The Secret Behind TikTok’s Rapid Growth
In light of the recent appointment of Kevin Mayer, who’s now TikTok’s first CEO, we evaluate the factors that have helped the company take the social media world by storm.
While giants like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter remain relevant in the ever-evolving social media space, a new contender has entered the arena to a great welcome, especially amongst Gen Zs – TikTok. Founded in 2017 by its Chinese parent company ByteDance, TikTok is a video-sharing app that has been downloaded more than 2 billion times since its launch and was the world’s most downloaded app in 2018, above fellow social media platforms Instagram and Snapchat. The app allows its users to post short music, dance, talent or comedy videos and currently has 800 million active users worldwide, all hooked by the light-hearted and goofy content they can find there. This makes the platform the 9th most used app in terms of social network sites, ahead of well-known platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Videos created on TikTok are viewed 17 billion times on average per month. But what are the things that helped TikTok become so popular?
The impressive success of TikTok, especially in recent months, offers an interesting insight into today’s ever-expanding thirst for easily accessible video content, as well as youth usage and the connection between the East and the West.
The original incarnation of TikTok, Musical.ly, became popular amongst the social media world thanks to its non-complicated interface which allows users to create videos quickly and without fuss. Founded in 2014, the app enjoyed a steady flow in downloads and reached number one in the iTunes app chart on 6th July 2015.
While Musical.ly was entirely music-based, TikTok taps into a more varied spectrum of creativity, encompassing more niche categories such as dance, comedy, fashion, beauty tips, DIY projects, food and even fitness.
Chinese tech company ByteDance launched its own version of Musical.ly in 2016, called Douyin. In 2017, they introduced the app to the rest of the world, calling it TikTok. Recognising the potential the app had in the market, ByteDance Founder Zhang Yiming bought Musical.ly and combined the two apps to form the version of TikTok we know today.
However, while Musical.ly was entirely music-based, TikTok taps into a more varied spectrum of creativity, encompassing more niche categories such as dance, comedy, fashion, beauty tips, DIY projects, food and even fitness. And while these are all things you can find on Instagram, the short- video nature of TikTok seems to be resonating with its hundreds of millions of viewers. According to a trends report from 2018, video is consumers’ #1 favourite type of content to see on social media and what TikTok does so successfully is offering a platform that has taken a page of both Instagram and YouTube’s books and has combined them in one – offering an extremely digestible way of scrolling through countless short videos that could be both entertaining and useful.
In addition to this, TikTok has managed to convince numerous celebrities and influencers with massive social media following to get the app through partnering with them and encouraging them to start creating their own content. The #memeathon campaign, which included people like Paris Hilton and Kris Jenner, reached 3,173,500 users with an engagement rate of 338,500, and 9.5 million views for all posts that used the hashtag.
This move of bringing famous and semi-famous people to the platform is not only ‘influencing’ more people to create an account, so they can watch their favourite influencers’ videos, but also helping the app become the new hot platform for influencer marketing. International brands like Sony, Calvin Klein, FIFA and Guess have already dabbled in influencer marketing campaigns on the app, which is “increasingly seen as a way to get a cut-price deal while still reaching millions of potential customers”. And as it continues to gain momentum, especially during lockdown when we all have more free time on our hands, more brands will be following suit.
The most impressive thing ByteDance Founder Zhang Yiming has managed to achieve is showing the world that TikTok can succeed in an openly competitive market internationally rather than only in China.
And as impressive as all aforementioned successes are, the most impressive thing ByteDance Founder Zhang Yiming has managed to achieve is showing the world that TikTok can succeed in an openly competitive market internationally rather than only in China where the Great Firewall regulates the web and blocks access to several US social media platforms. His brilliant idea to have two versions of the same app – one complying with China’s internet regulations and one for the rest of the world – could become the new model for non-Chinese digital content companies aiming for the same global reach TikTok has, and those who have found it difficult to launch in China because of its strict internet censorship. This business model could also inspire digital startups in China who thought that they’d never be able to reach audiences outside of their home market.
Not everything has been smooth sailing though. TikTok has faced criticism on a number of issues, including serious security flaws and the ways it moderates content (particularly posts that relate to politics). Most recently, the app has seen increased criticism in India, including calls for its ban, after a popular video creator posted a clip seen to glorify acid attacks on women, as well as several other videos of women being abused. TikTok India has responded by saying that they have “taken action including taking down content, suspending the accounts of the concerned users and are working with law enforcement agencies, as appropriate”.
However, while TikTok is yet to gain a market share that rivals the likes of Instagram and Facebook, its unique and easy concept and rapid rise are helping ByteDance build an empire for a new generation of users. Only time can tell whether it will last or not, but the one clear thing is that Zhang Yiming’s dual business model has the potential to be a true gamechanger in the global digital marketplace.