The Art and Science of Creating Viral Content on TikTok

Aadil Verma

Hatched by Aadil Verma

Mar 26, 2024

4 min read


The Art and Science of Creating Viral Content on TikTok


In today's digital age, social media platforms have become powerful tools for brands and individuals to reach a wide audience. One platform that has gained immense popularity is TikTok, with its user base skyrocketing to 1 billion in September 2021. This article explores how Duolingo, a language-learning app, scaled to 8 million TikTok followers and delves into the strategies behind creating viral content. We will also discuss the importance of balancing art and science, stealing like an artist, and the significance of storytelling on TikTok.

Why TikTok?

Zaria Parvez, the Social Media Manager at Duolingo, explains that her decision to focus on TikTok was influenced by her familiarity with the platform. As someone who grew up using TikTok during college, she already understood its workings, what content resonated with users, and what made her laugh. Additionally, the fact that TikTok boasted 1 billion users signaled to her that the platform presented a unique opportunity to redirect attention back to Duolingo's app.

Balancing Art and Science:

When hiring for her team, Parvez emphasizes the importance of candidates' ability to create entertaining content rather than their advertising experience. While creativity and artistry are vital, understanding the science behind TikTok's algorithms and trends is equally crucial. Without a grasp of the platform's mechanics, it becomes challenging for content to gain traction. Therefore, a combination of art and science is necessary for success.

Copying vs. Innovating:

On TikTok, it is common to see users copying each other's content, often with slight variations. Parvez believes that "stealing like an artist" is acceptable and even appreciated on the platform. By observing trending audios and incorporating one's unique spin, creators can tap into existing virality. However, after reaching a certain level of popularity, it becomes essential to innovate and introduce new storylines or concepts to keep audiences engaged.

Storytelling as a Key Element:

Duolingo treats its TikTok account as a sitcom, with each video serving as an episode. This approach allows for the creation of ongoing storylines that viewers can follow and engage with. Parvez mentions characters like legal Steve, Lily the emo girl, and their mascot interventions as examples of the lore they are building. By infusing their content with storytelling elements, Duolingo ensures that their TikTok videos can function as standalone short-form content even if they were to leave the platform.

Meeting Audience Expectations:

One crucial lesson Parvez has learned is that people do not come to social media platforms to learn a language or promote a specific app. Understanding this, Duolingo focuses on creating content that resonates with viewers, even if it doesn't directly tie back to language learning. By paying attention to comments and feedback, social media managers can gain valuable insights into what their audience wants to see and deliver accordingly.

Creating Cool Ideas for Social Media:

Jenny Hoyos, in her viral video-making masterclass, shares four criteria that every idea should meet to have a higher chance of going viral. These criteria are novelty, curiosity provocation, uncertainty, and complexity. Novelty refers to presenting a new or unique experience, while curiosity arises when content deviates from the norm or introduces knowledge gaps. Complexity involves posing intriguing questions or presenting in-depth puzzles or riddles.

Repurposing Content:

To maximize efficiency, Duolingo repurposes content across different platforms. Approximately 75% of their content is rip and replace, meaning it is shared as is across various channels. However, the remaining 25% is modified to suit the format, style, audio, and font of each platform. Duolingo's approach involves dividing responsibilities based on generational divides, with each social media manager specializing in a specific platform.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace TikTok's unique features and trends: Familiarize yourself with the platform and understand what content resonates with users. Incorporate trending audios and put your unique spin on them to increase virality.
  • 2. Infuse storytelling into your content: Treat your social media account as a series or sitcom, creating ongoing storylines that viewers can follow and engage with. This helps build a loyal and invested audience.
  • 3. Pay attention to audience feedback: Listen to your audience through comments, messages, and other forms of engagement. Use this feedback to inform your content creation process and deliver what your audience wants to see.


Creating viral content on TikTok requires a delicate balance between art and science. By understanding the platform's mechanics, incorporating trending elements, and infusing storytelling into their content, brands like Duolingo have achieved massive success. However, it is also essential to stay innovative and adapt to evolving audience expectations. By following the advice outlined in this article, aspiring content creators can increase their chances of creating viral content and engaging with a wider audience.

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