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February 4th, 2022


A mixed method examination of elements of virality of TikTok music clips

Ferdinand Boltersdorf (13299166)

Master’s Thesis

Graduate School of Communication Master’s programme Communication Science Universiteit van Amsterdam

Dr. Jeroen Lemmens 7164 Words



By surpassing the one billion global users mark in October 2021, the video platform TikTok has become one of the most used social networks. Because of the platform’s tremendous popularity, it has become imperative for marketers to determine which videos have the best chances to go viral and, thus, to be seen by the most people. However, it is still a challenge to precisely determine the elements that help predict appeal and virality of such video content. This study explores characteristics and predicting elements of virality in TikTok music clips by employing a mixed method approach of qualitative and quantitative research. First, interviews with 9 music and marketing professionals from the Netherlands, Germany and Australia were conducted. Their responses were used to illustrate examples of and insights into virality and formed the foundation for the subsequent survey that was distributed among 149 respondents. In the survey, respondents were shown 2 TikTok clips which they were then asked to assess on their emotional qualities as well as level of enjoyment. Respondents indicated that the match between story and music is necessary to facilitate virality. Tiktokability was not distinctly associated with musical novelty or genres. Survey responses showed that a preference for hip-hop music played no role in levels of enjoyment or virality of clips with hip-hop, a preference for pop, however, did influence enjoyment and virality of pop clips. Further, the clips dubbed with the pop ballad scored higher in enjoyment and virality. Personality traits did not influence enjoyment of virality of any of the clips.



The role of modern social media has been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Globally implemented social distancing measures and contact restriction policies, people were unable to travel or simply meet in person to see friends and family, caused digital communication platforms to experience a tremendous boom (McKinsey, 2020; OECD, 2021).

In October 2021, the short video platform TikTok, previously known as Musical.ly, surpassed one billion users, gaining 300 million during the course of a year (Curry, 2021). This makes it one of the fastest growing and most successful social networks in the world (Iqbal, 2022) and generates increased attraction for marketers, brands and content creators (Skeldon, 2021). On TikTok, users create, watch, like and share video clips, or recycle already existing audio bits and distribute them to their followers, 60% of whom are Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012 (Wallroom Media, 2021). Previously, the length of those clips was restricted to a maximum of 30 seconds, but was extended to 3 minutes in 2021 (Perez, 2021), allowing for more elaborate content. The app also provides users with a vast catalogue of music to underscore their clips (Aswad, 2020). TikTok is a relatively new platform and was only launched outside of China in 2017 and as such only little research about it has been conducted. For comparison, Facebook was founded in 2004 and has since been focus of a large body of academic research. Being an audio-visual content platform in its core, contrary to Facebook and Instagram, TikTok could most likely not have gained its popularity if videos would not include sound or music (Taulli, 2020). This study aims at examining and identifying musical and visual elements that may facilitate the achievement of viral success as well as predictors of enjoyment and virality in music. This study thus asks: What are elements that contribute to virality in TikTok clips and how are they related to personality traits?


Theoretical Background Virality

The most crucial aspect in understanding popularity of sharing music clips on TikTok is online virality itself. The achievement of virality plays a considerable role in content creation among artists, users and advertisers (Charlesworth, 2015). Successfully creating and posting a piece of content which will be shared and viewed millions of times has the strong advantage that after the initial post on social media, users share it on their own and it spreads without additional efforts by marketers. Costs for distribution, targeting and planning are miniscule in comparison to impact (Woerndl et al., 2008; Rollins et al., 2014). Yet, it is often unclear which piece of content will actually go viral and if it does go viral, exactly determining the deciding factors is largely based on guesswork. One quantifiable indicator of virality is the number of shares, how often a clip has been sent to friends and family. According to Tellis et al. (2019), there are 3 motivations for sharing content, the first one being self-serving. Humans have the innate desire to be seen as good by their peers and beyond. Especially on social media, where users are able to completely invent and re-invent their ideal self and to some degree direct the perception thereof, content that is shared might be posted to achieve a desired social perception.

The second reason to share content is social motives. Users share content to be part of and engage with a group or community. They do this to gain insights about the relevant dynamics and interests of respective communities as well as to be social and connect with its members (Tellis et al., 2019). Lastly, there are altruistic motives. These are of a more genuine motivation, about sharing useful information and helping. For example, after natural disasters, affected people may re-share posts by support organisations and authorities to spread information about how and where to get what kind of support. Content is also shared, based on a certain degree of emotional characteristics (Tellis et al., 2019). The authors indicate, that content which is more emotionally unambiguous, say clearly joyful, triumphant, warm or courageous, among others, is more likely to be shared than factual, mixed or bland content. Additionally, others


argue that video ads which tell an emotional and narrative story score high in virality as discrete emotions and storytelling are integral parts of human communication (Nikolinakou & King, 2018). For example, a story or piece of content which is clearly recognisable as eudaimonic is more associated with an experience of psychological growth and mastery (Rieger et al., 2014) and is, thus, perceived as more meaningful. For a story to be coherent, a continuous and understandable narrative in story and music must therefore not be neglected. This here study thus asks:

RQ1: Do clips that are rated as more eudaimonic score highest in enjoyment and virality?

RQ2: Do clips with a matching fit between the mood of the video and the mood of the music go more viral than those with a bad fit?

