TikTok makes splash in sorority, becomes viral sensation

Sophomore Carmen Cornejo, of Bloomington, Illinois, gets ready for Alpha Phi’s “virtual formal” in a TikTok video alongside other members of her sorority. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual entertainment industry is thriving – much in part due to the success of TikTok as a new social engagement platform.

The app has garnered enough popularity to attract student organizations to creating accounts to market and engage with their members.

According to Harvard Business Review, the app accumulated more than one billion downloads in only two years. While their original plans for a Spring Formal were canceled due to coronavirus, the Alpha Phi sorority recreated their formal through a mix of social media, including TikTok. 

Vice President of Marketing for the sorority, junior business major Chloe Bosaw, of Ridgeway, Illinois, said they filmed multiple videos through the app. 

“We made a video of our girls getting ready at their own houses, and then our members had the chance to make their own videos on their own TikTok accounts. Then we took all of their videos and put them together and made a little [compilation], and we actually posted that on our Instagram,” Bosaw said. 

Bosaw said they considered other options first, but TikTok was the best app to host a formal.

“It started out, you know, ‘maybe we should do a Zoom,’ and then we had a few Zoom chapter meetings and we decided it’s a little chaotic with 120 girls on there. So, we had an idea to have our Alpha Phi TikTok account post a video of our girls getting ready,” Bosaw said. 

The sorority previously used the app to post videos of events like mixers, and they plan to continue doing so if they are back on campus in the fall. 

Mass communications professor Alex Leith believes what sets TikTok apart is its short form content. While other apps like YouTube can have videos of any length, TikToks have a limit of either 15 or 20 seconds. Leith said TikTok is also interesting because of its lack of identity. 

“There’s no central identity of TikTok yet, so every person that comes to TikTok can find something unique for them,” Leith said. “Vine very quickly built an identity. Vine was very much known for comedy, and TikTok’s not.” 

Junior geography major Charlie Brown, of Owensboro, Kentucky, said he likes TikTok because of its ‘For You’ page.

“It shows endless videos that relate to you, like if you share a culture, location or interest,” Brown said. “My favorite videos are the ones where people reenact scenes from TV, movies and viral videos.”

According to Leith, going viral on TikTok takes exactly what it does for any other app: lots of content and luck. Leith said the most popular TikTok creators often post multiple times a day. 

“Just like with every other field, you have to be posting all the time. I know the biggest TikTok stars post three to five videos a day,” Leith said. “For some viral stars it’s basically staying in the same lane and doing the same things over and over again, and for others it’s basically popping around to all those different areas of TikTok.” 

Leith believes the one thing TikTok has done that no other app has managed is to make dance popular. 

The most famous users on the app are well known for the dance trends they follow, which users can mimic and upload themselves. 

Leith said many TikTok users dance now, but that would not have been normal when he was a child. 

“The idea of dance is popular. I – as a kid – danced, and it was the most bizarre thing to most people in the world. But now you walk into any junior high school class and you drop the name of a current dance and everyone will do it,” Leith said. 

Students who want to check out Alpha Phi’s virtual formal can download TikTok on the App Store or the Play Store.

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