor data practices since its 2016 release. 

With TikTok, you can watch people in short videos that originally involved lip-syncing or dancing to songs, or create videos of yourself doing the same. As TikTok filled the void left by Vine, the short-form video app that shut down in 2017, its music videos leaned in the viral meme direction. But you can find just about anything you're interested in on the app -- tutorials for makeup or your favorite hobbies, or sea shanties, silly challenges and pasta recipes

Here's what you need to know about TikTok, including how to sign up, make a TikTok, go live on the platform and gain new followers. We can't promise that you'll achieve viral internet fame, but anything's possible, right? 

Get started on TikTok

When you open the TikTok app, videos will automatically start playing and you can poke around the site. But if you want to make quirky TikTok videos to get you your 15 seconds of fame, you'll need to make an account.

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This is what your profile will look like on TikTok.

César Salza/CNET

1. Download TikTok on iOS or Android.

2. Sign up by tapping 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.

3. If you're signing up manually, TikTok will ask you to input your birthday.

4. Enter your phone number, email address and set a password. 

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.

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Tapping the red button starts a recording on TikTok.

César Salza/CNET

Long-press the screen to save a video to your phone, add it to your favorites collection or say you're not interested in it. Swipe left to access the creator's profile. 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.

Make your first TikTok

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 from your phone. The sound editing options are at the top right and the video editing controls are at the bottom left of the screen. Your video can range from 15 to 60 seconds.

Add a song

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.

Filters 

Tap the three-circle 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.

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Add songs and filters to your TikToks.

César Salza/CNET

Effects

You can add Effects before you start filming or during. Tap Effects for visual filters to drop over your video like Gold Powder, Bling and Rain. 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.

You can also add transitions like Scroll, Rotate, Slip and more. Tap Split, to, well, split 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. 

You can also add a voiceover by tapping the microphone under the Filter button. There's more fun voice effects if you're filming a new TikTok, as well. Tap Voice Effects, if you're filming a new TikTok, to apply different audio filters like Chipmunk, Baritone, sound amplification and more. 

Finishing up: Privacy, hashtags and sharing your TikTok

Before you publish, tap Select Cover to create a thumbnail that other people will see when they find your video. If your video is ready to go, tap Next. 

Write a bit about your video, add some hashtags or tag friends in the text box. 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, Duets and Stitch on or off. Save your video to drafts, automatically post it to Instagram, Snapchat or post it to TikTok only.

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.

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You can find just about anything you're interested in or curious about on TikTok.

César Salza/CNET

How to go Live 

Going Live on TikTok is similar to going live on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, but for now, TikTok asks its users to meet certain requirements to do so. You must have 1,000 subscribers and be over 16 years of age. If you qualify, you'll be able to find the option to livestream in the same place you create a video.

Getting famous on TikTok

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

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Getting famous on TikTok -- or any social media platform -- takes more work than you think. 

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Post, post, post

Without the boost of a viral video out of the gate, establishing a presence on TikTok takes time and commitment. If you're seeking TikTok fame, we'd suggest that you create a schedule for yourself so you're posting regularly enough to establish a steady stream of content. Once you hit 1,000 followers, try to livestream often.

Find the 'thing' that sets you apart 

Everybody is good at something. But 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. 

Quality videos can make a big difference

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 waiting for it to be delivered.

Connect social media

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 platforms 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 seeking 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.

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.

Keep safety in mind, as always. Some negative comments can be constructive and 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.

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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With the nonstop flow of content in the palm of your hand, it's easy to lose a few hours on TikTok. 

César Salza/CNET

Deleting TikTok

If TikTok winds up not being your cup of tea or if, perhaps more likely, you're spending so much time on the app that you no longer go outside, you can step away for a bit or even delete your account. Here's how.

1. Open the TikTok app and tap Me, the profile icon in the bottom right.

2. Tap the settings "dots" in the top right corner.

3. Choose Manage Account.

4. Tap Delete Account and follow the onscreen prompts to complete the process.

For more, check out why sea shanties have taken over TikTok and how to make the viral TikTok tomato feta pasta recipe

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