Social media is an entity that never fails to surprise. Just when you think one platform has monopolized the space, another emerges, and the landscape shifts.
While giants like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube remain relevant —a new contender has entered the arena to great fanfare, especially among young people — TikTok.
A social media app that allows users to post short lip-synced, music, comedy, or tutorial videos, TikTok has taken the social media world by storm. The network boasts over 1 billion users globally (and growing), while in China—where it is known as Duoyin—it has over 743 million daily users according to Statista.
The story of TikTok is an interesting snapshot of today’s growing thirst for video content, youth usage, and even East meets West. Here we look at its rise, its growing influencer value, and TikTok's marketing potential.
The original incarnation of TikTok, Musical.ly became popular among digital natives due to its novelty value and easy-to-use video creation interface.
Musical.ly was founded in 2014 and enjoyed a steady flow in app downloads and user adoption. In 2015, Musical.ly reached number one in the iTunes app charts, exploding almost overnight.
In 2016, Chinese tech company Bytedance launched a version of Musical.ly known as Douyin to the Chinese market before introducing it overseas as TikTok in 2017. Understanding the platform's potential, particularly among young digital natives, Bytedance bought and incorporated Musical.ly and it became the version of TikTok we know today.
So what exactly is TikTok? If you’re wondering if it’s like that other Gen-Z plaything, Snapchat, it’s quite different. Unlike Snapchat, TikTok has users with followers, likes, and comments, and people can spend hours browsing millions of user-generated short videos. It is a much larger platform that appeals to the creativity of its audience.
Kooky and offbeat, The Atlantic declared that “TikTok is cringey and that’s fine.” And, it seems that TikTok’s bizarre nature is one of the things that propels its ongoing success.
Users can create and upload a video—up to 15 seconds long (although you can string together four separate videos to create 60-second pieces)—incorporating music with filters and editing effects, or showing the user lip-synching to a song.
To put the rapid global popularity of TikTok and Douyin, into perspective, here are some insights you should know:
It’s clear that TikTok is a highly engaged, heavily subscribed, and aggressively growing social media platform—a new-age network that is proving very influential in the current climate.
As with any other social media platform, going viral is the golden ticket. As a platform that is not yet mainstream, the viral successes on TikTok are often still surprising.
Like Canadian high school student Jade Taylor-Ryan and her 12-second video of her cat, Ed, clapping and twirling to Mr. Sandman, earning her 6.8 million views and 1.2 million likes within 24 hours.
It's also become a way for brands to sell their wares effectively with many TikTok users watching sellers livestream and clicking through to buy. Small and local companies are also seeing success as Lee Tregear who owns sweets and souvenir shops in Stevenage has proven.
After one of Tregear’s employees started a TikTok account for the business it attracted 105,000 viewers while he advertised a pickle! Sales of the vegetable briefly became a TikTok trend.
“From then, we started doing TikToks every single day,” Tregear told The Guardian. “It’s actually made the [bricks and mortar] shop popular. People have travelled to see us; I sit there taking selfies and doing autographs.”
Tip: Check out our article 'How to Go Viral on TikTok: Tips from Top Accounts' for some tips and tricks.
It is worth noting that while the platform is paved with opportunity, a myriad of security concerns and privacy issues concerning TikTok’s young user base have shrouded the platform in some controversy.
A congressional hearing in the United States saw TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew face questions about the implications of Americans’ data being accessed by China. Federal agencies have also been ordered to delete the app from government devices while some cities have barred government workers from downloading it. Lawmakers in Europe and Canada have escalated efforts to restrict access to the platform citing security threats according to the New York Times.
There has also been some controversy surrounding Douyin as the company faced a 200,000 yuan (US$31,088) fine by regulators for publishing a controversial micro-loan advertisement that encouraged “excessive consumption”, according to government records.
While TikTok continues to address these issues, keeping a close eye on them is important, particularly as the vast majority of its users fall into the 13 to 24-year-old age range.
The convenient mobile-native nature of TikTok, coupled with its creative and bite-sized content are elements that have propelled the platform's colossal success in recent times.
While Musical.ly focused on music, TikTok taps into a broader spectrum of creativity, encompassing a range of niche communities such as comedy, dance, fashion, and food.
Given that the number of mobile devices is expected to reach 18.2 billion by 2025 reports Statista, videos are now consumers' favorite content type, The growing adoption of TikTok makes it an ideal playground for influencer marketing.
Younger cohorts, particularly those belonging to the Gen Z tribe are flocking to TikTok in pursuit of the influencers active on the platform. It seems that many young digital natives are migrating away from the ‘big social players’ to connect with those who have interests and outlooks more closely aligned with their own.
The fact is influencers or TikTokers can make a lot of money such as Charli D'Amelio and Khabane Lame. But there's also potential for brands to drive awareness and revenue through endorsement deals and sponsorship.
For example, footwear brand Crocs Crocs has decided to use influencers to increase followers and drive sales. A lot of their posts feature a young influencer along with sponsored posts by canine influencers @jibbitz and @jessethepompom. This example features the Hulett Brothers taking a trick shot into a Croc.
Using the hashtag #InMyDenim, GUESS challenged users to post videos of themselves wearing their favorite denim garments, boosting their reach with the help of influential content creators. The hashtag sponsored by the brand has seen over 55 million views and went viral when it launched.
Tapping into the foodie niche, TikTok worked in collaboration with culinary influencers with its #SavortheFlavor campaign.
Largely focused on capturing the attention of Instagram users, mid-level foodie influencers including Devour Power (800,000 Instagram followers) and Chelsey White (877,000 Instagram followers) were encouraged to create visually-inspiring videos via TikTok and share them with their Insta followers for a chance to win a week’s ‘food-cation’ in New York City.
The challenge-based influencer campaign reached 3,261,000 Instagram users, earning a total of 1,031,296 views, and tallying up a total of 40,318 post likes. An impressive result that demonstrates the power of cross-platform promotion.
“Influencers — they’re the best thing since sliced bread. But forget bread; they’re selling like hotcakes. They’re creating huge returns, and they’re only set to keep growing!” Emily Warna, social media marketing advocate
There's no denying it: while TikTok is yet to gain a market share that rivals the likes of Facebook and Instagram, its rapid growth, and video-centric concept makes it a formidable social force.
That said, it might not last. It is just one of many, many social platforms, one can't be sure how loyal its users will remain, and indeed hard numbers are hard to come by as TikTok themselves do not release any statistics. But as the most downloaded app of 2019 it's clearly growing organically at a phenomenal rate and worth watching.
By taking the time to understand the platform on a deeper level and watching or joining it now, forging relationships with influencers in your niche, there might well be an awful lot to gain.
Really, there's no time to waste... TikTok.
To keep up with the latest TikTok news and trending content, follow @TikTokTrendy on Twitter.