For Gen Z, TikTok is more than entertainment. It’s a search engine.

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Zach Carter, a 24-year-old brand strategist from Los Angeles, curates his searches to which social platform he’s on. “I’ll go to TikTok for fashion, food, or culture because I know the user base of the app provides that content, whereas on Twitter I’ll search for the news.” Carter isn’t the only one: Increasingly, young people are using social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to search for things to do and places to try, even seeking out news and important information, rather than consulting traditional discovery tools like Google Search and Google Maps.

According to TechCrunch, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president in charge of Google Search, said, “In our studies, something like almost 40 percent of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.” He’s referring to a survey of U.S. users, ages 18 to 24.

As someone within that age group, the statistic doesn’t surprise me. Growing up with access to the internet, I’ve learned to customize my experience on the internet. I know where to go for what, and when searching for something hyper-specific sometimes Google Search isn’t always my best friend. But I was curious how other people within Google’s age range searched, so I spoke with 30 of my peers about their online search habits.

A UK survey found that TikTok is the fastest growing source of news among young adults ages 16 to 24. This obviously raises alarm because of the rampant misinformation on the platform, but TikTok isn’t only being used as a news source.

Amanda Cash, a 22-year-old law school student, searches TikTok for recipe ideas and travel recommendations. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Teresa in Southern California seeks out instructional how-to videos that are “shorter and more to the point” then what she’d typically find on YouTube.

I found that people are using TikTok similarly to how they use Pinterest. In February of this year TikTok launched a new feature called Collections, essentially copying Pinterest’s defining feature. Collections allows TikTok users to organize their favorited videos into folders. Instagram implemented a similar feature in 2019. The Collections feature allows users to save recommendations and organize them into useful categories, making it easier for users to quickly return to ideas and recommendations.

The Pinterest-esque collection feature on TikTokkers allows users to organize their favorited videos.

“I’ll search ‘thrifting in Paris’ or ‘restaurants in Lisbon’ and save the things that look good to a little folder to refer back to. I also have a little recipe folder. [I am a] big fan of the folder feature,” explained Cash.

It’s not just that people are searching for suggestions on TikTok. They’re also relying on their individual algorithms to feed them geo-specific recommendations. If you find something you want to try, you can save it to a folder and return to your favorites when you need inspiration for where to go or what to cook.

In talking to my peers, three things came up in nearly every conversation about what people turn to social media for: recipes, restaurants, and travel recommendations.

People are sick of the Google recipe algorithm that prioritizes obscure search engine optimized blogs. It’s been a running joke on the internet that in order to read a recipe you have to get through the blogger’s entire life story, but this is actually deterring the young people I talked to from searching for recipes on Google. Because a TikTok has to quickly grab your attention, recipe videos on the platform are to the point, putting the focus on the food, not the creator.

Emily Mariko, one of the most popular food creators on TikTok, doesn’t talk to her 11.5 million followers in her videos, rather she lets the food speak for itself. She draws the viewer in with her straightforward visual recipes and tidy plating, showing how enticing video recipes can be without someone telling you every single step. It’s a huge draw for 23-year-old Kyra Papazian. “I mainly use TikTok and Instagram to look up recipes as opposed to searching that on Google,” she told Mashable. “It can be a specific search like ‘banana bread’ or [a] general search like, ‘dinner ideas.’ It’s so much easier than searching a recipe on Google and scrolling through a long article.”

Natalie Gomas, a 23-year-old student from Boston, uses TikTok for recipes and workout ideas. “The way recipes are done on webpages annoys me a lot. You have to scroll through so much stuff to get to the actual recipes,” she told Mashable. Similarly, the workouts she finds on the app “aren’t too complicated” to try at home. “The workouts on TikTok are workouts I’d actually want to do.”

In a TikTok, you can immediately see what a restaurant looks like and see the person recommending it. It allows for maximum vibe reconnaissance. Additionally, if someone made a TikTok on it, and it came up on your FYP, chances are it’s something you’ll actually enjoy and the information is up to date. Since the pandemic began it’s hard to know what information on Google Search is current. Several times I’ve found a restaurant through Google Search only to later discover that it’s since gone out of business.

Ella Boyce, a 23 year-old who has spent the past year traveling in South America and Europe, relies on TikTok and Instagram for travel recommendations. “A lot of blogs aren’t designed for phones, so it’s hard to read, and there’s no centralized fount to crowd source info; it’s all random decentralized blogs from Google,” Boyce explained to Mashable. “It’s harder to tell someone’s credibility from an article than from a video because you can see the person.”

So the next time you’re looking for travel inspiration or a place to grab a slice of pizza, you might find what you’re searching for on TikTok.

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