A Starter’s Guide To Social Media #7: TikTok, Reels, and YT Shorts (Short Videos)

After a grand total of one week on TikTok, I think it’s time to add video shorts to my Starter’s Guide To Social Media series!

In my defense, I’ve been watching reels on Facebook/Instagram for the last 3 years, and even occasionally offering my own content. Even Youtube is getting in the game! I’ve asked around, and while I can’t make you go viral, I’ll be sharing some best practices. But first, I’ve talked before about setting yourself up on Facebook and Instagram, I’ve talked about getting started on Youtube. How do you even use TikTok?

If you’re already comfortable with TikTok basics, Skip ahead to 14 Short Video Best Practices

TikTok Set Up

  1. Download the app or go to their website.
  2. Create an account with your name — as earlier in this series, I suggest your name, not your current book. You might have more than one book or series in you!
  3. Fill out your profile: add a bio, with a link to your other content in it, plus a profile picture or video six seconds or under.
  4. Follow people you know, or who create content in hashtags you want to follow and whose videos you enjoy.
  5. Scroll through videos for a few hours so it can learn your algorithm for the type of content you like.

TikTok app basics for viewing

Let’s go across the tabs on the bottom of the app window, from left to right.


In the bottom left corner, the Home tab will show you TikTok’s suggested videos for you.


To the right of Home is the Friends tab, this is the feed of things your friends have posted or reshared.


Jumping past that plus sign, we’ve got your Inbox. Once you select this, you will see:

  • Activity Status – An arrow next to the screen title “Inbox” will let you toggle on/off your activity status. If it’s on, there will be a green dot and friends can see if you’re active. Where?
  • Active Friends – The top row will show friends who are active on TikTok at that moment
  • Activities – expands to show comments, likes, and reshares of your content
  • Messages – chats with other platform users, with suggestions to say hi to everyone you’ve ever friended. You can also start a chat by selecting the paper and pencil icon in the upper right corner.


On your profile tab (lower right corner), you’ll get another 5 tabs (as an upper bar, right under your bio):

  1. Your content – A stack of your drafts, followed by your content in descending order
  2. Your private videos — created by you and shared only with yourself
  3. Favorites — A way to bookmark content so you can find it again! This is broken down into a large submenu that you have to swipe to the side to see all of the options:
    • Posts
    • Collections
    • Sounds
    • Effects
    • Places
    • Movies and TV
    • Books
    • Comments
    • Questions
    • Hashtags
    • Products
  4. Reshares – videos you shared with your friends
  5. Liked Videos – A feed of videos you’ve liked. Plus, a way to show appreciation to the creators! This tab’s content can be public or private.

Creating Content

Some of us aren’t just looking to consume content, we want to create our own! Circle back to that big plus sign in the middle of the bottom of the app to get started creating your own content! I highly recommend a tripod.

Confession: My tripod can actually double as a selfie stick, even if I rarely use it that way.

Camera options

  • Add Sound — music or recorded audio from the TikTok library — or upload your own.
  • Flip – switches cameras
  • Speed — slow mo or speed up your recording!
  • Retouch — smooths your skin
  • Filters — Adjust the brightness, contrast, etc
  • Timer — start the recording a few seconds after you hit record. The kids these days usually don’t mind if someone sees their hand coming away from the ‘record’ button, though
  • Q&A — Show a question from someone else (especially if its trending or on brand) for you to answer during the video or create your own. If you create your own, decide if you want others to be able to answer your question (and get people redirected back to your feed!)
  • Flash — in Photo mode, flash is an option
  • Effects — Often also referred to as ‘Filters’, there can be anything in here! This distorts images, adds audio, makeup, or bug-eye effects. Play around and see what you want.
  • Upload – Still images or pre-recorded videos are fine.
  • Recording Type— You can add audio to still images or collections of images. You can record videos. If you think you’re going to run long, select the longer time and it will trim to length. Your options are as follows:
    • Photo
    • 15s
    • 60s
    • 3m


These can have audio, backgrounds, or preset timings flipping through images. They can help you follow a recent trend or you can modify it to make something your own.

14 Video Shorts Best Practices

No matter which platforms you’re posting on, these best practices should help you make the most of your channel.

1. Branding and authenticity

We know that so much of social media is carefully scripted and cultivated to show the ‘highlights reel’ of someone’s life. Be yourself! Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Figure out your brand: certain topics and formats may work better for you. Watch videos and decide what styles you like. I suggest picking a few topics and making the majority of your content related to those. For me, it’s writing stuff (both tips and struggles), my cat, pretty pictures of the outside, and anything covered by the ‘fantasy’ subgenre.

While I’ve tended towards scripted content, I’m working on bulletizing, or even throwing the script out entirely. People aren’t coming to be lectured. Sometimes this means I do a few more takes, but since these are short, it’s not so bad.

Don’t be fake. Authenticity matters a lot. Don’t just say what you think people want you to say — but know there can be consequences for unpopular takes. If you want to avoid potential fallout, avoid those subjects. Think about the difference between visiting with work-friends and high-school buddies, you can stick to topics that you’re comfortable sharing with that group, but still be an aspect of yourself.

2. Prepare your space

Shorts are filmed vertically, with a phone. Check your lighting and your framing — make sure you only have things you want to show the world on your screen.

