April 9, 2023

Anna Dobbert

Hot Take: Eavesdropping Is Cool and It’s Why We Like TikTok So Much


You’re sitting in a coffee shop alone. Maybe you have work to get done or maybe you’re waiting for a friend. As you sit, you tune in around you, and you can’t help but overhear the woman in the corner on a very loud Zoom call in this public space of all places. Oh, she’s part of a nonprofit that wants to make after-school care more affordable, how interesting. You then tune in to the couple to your right and notice the man isn’t listening very intently as his counterpart relays the crucial details of next weekend’s agenda. You make a silent note in your head to remember to look people in the eye when they’re talking to you so you don’t come off like that guy.

Ever do that? Listen aimlessly and draw your own conclusions about people, their lives, and their choices, knowing full well you don’t really know anything about them. Often while walking down the street, I’ll catch a wandering sentence from the people who just passed, and I repeat it back to my friend, just out of earshot of the passersby. It’s a fun little bit; you should try it sometime.

The art of eavesdropping: TikTok creates an ideal canvas.

We all do it. We lend an ear, maybe when we shouldn’t, and get a glorious glimpse of a stranger in their natural habitat. Some people think it’s rude, invasive even. But I disagree since I find the human need to learn and absorb information is crucial to being a well-rounded, smart person. There is an art and an appeal to it, and it’s that natural desire that leads me down rabbit holes on TikTok. I’ll see a post captioned “Crazy storytime about what just happened to me at Trader Joe’s,” and before I know it, I’m months deep into that person’s page, watching their mom’s reaction to them getting into Harvard. And now I’m on the mom’s page and…well, you get it.

Everyone always talks about why TikTok is so appealing because there’s so much value on where we all put our attention. TikTok has the potential to have a bigger reach than any billboard or primetime television ad, and better yet, it is completely free. We all know short-form videos are jacking our attention spans, and the never-ending stream of content makes it too easy to be glued to your phone for hours on end. But technical frameworks aside, if the content isn’t good then no one would bother, right?

So what makes you want to listen?

I think people want to hear about other people. We all just want to learn and know more about each other — most enthralling is when we get to learn the nitty gritty. That’s why we eavesdrop, right? But now we can do it on a much larger scale. Every day people go on their phones, tell the wildest stories with the most intimate details that you couldn’t get me to say on the internet even if you paid me. We then watch the comment section flood with questions, opinions, follow-up videos — you name it. It captivates the part of our brains that can’t help but eavesdrop sometimes.

So what does this all mean for brands? The most common thing I see with new creators or companies on TikTok is they don’t have a good grasp on what things people actually want to see on the app. Is it silly dances and trending sounds? Is it beautifully directed marking material? While I think all these are good content ideas, I want to express that adding a personal element is the only thing that has ever influenced me to “click-the-link-in-bio” on anyone’s page. We’re so constantly inundated with video after video, but always those that intrigue me the most are the ones that tell me the story of how a company was founded or share a caught-on-camera moment. All this to say, there is value in the lesser-heard stories someone might have heard while eavesdropping in a coffee shop.

Your turn! What captures your attention and appeals to you most on TikTok?

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