User Generated Content

TikTok largely relies on user generated content (UGC) and thus, the majority of viral content is user generated (Cunningham & Craig, 2019). On TikTok, lip sync clips and memes are among the most popular content types (Anderson, 2020). In lip sync clips, creators sing along a song that is playing in the background. Most often, it is also accompanied by dance moves or some sort of choreography. This is often driven by perceived interaction and wishful identification with the music stars (Tolbert & Drogos, 2019; Hoffner & Buchanan, 2009) as it lets creators feel like they are the artists in the music video. For TikTok memes, creators often recycle and recontextualise popular and internet culture like in the case of Breakbot – Baby I’m Yours combined with the Paul Bremer quote “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him” referring to

the capture of Saddam Hussein. To examine the characteristics of viral music video clips, it is first important to understand the motivations of users to participate in creating video content.

The contribution to UGC follows the pattern of a pareto distribution, in that a small minority of


users creates the vast majority of content (Crownston & Fagnot, 2018). In their explanations, they introduce three stages of contribution.

The first stage for UGC is the stage of the initial contributor. In this stage, users initiate the beginning of their contribution to a project of any sort after being exposed to its mere existence. During this stage, three motives need to be distinguished: attention, impetus to respond and positive evaluation of contributing. Based on helping theory, to trigger

contribution, attention on behalf of a user about a project in need of help or contribution is necessary which must then create an impetus to respond. In order to conclusively engage users in contributing to a project, there needs to be a motivation to participate. Thirdly, after a positive evaluation of contributing, costs and benefits of helping are evaluated and weighed against each other, indicating that projects with a low threshold of contributing increase the likelihood of attracting participation. These mechanisms apply to UGC on TikTok in that there might not necessarily be a pronounced problem but a hype to participate in. A hype could for example be the most recent release of a new single by the latest pop act. The second stage is the stage of the sustained contributor. Sustained contributors are those who go beyond one single contribution but instead continue to participate, varying of course in intensity. Some sustained contributors remain more active than others. In the case of Wikipedia, for example, Howison et al. (2006) found that most editors only contribute one single time. Sustained contributors seek identification with the group as well as collective motives to maintain their affiliation with the project (Klandermans, 1997) and are motivated by a feeling of obligation (Crownston &

Fagnot, 2018).

Identification is an intrinsic human value (Gotham, 1999) and creates a sense of membership and community while the collective motives arise from an individual’s assessment of the project or problem in question. Here too, helping theory’s 3 sub increments manifest.

Attention is assumed, as a sustained contributor already surpassed the stage of initial contributor, thus, is aware of the ongoing project. Through that attention, necessary further


contribution is facilitated. The impetus to respond is predicated on a perception of oneself as having a degree of authority over a subject matter, elevating oneself above the average contributor or consumer. The positive evaluation of contributing is here continuous with the first stage. The third and final stage is the meta contributor. Those meta contributors are not contributing content as such but at that stage take more care about maintaining and structuring a project and implementing administrative care. As with the previous stages, the 3 sub increments are taken into consideration. Attention is required by contributors, here, not only about the project itself but rather about its constitution as such and subsequent recognition for the need of administrative work. The impetus to respond refers the contributor’s overarching knowledge, knowing its structures and conditions, thus, being in a quasi-birds-eye view on the subject matter. The positive evaluation of contributing is based on feeding off of social rewards for their maintenance work as opposed to direct personal profit. Understanding the mechanisms of UGC gives considerable insights into and parallels to fan culture as well as engagement with and contributions of fans to the hype around, for example, the latest release of a popular music act. This understanding can be more pronouncedly taken into consideration when attempting to achieve planning security and predictability of virality and enjoyment. Given the importance of identification with the group to participate in a certain project, this study further asks:

RQ3: Do survey respondents who indicate a preference for hip-hop rate clips dubbed with hip-hop music higher in enjoyment and virality than those who do not?

RQ4: Do survey respondents who indicate a preference for pop rate clips dubbed with pop music higher in enjoyment and virality than they those who do not?

Pesronality Traits

The third aspect that can predict the virality of messages are differences in personality traits among users in relation to content preferences. For example, studies among college students in the US found that women preferred mainstream pop, RnB and late 70s disco, while


men tilted more towards psychedelic rock and blues (Christenson & Peterson, 1988). Globally, men have been found to prefer rock and heavier, more raw music while women overall preferred lighter music (Colley, 2008). These differences seem to be in line with gender stereotyped traits, as Schwartz and Fouts (2003) point out. Exemplified, lyrics of mainstream pop songs overall discuss topics of relationships and emotions, which are generally of more importance among young women, while heavy music, which is associated with dominance and aggression is of greater appeal for young men. With pop being the most prominent genre listened to by young women (Colley, 2008; O’Neill, 1997; Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003), the assumption might be that pop is among the preferred and consequently most suited and viral music genres on TikTok, while folk music, which was found to be the most unliked genre, receives rather low attention (Colley, 2008). In relation to these differences in genre preferences this study asks:

RQ5: Do women rate clips dubbed with pop music higher in enjoyment and virality than hip-hop clips?

Previous research suggests that liking certain types and attitudes in music are related to traits of the big 5 personality model (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). In their study, the intense and rebellious music category was related to trait openness, while other findings suggest that

preference in hard rock or heavy metal corellates with reckless and risky behaviour for young men, as well as low self-esteem for young women (Arnett, 1992). While it often entails music that is associated with negative emotion there was no correlation with high degrees of trait disagreeableness and neuroticism. Contrary to that, trait openness was found to be negatively related to upbeat and conventional music, but in turn positively linked to trait extraversion and agreeableness.

