Breaking down Gen Z’s relationship with TikTok and social media as information sources.
As TikTok continues to grow rapidly in popularity, news articles have emerged arguing that Gen Z is turning to TikTok instead of Google when we’re searching for information. From a Google exec mentioning that they’re seeing 40% of young people going to Instagram or TikTok instead of Google to look for food recommendations, to TikTok recently testing a new feature that identifies keywords in comments sections to provide recommended searches. The signs seem to be pointing to us saying, “let me TikTok that” soon enough.
For the last decade, Google has dominated as a search engine that can provide everything from updates on the conflict in Ukraine to “the best restaurants near me.” However, Google is becoming increasingly monetized through ads and SEO, and some Gen Z’ers see searching on TikTok as a way to find more unfiltered and honest information.
However, as young people ourselves who were supposedly turning to TikTok instead of Google now to search for information, we wanted to put these claims to the test by surveying our Receipt Network. When we asked The Receipt, “where do they find information on current events and news?” 23% said they got this through TikTok and another 22% said they got their information through Instagram, which supports the claims made by Google. Another 24% of respondents said they use news apps like the NYT.
These findings could suggest different types of information are found on different tech platforms, and TikTok is still building up the type of search-friendly platform it wants to be. Future research can tell us whether this comes down to trust, convenience, or use-cases for the individual apps.
As TikTok provides more and more people with a platform to speak up and share information, it is helping to democratize access but also runs the risk of misinformation. As TikTok users scroll through their For You Page, they receive tiny amounts of information on a wide range of topics, and as such, it is more crucial than ever that the information is factual.
When the Joe Biden administration provided a briefing to TikTokers back in February on the War in Ukraine, they were ridiculed by many who called this a waste of time. However, the White House recognized that with this shift in how Gen Z is consuming information, it was essential to ensure that major creators who often have following bigger than news organizations can provide factual information.
We asked our Receipt Network for more details on what kind of information they were getting through TikTok. We found that though 22% of the Receipt Network discovered health-related information on TikTok, 82% of them went to a major search engine to seek additional information on the topic.
These findings may suggest there may be a tandem approach to how Gen Z’ers seek out and verify information. We’ve been inundated with information since infancy, and now we are being given new tools we can use to parse through it all.
“I’ll hear about news regarding celebrities and influencers on TikTok then I’ll go to Instagram or Twitter to verify it,” said Jill Ofodu, Consultant at JUV Consulting, which validated the idea that multi-platform approaches to finding and certifying information on social media.
Our POV: TikTok isn’t necessarily replacing Google as the be-all-end-all search engine but is providing a new starting point for young people to discover new topics and find information. Our generation recognizes that a 60-second video can’t tell us all the information we need about an issue, and still go to other sources like Google to find more detailed information.
What does this mean for brands? Building a strong presence on TikTok is crucial to help reach new audiences, but it won’t be the only source of truth for Gen Z when deciding where to spend their time and money. TikTok is not the new Google, but it is rapidly changing the way we use search engines and other tech platforms.