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TikTok's addictive, activation-focused user onboarding

Yes, we're on TikTok now. We held out as long as we could, but resistance to the viral short-form video content app proved futile in the end. We've found the app to be just as addictive as promised, thanks in to both an active (and creative) community of users and an effective algorithm that improves each user's personalized feed over time.

tiktok mobile app loading screen ux example

We'd wager that once TikTok gets new users hooked, they don't have much of a problem with average session length or engagement. That's because the Chinese-owned app has done a great job of identifying its activation events, and TikTok's succinct user onboarding experience effectively drives users to take the actions needed to reach their aha moment early on.

Here's how they do it:

Personalizing the first-time user experience with declared data

TikTok's user onboarding experience starts off by asking users to select their interests. This information is used to personalize each user's feed. This is a common tactic among products that feature curated content.

tiktok user onboarding personalization through user interests

Connecting user enjoyment to repeat product usage

What's really clever about TikTok's onboarding is that it repeatedly encourages users to scroll through their feed, telling them that the content they see will become more personalized and relevant the more they use the app. This is true of many algorithms, but many apps fail to let new users in on the secret. By telling users they can improve their experience through continued product use, TikTok ensures that a larger percentage of new users will invest the time needed to get hooked on the app.

tiktok tells new users to swipe through their feed to see more personalized video recommendations 1
tiktok tells new users to swipe through their feed to see more personalized video recommendations 2

Prioritizing the sticky stuff

Finally, TikTok highlights another key action—creating original content—at the end of their onboarding. Like any social media platform, TikTok relies on a steady stream of user content. But in this case, they've prioritized content consumption over content creation, recognizing that most new users have come to browse first. Letting them know where to click to create their first video primes these folks to take the next step on their own once they're feeling inspired.

tiktok uses a mobile tooltip to show new users how to create their first tiktok video
Go to the ultimate guide to user onboarding. Discover user onboarding definitions, examples, best practices, and resources.