Search engine

For Gen Z, TikTok is a search engine

Zach Carter, a 24-year-old brand strategist from Los Angeles, organizes his research on the social platform he is on. “I’ll go to TikTok for fashion, food or culture because I know the app’s user base provides that content, whereas on Twitter I’ll look for the news.” Carter isn’t alone: ​​Increasingly, young people are using social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to research things to do and places to try, even when looking for important news and information, rather than consult traditional discovery tools such as Google Search and Google Maps.

According to TechCrunchGoogle’s Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President of Google Search, said: “In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when looking for a place to have lunch, don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram. It refers to a survey of US users between the ages of 18 and 24.

As someone in this age group, the stat does not surprise me. Growing up with internet access, I learned to personalize my internet experience. I know where to go for what, and when I’m looking for something super specific, sometimes Google search isn’t always my best friend. But I was curious how other people in Google’s age range searched. So I talked to 30 of my peers about their online search habits.

A UK survey has found TikTok to be the fastest growing news source among young adults from 16 to 24 years old. This is obviously worrying because of the rampant disinformation on the platformbut TikTok is not only used as a news source.

Amanda Cash, a 22-year-old law student, searches TikTok for recipe ideas and travel recommendations. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Teresa from Southern California is looking for “shorter and more focused” explainer videos than she typically finds on YouTube.

I found that people use TikTok the same way they use Pinterest. In February this year, TikTok launched a new feature called Collections, essentially copying Pinterest’s defining feature. Collections allow TikTok users to organize their favorite videos into folders. Instagram implemented a similar feature in 2019. The Collections feature allows users to save recommendations and organize them into useful categories, allowing users to quickly return to ideas and recommendations.

The Pinterest-esque collection feature on TikTokkers allows users to organize their favorite videos.
Credit: Screenshot: TikTok

“I’ll search for ‘thrift store in Paris’ or ‘restaurants in Lisbon’ and save things that look good in a little folder that I can refer to. I also have a small recipe folder. [I am a] big fan of the folder feature,” Cash explained.


How to organize your favorite TikToks into collections

It’s not just that people are looking for suggestions on TikTok. They also rely on their individual algorithms to provide them with geo-specific recommendations. If you find something you want to try, you can save it to a folder and return to your favorites when you need inspiration on where to go or what to cook.

In talking to my peers, three things came up in almost every conversation about why people turn to social media: recipes, restaurants, and travel recommendations.

People are tired of Google’s recipe algorithm that prioritizes obscure blogs that are optimized for search engines. It’s a running joke on the internet that to read a recipe you have to skim through the blogger’s entire life story, but this actually puts off the young people I spoke to from searching for recipes on Google. Because a TikTok needs to grab your attention quickly, recipe videos on the platform are relevant, emphasizing the food, not the creator.

Emily Mariko, one of the most popular food designers on TikTok, doesn’t speak to her 11.5 million followers in her videos, instead she lets the food speak for itself. It draws the viewer in with its simple visual recipes and tidy plating, showing how engaging video recipes can be without someone telling you every step. It’s a huge draw for 23-year-old Kyra Papazian. “I mainly use TikTok and Instagram to search for recipes rather than google them,” she told Mashable. “It could be a specific search like ‘banana bread’ or [a] general search like “dinner ideas”. It’s so much easier than searching Google for a recipe and scrolling through a long article.”

An image of a breakfast bowl.

Emily Mariko’s Seafood Dish lets the food speak for itself.
Credit: TikTok / emilymariko

A freshly baked pie.

Credit: TikTok / emilymariko

Natalie Gomas, a 23-year-old college student from Boston, uses TikTok for recipes and workout ideas. “The way recipes are made on web pages really bothers me. You have to scroll through so many things to get to the actual recipes,” she told Mashable. Likewise, the workouts she finds on the app “aren’t too complicated” to try at home. “Workouts on TikTok are workouts I would really like to do.”

In a TikTok, you can immediately see what a restaurant looks like and see the person recommending it. It allows maximum vibration recognition. Also, if someone did a TikTok on it and it appeared on your FYP, chances are it’s something you’ll actually enjoy and the information is up to date. Since the start of the pandemic, it has been difficult to know what information is up to date on Google search. Many times I have found a restaurant via Google search only to find out later that it has since gone out of business.

Ella Boyce, a 23-year-old who has spent the past year traveling around South America and Europe, relies on TikTok and Instagram for travel recommendations. “A lot of the blogs aren’t made for phones, so it’s hard to read, and there’s no centralized source to gather source information; they’re all random decentralized blogs from Google,” said explained Boyce to Mashable. “It’s harder to determine someone’s credibility from an article than from a video because you can see the person.”

So the next time you’re looking for travel inspiration or a place to grab a slice of pizza, you might find what you’re looking for on TikTok.