Google Who? TikTok’s Rise to Power in the Digital Age

TikTok is not just for viral dances or cool products.

Millennials and Gen Z go to TikTok – not for dance videos but for career planning. They look for their friends on Instagram – but don’t believe what they see.

Three teen girls smiling and shoots a video on a pink background
Image Credit: videoforyou0304 via

New Data

According to new data from The Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice, these new, little-known social media trends point to a fundamental shift in societal values.

“If you think TikTok is just about viral dances, you’d be mistaken. Young people are turning to it for deeper purposes, like gathering information, building community, and cultivating equity,” said Abbey Lunney, co-founder of The Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice.

“We see a giant shift happening in social media away from surface-level likes, hyper-edited photos towards spaces for authenticity and discovery.”

The group’s study identifies five shifts in social media, with a central theme of Gen Z and Millennials wanting something more real from these online interactions.

5 Shifts in Social Media

Gen Z Aren’t Looking for Friend Updates. They Are Leaning Into the Algorithm

Gen Z doesn’t turn to social to see updates from their friends; instead, they turn to social to be informed, entertained and direct messages. For example, Gen Z says their feed is ‘filled mostly with personalized content that the platform thinks I’ll like’ (62%) and a majority agree that ‘algorithms have increased the content they like to consume and be entertained by’ (65%). This is in contrast to older people, like Boomers and Gen X, who a majority of their feeds consist of ‘updates from friends/people I follow’ (66%, 57% respectively).

TikTok Is the New Google.

For Gen Z, TikTok is the “center of gravity” when it comes to search and education. TikTok is the first platform Gen Z uses to search for culturally relevant content; TikTok (34%), beating YouTube (24%), Google (19%), and Instagram (17%). This is in contrast to older generations, including Millennials, where Google continues to be the first platform users turn towards (Boomers 57%, Gen X 47%, Millennials 40%).

TikTok Is an Undercover Learning Engine.

 A majority of Gen Z reports regularly turning to TikTok to learn something (63%). And the things they are learning about surpass the social media standards of food, fashion, and music to include career planning (37%), small/local business (36%), politics (28%), social structures/DEI (27%) and even STEM categories (20%). And this is critical as 81% of Gen Z and Millennials say that ongoing education is core to their ability to create financial stability in their life.

Reality, Not Superficiality.

Four out of five (80%) Gen Zers and Millennials believe most lifestyles on social media are fake or overly perfected, and almost three-quarters (73%) would like to see proof that people are living the way they claim on social media. Large shares of those generations want social media to validate the information that is shared on its platforms (39%) and don’t want filtered images and content on social media (24%).

Social Media Isn’t Just Youth Culture. It’s All Culture.

Among Americans of all ages, 85% say social media isn’t just for young people. Moreover, 78% of Gen Z and Millennials say they have learned a lot from content created by people older than them. And an amazing two-thirds (66%) of Gen Z and Millennials say they love watching videos of senior citizens.

The Rise of Booktok

TikTok is responsible for certain trends that would seem to be far removed from social media. For example, the rise of BookTok.

Book Tok or Booktok is the name of the niche on Tik-Tok, where users post book recommendations and discuss books, literary tropes, and all things book-related. It has quickly become a driving influence on publishing and literary sales.

“Booktok-ers” create TikTok posts where bookworms share book recommendations, their favorite books, books they bought, and other book-related content.

“Book Tok’s goal is to reminisce what it feels like to fall in love with a book and to remind people the feeling of a story that is largely created by your imagination. It combines a classic medium and a modern medium together well enough that it’s accessible to a larger demographic via TikTok.

It is interesting to see that the list is full of young people in a society that assumes youth no longer has the attention span for reading books,” a spokesperson for ProWritingAid commented. 

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Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.