Adding to these trait based differences in preference, this study adds to the more finegrained differences in personality based in examining aspects like distractedness, empathy and lightheartedness. Regarding distractedness, research suggests a link between ADHD- symptoms and social media use (Boer et al., 2020). Those symptoms include, amongst other,


frequent task switching and the inability to maintain focus for prolonged activities. As a consequence, people who show these symptoms may find relatively uneventful and slow work less interesting and engaging. This may also be the case in the their perceception of content.

RQ6: Do respondents who score higher in distractedness rate attention grabbing clips higher in enjoyment and virality?

Trait agreeableness has been shown to be associated with trait empathy (Silberstein Bamford

& Whitfield Davidson, 2019). Based on the conceptual proximity of empathy and eudaimonia, this study suggests a link between empathy and the preference audaimonic content among survey respondents.

RQ7: Do respondents who score higher in empathy rate eudaimonic clips higher in enjoyment and virality?

Lastly, generally happy people have been shown to find lighthearted comedies more appealing than thrillers or psych dramas (Greenwood, 2010). Since jokes generally include an element of surprise to create a punchline (Freud, 2012), surprising elements in the clips may be enjoyed more by lighthearted people.

RQ8: Do respondents who score higher in cheerfulness rate surprising content higher in enjoyment and virality?

Method Sample and Procedure: Interviews

The study applied a mixed method approach which consisted of an intitial round of interviews and a subsequent creation and distribution of a survey. 9 interviews were conducted during September and October of 2021. All interviewees were recruited from the researcher’s personal network in the music and advertising industry and consisted of one publishing A&R manager, one social media consultant, 3 creative strategists and four music producers. 7 interviewees were German, one was Australian and one Dutch. See appendix 1 for the list of


participants. 5 worked in the music industry within Germany, 2 in the United States, one in Australia and one in the Netherlands. Every interview was semi-structured and based around a prepared set of questions. These revolved about the creation, marketing and placement of music, social media in music marketing and viral marketing in general. Two example questions are Is TikTok considered in the making of an album or single that is not exclusively aimed at ad campaigns? and Are certain types of people more prone to enjoy certain content/music? (see

appendix 2 for the detailed interview guide). Each interview lasted 30 to 40 minutes. Keeping interviews semi-structured allows for the most effective flow of conversation, while still being able to go deeper into unexpected or previously not considered aspects (Bryman, 2012). All interviews were conducted online, recorded and subsequently transcribed. The analysis was carried out according to the sentence-by-sentence open coding process as put forward by Strauss and Corbin (1990). Recurring patterns and themes were used to form the basis for the creation of the questionnaire as well as to exemplify survey responses.

Sample and Procedure: Survey

The original sample consisted of 149 respondents, 19 however had to be excluded from the final dataset due to largely incomplete surveys. The final convenience sample consisted of 130 respondents, of whom were 72 female (55.4%). Respondents were aged between 18 and 40, with a mean age of 25.97 (SD = 4.19). The questionnaire was created in Qualtrics and distributed through personal social media channels to friends, family and colleagues as well as posted in relevant Facebook groups and subreddits (see appendix 4 for the entire questionnaire).

Before starting the survey, participants were briefed about the purpose of the research, about data processing and guarantee of anonymity. For this, a standardised text by the UvA was provided. After having given consent, the survey asked for age, gender and average TikTok usage. Subsequently, participants were asked to give their music preferences by selecting from 11 genres. Multiple preferences were possible. The next section gave participants statements


about their individual character traits regarding empathy, distractedness and cheerfulness. 5 items were posed for each trait. Indications were given on a 5-point-Likert scale ranging from very inaccurate to very accurate for distractedness and strongly disagree to strongly agree for

empathy and cheerfulness. Following the self-assessment, participants were shown one of 3 videos that were dubbed with hip-hop, then one of 3 clips that were dubbed with a pop ballad.

After each clip, they were asked to assess the just watched clip based on 12 items, each to be indicated on a 5-point-Likert-scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. These clips were either originals taken from compilation videos on YouTube or purposefully created to match the research objective. There were 6 clips in total. The first 3 clips were dubbed with Drake – Toosie Slide (hip-hop). The first one showed a woman’s point of view laying on a bed,

looking down at herself and spreading her legs to the lyrics of the song (Surprise1). The second one shows a father sitting in a restaurant on his birthday, being overwhelmed that his two sons dressed in army unifrom could make a surprise appearance (Eudaimonic1). The third one shows a man euphorically dancing in the sunlight by the curb, added with effects like glitter and quick and blurry zooms (Attention1). The second 3 clips were dubbed with Natalie Taylor – Surrender (pop ballad). The first clip shows a brother watching his sister playing alone with a

ball in the garden and feeling bad for her. He decides to join her, only to throw the ball right in her face, then run away (Surprise2). The second clip shows the last day of chemo therapy treatment of a young girl. She rings a bell, signaling that she beat cancer and being cheered on by nurses and friends. The clip then continues to show her and her parents meeting her bown marror downor, who made this possible, for the first time (Eudaimonic1). The last video shows a young woman mincing and moving her shoulders to the music while looking directly into the camera. As the refrain sets in, a man appears in the frame, moving her face gently towards his in a seductive way. The colours of the video change rapidly to shifting between dark grey, red and silver (Attention2). After having completed the second assessment, participants were thanked and the questionnaire ended.



