Here’s How a TikTok Challenge Goes Viral

Compelling audio and something to do energizes TikTok’s engaged userbase, as Ashley Jenkins and Danilla Carvalho know

Image: Chris Stokel-Walker

Two of the key currencies of TikTok have become more trackable thanks to a new chart set up by Pentos, the TikTok analysis company. A viral music chart, which tracks the use and popularity of different audio tracks on TikTok by using the weighted growth of songs using the number of new posts, likes, shares and comments over the last 24 hours tries to show how songs are travelling across the app.

Since the weekend, a mainstay in Pentos’s viral music charts has been a track uploaded by a single mother of two living in Thompsons Station, Tennessee. And it’s not even music.

Ashley Jenkins’s family had visited town for Christmas, and for the Jenkins clan that meant one thing: party games. “We do funny activities and challenges, and this was one we just wanted to try out,” says Jenkins. It was one the mother of two had seen on the internet called the fish challenge, which makes participants lie face-down on the floor, hands behind their back, and try to get to their feet without rolling on their side.

The fish challenge was one of many the Jenkins family tried over Christmas, including the ninja challenge and the moo challenge, where you try and make others laugh. “We did a bunch of different challenges like that,” says Jenkins, who works as a logistics co-ordinator for a shipping company.

And like many family gatherings in the 21st century, cameraphones rapidly came out to capture the chaos. While Jenkins was on the floor trying to do the fish challenge alongside her boyfriend, her family members were filming her on their phones. Jenkins, who joined TikTok after being recommended it by a friend as a successor to Vine and Musical.ly (both of which she used regularly), decided to share it on the app on December 30th. “I like to post on TikTok any time I find something fun or funny to do,” she says.

Since then, the video has been seen 3.1 million times, and liked more than 440,000 times. But it’s the audio of the video — a clumsily narrated guide to how to do it — that has seen a longer half-life. Nearly 60,000 videos have used the audio, with various people completing the fish challenge with varying degrees of success.

The success of Jenkins’s video — and the accompanying audio — shows what makes TikTok unique. Within days, the audio and the challenge became a meme on the platform, being done by both creators big and small. One major fillip for the challenge was its completion by Lexi Rivera, a creator with 4.6 million followers, on January 12th, and Dominic Toliver, Joey Klaasen and Alex Ojeda, who have a combined 23.6 million fans on the platform.

Other challenges have also gone superviral in the last few weeks — showing the way in which the participatory platform can turn something stratospheric in a matter of days. Brazilian TikToker Danilla Carvalho posted a challenge requiring users to do nine different hand movements based on emojis to the beat of Y2K and Bbno$’s Lalala on New Year’s Eve. Twenty million people have watched the video, and more than 4.2 million other videos have since been posted with creators trying to complete the challenge, which ends with a Vulcan salute. (Carvalho did not respond to multiple interview requests.)

It’s an example of the way that TikTok’s engaged, energetic userbase can quickly grab hold of a video concept and make it a thing. “We didn’t anticipate it getting big. It was just my family being goofy and having fun,” says Jenkins.

Her friends love to brag about Jenkins’s success to their friends, though she isn’t sure that she’s TikTok famous yet. “I do want to keep growing, though,” she explains. “I like the entertainment on TikTok. It feels like people are real on there. It doesn’t feel like fake people, or the media trying to construe a certain aspect of it. It’s just real people having fun.”

But now she’s managed to taste success, Jenkins has plans to turn happenstance into something more dependable. “I’m hoping to do more challenges, more fun things that people can use the audio for and grow from there,” she says.

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

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