3. Privacy concerns

If you are uncomfortable having your face or voice on the internet, you can still participate! You can use music or other people’s audio with video footage of anything, even still images. Or, you can lean into filters — there are face filters, screen filters, green screens, and even audio filters. You can have the app do your makeup for you, or obscure your face with goofy effects. Use whatever is best for your comfort level.

Remember: the algorithms are fickle, just because most of your posts have 20 views doesn’t mean that your next video won’t go viral. So, if you’re going to post something controversial, be prepared for people to come at you. Or, share with friends only.

While these social media apps are often marketed at people trying to build a platform — or even to go viral, all of the apps allow you to lock down your audience.

Note: If you want to use the TikTok tools for a video that you don’t want to share on TikTok, you can share it privately and then download it, but it will have the TikTok logo on it.

4. Safety first

My general guideline is: if there is a 20% chance or higher that doing this activity should – not will – but should require going to the ER, don’t do it.

Whether it’s a dangerous construction site, heavy traffic, or a riot: prioritize your safety and that of those around you over good footage. That said, videos, even short ones, can be an instrument of justice and change. Be careful.

5. Get right to the point

Unless you are super funny, the longer your intro before you get to the subject, the faster people will swipe right past you.

6. Use what’s trending

Whether it’s music, audio clips, effects, tags, or questions, if you use things that are currently trending, the algorithms will reward you.

Reshare content you like, but you can also duet it with your own reaction. While it can be annoying to watch a trending reel that’s super fascinating dueted with a random person just making facial expressions as they watch, it’s not a bad way to get more followers. But, it’s more fun when the two videos’ timing matches, such that it looks like a conversation or an actual song duet.

Stitch other people’s videos! Not all videos can be stitched, but this is when they show 3 seconds of the original, and then you record your own response. 

7. Show us your pets!

No matter what your normal content is, cat/pet videos are always welcome.

8. Live Video

Live videos tend to be a little longer and seem to work better if you have a schedule or at least a large following.

Longer streams give more people time to click and find out what’s going on. It’s up to you if they’re available after the live stream ends.

I have heard of audio narrators and authors streaming their works to give their followers an early listen — then immediately taking them down to prevent copyright issues.

9. First publication rights

Speaking of those copyright issues.

You need to watch out for giving away your audio rights. When you sell a book, you often sell both print and audio rights (by region and language). Writers get a lot more for first publications than reprints, and that applies to audio rights. If you publish your work online in a publically accessible space (not password protected or anything), then you have self-published it, and any further publications will be in the reprint market.

If you’re reading your words online, I’m not sure where the legalities are if it’s live-streamed, but doesn’t remain available. And I’m not sure if captioning will affect your print rights. Look into it before posting your work online.

10. Captions

Speaking of captions, if it’s not your own fiction, don’t hesitate!

Reportedly, most people watch videos with the sound off: either because they’re being discrete at work, don’t want to wake people at night, or just to avoid annoying other people in the room. So, they’re going to miss the context for most videos without captions. Plus, captions just make you more accessible in general. Additionally, the keywords found in your captions will help the algorithm find your audience.

11. Hashtags

Who wants what?

For TikTok, 3-5 hashtags are recommended. Instagram is known for a pile of hashtags, but studies suggest that 3-5 is the sweet spot there as well. Experiment to find the number that works best for you. I recommend a mix of applicable hashtags with big followings and/or very targeted hashtags.

Hashtags help the algorithms find your audience. Because of how trending works, you end up being shown to many people who don’t follow you. While you can look for trending on other platforms, that’s not typically the default.

12. Posting frequency

As with all platforms, it is suggested to have consistent content rather than flood and famine. You can always save some of your videos for later. Just toss them in the drafts folder.

How often should you post? TikTok recommends 1-4 times a day to grow your audience. In 2023, Instagram suggests between twice a week and twice a day, but vary between stories, reels, and in-feed posts. While classic Youtube suggests posting once a week, Youtube Shorts suggests at least 3 times a week to grow.

13. Reuse your content

There’s no reason not to share videos you created for TikTok on Instagram, or Facebook, or Youtube. TikTok even has a share button.

CAVEAT: I am unclear how much Facebook likes TikTok reshares. The first day I shared my TikTok link on Facebook, three people saw any of my other Facebook posts that day. Your experience may be different than mine. I’m opting to download the posted TikToks, and then reshare the video from my phone’s gallery, rather than the direct-to-TikTok link. There seems to be no stigma for viewers on having the TikTok logo on an item. One day is obviously not enough data for why Facebook hid the rest of my posts that particular day, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

14. Engage with the community

As always, engaging with others is a great way to make friends. Commenting on others’ posts, stitching their videos, and answering their questions are all ways of engaging. Duets are also quite popular. As I mentioned earlier, that’s where there’s a split screen and the video from two different people recording themselves are shown side-by-side playing at the same time.

Key takeaways:

I’m sure I’ll learn more as I travel this road. While I might get tired of short videos and stop doing them, I had that same personal expectation when I started my blog and my Youtube channel, so… I may be in this for the long haul.

Safety first, authenticity can’t be faked, don’t give away your publishing rights for free, and have fun. If the platform doesn’t work for you, that’ll show through and you won’t get the views to make it worth further investment.

But, if you give it a chance, you might just find that you like it.

Anything I missed? I know I’m new to the format. I’d love to hear from the experts.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s