Trait empathy. 5 items for trait empathy were extracted from the questionnaire from the Big 5 personality model relating to trait agreeableness and the Basic Empathy Scale. To examine empathy, questions like I sympathise with others’ feelings and I can often understand how people are feeling before they tell me were posed. Responses were measured with a 5-

point-Likert-scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Exploratory factor analysis indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 59.57% of the variance. The item I have a sharp tongue was removed to improve reliability, resulting in an acceptable Cronbach’s Alpha of a = .74 (M = 3.98, SD = 0.68).

Trait cheerfulness. As for assessing the emotional state of individuals the state-trait- cheerfulness-inventory (STCI) was consulted. 5 items were posed in total. 2 example items are I am often in a bad mood and I worry a lot. Both were reverse coded. Responses were measured

with a 5-point-Likert-scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Exploratory factor analysis indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 65.09% of the variance.

The items I rarely act without due reason and It is easy to make me laugh were removed to improve reliability, resulting in an acceptable Cronbach’s Alpha of a = .70 (M = 3.48, SD = .83).

Trait distractedness. Regarding attention deficit, the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS-V1.1) as established by the WHO (2003) was utilised. 5 items were posed in total. 2 example items are I often misplace or have difficulty finding things at home or at work and I often have difficulty getting things in order when I have to do a task that requires organisation.

Responses were given with a 5-point-Likert-scale ranging, from very inaccurate to very accurate. Exploratory factor analysis indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 36.03% of the variance. Reliability analysis of this 5-item scale indicated a low reliability with an unacceptable Cronbach’s Alpha of a = .45 (M = 2.83, SD = 0.71).


Enjoyment. After watching each clip, participants were asked about their recognition of it by reporting on a 5-point-Likert-scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

For this, 3 items based on previous research were posed. The items were I liked this clip, I enjoyed this clip and I appreciated this clip. Exploratory factor analysis for the hip-hop clip

indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 86.68% of variance. Reliability analysis indicated a strong Cronbach’s Alpha of a = 0.92 (M = 2.58, SD = 1.03). For the pop clips, exploratory factor analysis indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 93,62% of variance. Reliability analysis indicated a strong Cronbach’s Alpha of a = 0.97 (M = 2.90, SD = 1.36).

Virality. In order to examine the degree of virality, participants were asked to indicate their recognition of the just seen clip by reporting on a 3-item 5-point-Likert-scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The items were I would share this clip with my friends, I would give this clip a like and I would like to watch it again. Exploratory factor analysis for

the hip-hop clip indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 70.28% of variance.

Reliability analysis indicated a respectable Cronbach’s Alpha of a = .79 (M = 1.81, SD = 0.88).

For the pop clip, exploratory factor analysis indicated that the scale was unidimensional, explaining 84,14% of variance. Reliability analysis indicated a strong Cronbach’s Alpha a = .90 (M = 2.24, SD = 1.27).

Manipulation Check

Eudaimonia. In order to examine whether the eudaimonic clip was in-deed considered more emotionally engaging, 2 ANOVAs were performed for the 3 hip-hop clips and the 3 pop clips. The analysis was based on the 2 items measuring eudaimonia I connected emotionally to the clip and The clip “felt” warm. Regarding emotional engagement of the eudaimonic hip-hop clip, the ANOVA showed no difference in emotional engagement between the attention grabbing (M = 3.11, SD = 1.25), the eudaimonic (M = 2.64, SD = 1.57) and the surprising clip


(M = 2.51, SD = 1.28) , F(2, 204), p = .115. Regarding the pop clips, the eudaimonic clip was perceived as most eudaimonic (M = 4.24, SD = 0.74), F(61, 002), p < .001. This could be explained by a strongly matching fit of emotional quality of the video story and the music.

Surprise. 2 ANOVAs were performed to assess the degree of surprise in the hip-hop and pop clips. Surprise was measured by the 2 items The clip had a surprising element and The clip went against expectations. Both clips were perceived as most surprising with a difference

to eudaimonia and attention grabbing. The hip-hop clip was perceived as most surprising (M = 2.92, SD = 1.03), F(12, 696), p < .001). The pop clip was also perceived as most surprising (M

= 3.71, SD = 1.06, F(4, 817), p < .010).

Attention grabbing. 2 ANOVAs were performed to assess the attention grabbing character of the hip-hop clip and pop clip. Attention grabbing was measured by the 2 items The clip “felt” quick and Effects in the video made it interesting. The analysis showed no difference

in perception of attention grabbing among the attention grabbing (M = 2.90, SD = 0.88), the eudaimonic (M = 2.52, SD = 0.96) and the surprising hip-hop clip (M = 2.77, SD = 0.84), F(12, 696), p < .001. The surprising pop clip, however, was also perceived as the most surprising one (M = 3.71, SD = 1.06), F(4, 817), p = .010.

Results Preliminary Analyses

Personality differences. Analysis showed no differences in personality traits between men and women. For that, an independent samples t-test examining distractedness, empathy and cheerfulness was performed. Regarding distractedness, no difference between men (M = 2.87, SD = 0.70) and women (M = 2.79, SD = 0.73) was found t (128) = 0.624, p = .534. As for empathy, there was no difference between men (M = 3.79, SD = 0.76) and women (M = 4.17, SD = 0.64), t (128) = -3.255, p = .001. There was also no difference in cheerfulness between men (M = 3.48, SD = 0.99) and women (M = 3.45, SD = 0.69), t (98.197) = 0.189, p = .850.


TikTok use. Indicated in minutes, women used TikTok more (M = 115.81, SD = 199.47) than men (M = 43.71, SD = 108.71), t (133.751) = -2.622, p = .010 during the week.

