University of Texas Students Turn to TikTok For Entertainment During Coronavirus Pandemic

Sophie Muir

When classes at The University of Texas were cancelled due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, students started joining TikTok for entertainment while quarantining at home.

“I wouldn’t have made a TikTok account if it wasn’t for the pandemic,” said Rajya Atluri. 

Atluri has 33,900 followers and 641,000 likes on TikTok and mainly creates beauty-related videos. Since joining TikTok in March, Atluri has established herself as a beauty content creator and provides makeup tips to users who look like her, she says. 

Atluri gained popularity on the platform when her TikTok about color correcting went viral. The video shows Atluri applying an orange concealer under her eyes and around her mouth before applying foundation. This is known to disguise dark circles and dark spots on medium to dark skin tones, according to L’Oréal’s Guide to Color Correcting.

“The beauty industry doesn’t cater towards people with darker skin,” said Atluri, “it was something that people really resonated with because they were finally seeing someone who has skin like their with a tip or trick that, you know, they normally wouldn’t know about.”

TikTok allows users to make and share short-form videos on topics ranging from dancing and lip-synching to life hacks and beauty tutorials. The app was launched by Chinese technology company ByteDance in September 2017 and made its debut in the US less than a year later.

When countries across the globe were placed under lockdown orders due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, TikTok saw a surge in popularity. From March to April 2020, TikTok usage increased by 33% among GenZ and 27% among millennials, according to Kantar’s Global COVID-19 Barometer.

“I honestly refused to get it before quarantine,” said Kirsten Hilling.

Hilling has 2,665 followers and 354,800 likes on TikTok and creates comedy-related content. Hilling gained popularity on the platform when her TikTok about popular restaurants within The University of Texas community went viral. These restaurants include Cain and Abel’s, Buford’s and Roppolo’snPizza on West Sixth Street. 

“Within the first two hours I started getting thousands of views,” said Hilling, “I kept checking and it was just going up and up and up.” 

Hashtags are a valuable feature on TikTok that help creators reach other users based on their similar interests. Atluri utilizes hashtags such as #BrownGirl and #BrownSkin on her beauty-related videos, while Hilling uses hashtags like #UTAustin and #HookEm to connect with other University of Texas students.

“A good chunk of my followers are UT students,” said Claire-Lise Greve, “that’s obviously who I want to make content for.”

Greve has 13,500 followers and 321,000 likes on TikTok and creates comedy-related content geared towards Greek life at The University of Texas. She became popular on TikTok by creating a series of “starter packs,” which are collections of images used to illustrate a stereotypical person, place or culture. Greve created a series of “starter packs” about private school life which went viral.

TikTok provides an endless stream of videos, most of them fifteen seconds or less, that are curated to each user based on their interests. Despite the final product that appears on the “For You” page, it can take content creators an hour to create a single TikTok.

“I think my average is six to nine videos a day,” said Greve, “which sounds ridiculous.”

Atluri doesn’t shoot her content within the TikTok app, but prefers to use the built-in camera app on her iPhone. Sometimes it takes her multiple attempts to get it right, she says, so this process is most effective. Atluri imports her videos into TikTok, shortens them, then adds music and text using the editing features within the app. She also spends time responding to beauty-related questions and comments from her followers. In regard to her setup, Atluri uses a LED Ring Light and tripod to create quality content. This process is the same for many content creators on TikTok, including Hilling and Greve.

Everybody joins TikTok for different reasons, Atluri said, but for users who are interested in building a community on TikTok, she suggests finding a niche and sticking to it.

“Figure out exactly what you want that to be and stick to it for a little bit,” said Atluri, “that way you have consistency and your followers know what you’re putting out there.”

For users who are interested in creating comedy-related content on TikTok, Hilling suggests being authentic.

“Do something that’s true to you and funny to you,” said Hilling, “because who cares what other people think?”