Given the young target audience of TikTok, a negative relationship between weekly TikTok use and age was expected. However, the results also showed no correlation between TikTok use and age r (93) = -.141, p = .177. To examine, whether the frequency of TikTok use influenced the virality of clips, a bivariate correlation analysis was performed. TikTok use was positively related to virality of clips dubbed with the pop ballad r (126) = .227, p = .010.

Contrary, the analysis showed no relationship between TikTok use and virality of clips dubbed with hip-hop t (128) = -.112, p = .204.

Age and genre. A bivariate correlation also found no relationship between age and the enjoyment for clips dubbed with hip-hop r (93) = -.070, p = .504 or pop r (93) = -.037, p = .725.

Combination as Driver of Virality

Almost all interviewees independently identified the perfect combination of music and video/story as a key driver for virality. They stated that it is next to impossible for a song on its own to go viral on TikTok if it would merely be accompanied by a blank screen. Vice versa, a mute dance or lip sync choreography would equally fail to generate the same interest like the same video combined with the audio. Sicne listening to music without seeing a respective video or imagery is the standard sensation, watching a dance choreography or lip sync video without sound is only part of the experience.

“The one doesn’t work without the other […] because videos feed off working with the audio.”

While music does also work as an enjoyable and consumable standalone commodity, the match with the right images can increase the emotional impact of the song. Combined with the matching story, image or choreography, it manages to strenthen the instrumental or lyric.


“And that works with music alone, but in the perfect combination […] it can really completely bypass our conscious perception, so we really only like and share because it hits us right in our hearts…in this combination.”

This was also reflected by the survey responses. To assess which type of clip and genre scored highest in enjoyment and virality, one-way ANOVAs were performed (see Table 1 for details).

Here, respondents indicated that they enjoyed the eudaimonic pop clip more (M = 4.27, SD = 0.79), than the surprise clip (M = 2.52, SD = 1.13) and the attention grabbing clip (M = 2.08, SD = 1.04), F(51, 671), p < .001. The eudaimonic clip also scored significantly higher in virality

(M = 3.15, SD = 1.28) than the surprising clip (M = 2.06, SD = 1.20) and the attention grabbing clip (M = 1.61, SD = 0.82). F(19, 78), p < .001. This could be a robust indicator for a strong match between popular or emotionally fitting music and an engaging video, the combination of which creates a highly attractive piece of content. Respondents further indicated that they enjoyed the eudaimonic hip-hop clip more (M = 2.98, SD = 1.13) than the attention grabbing clip (M = 2.63, SD = 0.86), followed by the surprising clip (M = 2,17, SD = 0.94), F(7, 365), p

< .001). No significant differences in virality have been found between the eudaimonic (M = 2.07, SD = 0.98), the surprising (M = 1.71, SD = 0.86) and the attention grabbing clip (M = 1.67, SD = 0.75), F(2, 785), p = .065.

Table 1: Enjoyment and Virality of Clips in Relation to Music Genre

The decision process of which song to combine with which video was compared to the work of film directors. In a director’s mind, it is not always precisely about what kind of music

Attention grabbing Eudaimonic Surprise Hip-hop Enjoyment M = 2.63, SD = 0.86 M = 2.98, SD = 1.13 M = 2,17, SD = 0.94 Hip-hop Virality M = 1.67, SD = 0.75 M = 2.07, SD = 0.98 M = 1.71, SD = 0.86 Pop Enjoyment M = 2.08, SD = 1.04 M = 4.27, SD = 0.79 M = 2.52, SD = 1.13 Pop virality M = 1.61, SD = 0.82 M = 3.15, SD = 1.28 M = 2.06, SD = 1.20


might be the right one to chose with respect to song or genre but rather about what emotional and sonic properties a song conveys.

“It is a film makers platform. That is how film makers think. They don’t see music as the song but they think What does this song do for the image? […] And there are millions

of small directors like that out there. Hundreds of millions of small directors think What does this song do for the image?”

Personality as Predictor for Enjoyment and Virality

Previous research discussing gender and temperamental differences indicated that proclivities of certain traits coinciding with types of music and content are to be expected. To investigate these inclinations, bivariate correlation analyses were performed to examine if personality differences affected the perception regarding enjoyment or virality of respective clips. The analysis found no correlation between empathy and either the eudaimonic hip hop clip r (42) = -.012, p = .939 or pop clip r (38) = .098, p = .558. Neither was there correlation between distractedness and the attention grabbing hip-hop clip r (43) = -.014, p = .927 or pop clip r (41) = -.005, p = .976. The analysis showed also no correlation between cheerfulness and the surprising hip-hop clip r (45) = -.009, p = .955 or pop clip r (49) = -.211, p = .146.

In order to identify predictors for enjoyment and virality grounded in personality traits, bivariate correlation analyses were performed to determine the relationship between character traits and enjoyment/virality. Based on previous research, positive relationships between certain personality traits and types of content were expected. For example, respondents that were high in distractedness were expected to find attention grabbing clips more entertaining than eudaimonic and surprising ones. Complementary to that, a positive relationship between cheerfulness and the surprise clips as well as empathy and the enjoyment and virality of eudaimonic clips were expected. However, the analysis showed no relationship between trait distractedness and the enjoyment of the attention grabbing hip-hop clip r (43) = -.043, p = .785


or the pop clip r (41) = -.269, p .090. With regards to virality, there was also no relationship with hip-hop r (43) = .190, p = .222 or pop r (41) = -.226, p = .155. As for trait empathy, there was no relationship between empathy and the enjoyment of either the eudaimonic hip-hop clip r (42) = .028, p = .862 or the pop clip r (38) = .134, p = .423. Additionally, there was no

relationship between virality and the eudaimonic hip-hop clip r (42) = -.056, p = .723 or the pop clip r (38) = .163, p = .327. Regarding trait cheerfulness, the analysis found no relationship between cheerfulness and the enjoyment of the surprising hip-hop clip r (45) = .216, p = .154.

Surprisingly, there was a negative correlation between cheerfulness and the enjoyment of the surprising pop clip r (49) = -.410, p =.003. Although frequently mentioned in interviews, this contradicted expectations in that the surprising pop clip was the only clip with a clear punchline and the most meme-ish. One interviewee said

“I believe, the clearer music makes a statement, emotionally or lyrically, the better it is suited for TikTok. If you have something that’s merely plodding along, that’s just boring. But if you have fat hiphop beat and a five year old girl that is lip syncing to it, that’s got a charme! […] I believe that’s what is important for TikTok. […] Bringing two things together that usually don’t really belong together.”

Regarding virality, the analysis showed no relationship for either hip-hop clip r (45) = .120, p

= .434 or the pop clip r (49) = -.243, p = .092. Furthermore, interviewees also did not circle out certain traits that would make someone more prone to enjoy certain formats more than others.

“Fundamentally, I believe that good music is simply good music. And if a song triggers certain feelings, then that’s that. And Fleetwood Mac is being rediscovered by many of the young kids. That happens with a lot of music. […] And then there is no difference if the song is 40 years old or if it came out last week.”


Tiktokability / virality

Although hip-hop and urban had the strongest associations with TikTok, the reason for it was not sought in the sound itself but rather in TikTok’s young target audience as well as the contemporary domination of urban music in the charts and digital streaming platforms (DSP), indicating that it could change any time.

“No other genre can keep up with this (urban) at the moment and that’s simply because these people still have the time to listen to these songs back and forth. It’s simply like that. It’s a question of age and genre. That’s why this music is dominating also other social media platforms, because they still have the time to drive up those clicks. […]

School kids, I mean.”

This, however, was partly disputed by survey responses. An independent samples t-test was conducted to examine if genre preferences serve as predictors of enjoyment and virality of respective clips (See Table 2 for details). However, the analysis showed no difference in enjoyment of the hip-hop dubbed clips between respondents who indicated a preference for hip- hop (M = 2.57, SD = 0.98) and those that did not (M = 2.60, SD = 1.10), t(-.145) = 128, p = .112. Similarly, there was no difference found in virality between respondents who did indicate a preference for hip-hop (M = 1.77, SD = 0.82) and those who did not (M = 1.87, SD = 0.95), t(-.664) = 128, p = .508. Regarding pop music, however, the analysis showed further that

respondents who indicated a preference for pop (M = 3.14, SD = 1.30) enjoyed the pop clip more than those who did not (M = 2.56, SD = 1.39), t(2.411) = 126, p = .017. Similarly, regarding their rating for virality, the clip scored higher among those who indicated a preference for pop (M = 2.50, SD = 1.25) and those who did not (M = 1.85, SD = 1.21), t(2.936) = 126, p

= .004. A possible explanation for the strength of pop music could be its more mass appeal and pleasing nature.


Table 2: Music Genre as Predictor for Enjoyment and Virality

Furthermore, although hip-hop was described as currently most suitable for viral success on TikTok, this was contradicted by survey respondents.

“A lot of urban…loads of urban, yes. Thinking about this just now, I can only come up with urban or pop-urban examples.”

To examine differences in enjoyment and virality for the clips accompanied by either hip-hop or pop, a paired samples t-test was conducted. The hip-hop clips scored slightly lower in enjoyment (M = 2.58, SD = 1.04) than clips with the pop ballad (M = 2.90, SD = 1.36), t(- 2.341), p = .021. Similarly, the clips dubbed hip-hop scored lower in virality (M = 1.80, SD = 0.88), than those dubbed with pop (M = 2.24, SD = 1.27) t(-3.664), p < .001. An independent samples t-test for the enjoyment of clips accompanied with hip-hop showed no differences between men (M = 2.53, SD 1.04) and women (M = 2.63, SD = 1.03), t (-0.496), p = 621.

Further, there was no difference in virality between men (M = 1.74, SD = 0.84) and women (M

= 1.88, SD = 0.91), t(-0.897), p = .371. As for the pop clips, an independent samples t-test showed borderline significant differences in enjoyment between men (M = 2.64, SD = 1.35) and women (M = 3.11, SD = 1.34), t(-1.946), p = .054. Regarding virality, however, there was no difference between men (M = 2.08, SD = 1.19) and women (M = 2.37, SD = 1.32), t(-1.309), p = .193. Similarly, for the virality of the presented pop clips the independent samples t-test

showed no significant difference between men (M = 2.08, SD = 1.19) and women (M = 2.37, SD = 1.32), t(-1.309), p = .193.

Preference hip-hop

No Preference Hip-Hop

Preference Pop No Preference Pop Enjoyment M = 2.57, SD =


M = 2.60, SD = 1.10

M = 3.14, SD = 1.30

M = 2.56, SD = 1.39

Virality M = 1.77, SD = 0.82

M = 1.87, SD = 0.95

M = 2.50, SD = 1.25

M = 1.85, SD = 1.21



Further research in the field of viral marketing, social media, hype phenomena and the user generated content is necessary. Similar studies with music created exclusively for this purpose, so participants cannot be influenced by previous knowledge of or associations to it could generate valuable insights into more finegrained likings and dislikings of particular aspects of the used music. For farther research, gathering and comparing assessments of the same clips in two versions, one dubbed with genre A and one dubbed with genre B, would be of interest to contribute to developing a map of accurately mapping matches between video content and music.

A few limitations should be considered when these contemplating the findings of this study. For one, the survey data is rather restricted in its expressiveness as the number of responses is quite small. Additionally, given TikTok’s young target audience, the convenience sample does not give accurate insights into the reactions and assessments of the actual majority of TikTok users, Gen Z, which might be more sensible to viral clips and viral marketing on the platform. Also, potential influences of popularity of songs or artists may also influence evaluations. Unfortunately, the failed manipulation checks for the attention grabbing and eudaimonic hip-hop clip further hindered a clean data acquisition and interpretation.


With the ever growing importance of online marketing and the limited availibility of attention of people in mind, (Baumgartner, 2017) this study set out to investigate predictibility markers of enjoyment and virality in TikTok music clips. It did so by interviewing 9 music and marketing industry professionals, using their responses as fundament for the survey and finally matching results of both. Although pre-tested, the manipulation check for 2 of the 3 hip-hop clips failed it did succeed for the 3 pop clips. As already addressed by previous resarch (Brady et al., 2020; Nikolinakou & King, 2018; Tellis et al., 2019), responses from interviews and the


survey confirmed that content which transports clear and understandable emotion, here eudaimonia, is more suited to go viral than content that lacks emotion. Statements made by interviewees regarding the importance of fit between the emotional quality of the music and video content was also found in survey responses, indicating that in order transport a message effectively, the choice of music matters well within the context of the story or video. Adding to that, however, the expected enjoyment by trying to creating a punchline by juxtaposing music and video was not achieved. Countering previous findings (Arnett, 1992; Dobrota & Reić Ercegovac, 2018; Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003), no differences in genre preferences between genders were found. Contrary to expectations, none of the measured personality traits (distractedness, empathy, cheerfulness) influenced enjoyment or virality of the clips, except for a negative correlation between the surprising pop clip and cheerfulness. A possible explanation could be a mismatch between music and video which failed to generate a recognisable punchline but rather created only a clip where the music simply does not match the video.

As for the tiktokability of genres, interviewees agreed on hip-hop and urban being the most suitable ones due to TikTok’s young user audience. Yet, survey responses indicated clips with pop to be more enjoyed and more likely to go viral than hip-hop clips which could be explained by the high levels of enjoyment and virality by the eudaimonic pop clip, thus emphasising the strength of emotion on the one side and the importance of the right match between music and video on the other side. Contrary to expectations, enjoyment and virality of hip-hop clips was not influenced by respondents preference for hip-hop. As for pop, however, respondents who indicated a preference for pop music were more likely to enjoy the pop clip and to make it go viral. Considering the immense growth of TikTok during the last 18 or so months and the increasing influence of social media in general, the findings of this study contribute to a better understanding of the success and virality of online content, however, there is still a large amount of research necessary to accurately complete the big picture in all its details.



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Appendix 1. List of interviewees:

Ryan Dickinson - Music producer / Senior music creative Steffen Geldner - Music marketing consultant

Dan Glaunsinger - A&R manager

Alex Henke - Music producer / composer Shari Hosseini - Creative music strategist Julian Krohn - Director music & audio Kristian Nord - Music producer / composer Marijn Roozemond - Director of creative strategy

2. Interview guide

- Do you have TikTok? Why? Why not?

- Do you like it? Does it annoy you?

- Have you ever seen something on TikTok and then bought it?

- How do you understand being tiktokable or tiktokability?

- To what extend is TikTok considered in marketing of music?

- Are there genres that are more prone to be used on TikTok than others? If so, which/why?

- Are there artists that are more prone to be used on TikTok than others? If so, which/why?

- Can songs/artists be successful without actively caring about TikTok?

- How do TikTok challenges usually come to be?

- Are there demographics that are more prone to be used on TikTok than others? If so, which/why?

- Are certain types of people more prone to enjoy certain content/music?

- Does the demographic depend on the artist/genre?

- Is TikTok considered in the making of an album or single that is not exclusively aimed at ad campaigns?

- Do producers/A&Rs/strategists consider TikTok in the creative process?

- Are there differences in tendency to pair a campaign with TikTok based on artist/product/brand?

- Is in some instances music produced with the goal to go viral on TikTok?


3. List of codes

Name Frequency Groups Number

of groups

personal introduction 5 0

is not on tiktok 1 0

active decision not to be on tiktok 1 0

tiktok as tool for clients 2 0

new to the term tiktokability 3 0

comparing tiktok to other social media 5 0

tiktok wants viral content for ad clients 1 0

tiktok approaches creators to make content with

suggested music to go viral 5 TikTok in marketing 1

revolutionary approach 2 0

comparing tiktok to facebook 2 0

facebook lets clients post ads 1 0

tiktok makes content for ad clients 3 0

music producers are asked by agencies to make

something that works on tiktok 2 0

met people from tiktok 2 0

tiktok music mirrors streaming landscape 3 0

trap works, just like in streaming 6 Music for TikTok 1

people can move well to trap 1 0

works well on tiktok, because of music 3 0

works well on tiktok, because of video 2 0

music as meme 13 Memes 1

music in discongruence to video 10 Memes, Music for TikTok,

Virality 3

unpredictable 11 Memes 1

video is more important than music 1 0

music is created around content ideas with the

song 10 Music for TikTok, Virality 2

tiktok as visual platform 1 0

tiktok is different 1 0

tiktok creators recycle already existing tiktok

content 10 Virality 1

video content more important than music 5 Elements of TikTokability, Memes, Music for TikTok 3

genre is not the only factor to consider for tiktok 1 0

doesn't need to be funny, but generally creative 2 0

music on tiktok doesn't work through music alone 5 Music for TikTok 1

have to be creative on tiktok 6 Virality 1

comparing tiktok to instagram 4 0

music made for tiktok is tricky 7 Music for TikTok 1

content needs to be unambiguous 9 Elements of TikTokability,

Music for TikTok, Virality 3 music has to be accompanied by performance 22 Elements of TikTokability 1 combination as key element of virality 27 Elements of TikTokability 1

tiktokability is unpredictable 9 Music for TikTok, Virality 2

clips work as mobile 2 0

performance as driver for virality 23 Elements of TikTokability 1 some aspects in music as mild predictor for

tiktokability 3 0

genre might give mild predictions about

tiktokability 6 Music for TikTok 1


Fleetwood Mac as antithesis to music made for

tiktok 1 0

ad clients don't distribute own content 1 0

campaigns get picked up by tiktok/creators to be

multiplied 2 0

tiktok suggests creators what to post 2 0

music made for tiktok most likely won't work 1 0

gives example of tiktok virality 15 Virality 1

tiktokability must match artist's persona 5 Music for TikTok, TikTok in

marketing 2

tiktok not only funny and memes 1 0

gives example of possible tiktokable content 8 Virality 1

demographic streams trap 2 0

trap is streamed by young target audience 8 Music for TikTok 1

music wanders from streaming to social media

platforms 2 0

no go to sound for tiktokability 8 Music for TikTok, Virality 2

gotta have soundlogo character 1 0

music needs a hook 3 0

creators suggest brands what to do 1 0

beyond clients' understanding 1 0

tiktok music like movie soundtrack 1 0

music as complementary element 2 0

tiktok is video first and foremost 2 0

essentially everything is tiktokable 1 0

depending on format, songs are interchangeable

and focus is on genre 3 0

still right moment in song needs to picked 1 0

directors also consider music not in song but in

mood/genre 5 Music for TikTok 1

what can music add to picture 2 0

certain songs/musics develop certain associations 2 0

associations based on genre 2 0

certain songs accompany certain formats on tiktok 2 0

agencies struggle to know about tiktokability 1 0

tiktokability so random, they can't answer

questions about it 1 0

high degree of insecurity about tiktokability 1 0

creators are in the foreground 4 0

better real music alternatives 1 0

ad songs most likely never tiktokable 3 0

ad songs aren't cool 3 0

more distinct point of identification for viewers 1 0

ad songs with artists might work 2 0

artists help be more authentic 1 0

cool ad video idea might do the trick 1 0

ad people often one step behind trends 1 0

creators create stuff crossmedia 1 0

what's popular will change over time 1 0

trap is evolving 1 0

younger, greener generation won't be as

susceptible to trap 1 0

tiktok as tool for music publishers 6 Elements of TikTokability, TikTok in marketing 2


tiktok as tool for scouting 3 0

tiktok as tool to stay in touch with culture 1 0

tiktok has younger target audience 13 Elements of TikTokability,

Virality 2

songs get discovered on tiktok 1 0

tiktok as tool to scan usage of songs 0 0

is on tiktok 2 0

more and more influencers go from music to tiktok 1 0

provide song 1 0

gives example of song that broke through on tiktok 5 Elements of TikTokability,

Virality 2

no challenge to song 1 0

artists didn't incentivise any challenge 3 0

challenge developed organically 3 0

music/audio as driver of virality 4 Elements of TikTokability,

Music for TikTok 2

tiktok as pusher of potentially viral content 2 0

song wandered from tiktok to DSP 2 0

monitoring tiktok for artist royalties 1 0

urban as dominant genre 2 0

process of influencers being provided with songs 1 0

tiktok hype is a quick business 3 0

rarely artists are built organically 1 0

no interest in longterm cooperation 1 0

interested in longterm cooperation 3 0

musician on break, comes back, rising on tiktok 2 0

hype is for major publishers 1 0

music is produced for tiktok 4

Elements of TikTokability,

Music for TikTok 2

tiktokability purposefully included 2 0

tiktokability is planned 1 0

elements of tiktokability 18 Elements of TikTokability,

Music for TikTok 2

elements are not genre specific 8

Elements of TikTokability,

Music for TikTok 2

tiktok music depends on target audience 1 0

elements of successful tiktok track 6 Music for TikTok, Virality 2

tiktok trends begin in deep subcultures 1 0

interest based 1 0

old town road as tiktok example 4 Music for TikTok, Virality 2

public discourse as driver for tiktokability 3 0

countering stereotypes 1 0

subcultures are saturated with hardcore fans 1 0

dangerous parasocial relationships towards BTS 3 0

fan ties outside of tiktok 2 0

challenge devloped on purpose 2 0

has heard of tiktokability 1 0

tiktokability adapts over time 2 0

when tiktok was more niche, different music was

necessary 2 0

tool as tool for marketers 9 TikTok in marketing 1

tiktok as tool for labels 6 TikTok in marketing 1



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