How TikTok is Shaking Up Social Media Platforms in 2020

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According to statistics from Sensor Tower, TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world at the end of May 2020. The short video sharing app was downloaded 111.9 million times in May, roughly double the number of downloads last year. While some people shoot TikToks or buy TikTok followers, the others do not understand why and how the app got so popular. This is what we will try to explain in this article.

How it began

In the fall of 2016, an app with short videos, Douyin, appeared on the Chinese market. A year later, there were 100 million users. In parallel, another entertainment app, also from Chinese founders,, was gaining popularity in the western market. It looked strange: schoolgirls sing lip-sync to popular songs. It seemed nobody would be interested in this. It turned in 2017, the application was already at the top of Google and the App Store.

Watching the success of Musical. ly, the founder of Douyin, Chinese entrepreneur and programmer Zhang Yiming, decided it was time to bring the application to the international market - and launched TikTok in September 2017. Basically, it was a copy of the original Douyin, but aimed exclusively at overseas audiences so as not to violate Chinese law. A couple of months later, Imin bought Musical. ly and merged it with TikTok. According to unofficial data, the deal cost $ 1 billion - this amount was estimated by 60 million active users of Musical. ly (the app itself, although it was very popular among Western teenagers, made almost no money). As time has shown, it was a good deal.

The appn still has two versions: the global TikTok and the Chinese Douyin (1.2 billion and 250 million users, respectively). The main difference is that Douyin's servers are located in China, and the app's content is moderated according to government censorship rules. Both services are owned by China's ByteDance, the world's largest privately held technology company that owns news aggregator Toutiao and various applications and is valued at $ 75 billion.

The TikTok phenomenon

If artificial intelligence was given the task of coming up with the most engaging content for teens, it would have come up with TikTok. Social media content - dynamic short videos with music and effects. It is a kind of a hybrid of YouTube and Instagram on steroids, which instantly grabs your attention. The app has a subscription feed and a recommendation feed, which account for 80% of views. The next tab contains popular hashtags and challenges. To create content, the application has a full-fledged video editor with a huge number of effects, masks, transitions and filters.

The key trick of TikTok is challenges. These are flash mobs in which users repeat a certain movement or dance. The algorithms of recommendations in the application are very democratic: you can get into trends regardless of how many subscribers you have. Challenges allow you to get more coverage and feel like a part of the community.

Challenges are so viral that TikTok has become a powerful channel for promoting artists. Thanks to TikTok, American indie band Fitz and the Tantrums hit the Korean charts, even though they have never performed in Asia. Half of the hits on Chinese streaming services are songs that hit TikTok or Douyin. The main song of 2019 - Old Town Road by rapper Lil Nas X - also came out of TikTok.

By turning music into memes, TikTok is changing the landscape of the music industry. Labels react painfully to this - after all, any Internet service that popularizes new music, at the same time, makes money on it. Now labels are selling TikTok the rights to use their songs for tens of times more than they used to.

TikTok has done a seemingly incredible thing - created a new niche in social media, where Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and a bunch of other platforms for sharing entertainment content already exist. It has become a new cozy haven for young people who do not want to be on social networks with their parents. TikTok is a territory of total freedom, entertainment and frenzy. There are no politicians and brands, no ads and toxic content - only positive, dancing, music and jokes. This makes it incomprehensible to adults and at the same time the ideal social network for teenagers.

TikTok has provided a powerful tool for creative people. It allows you to create a complex video on your smartphone in a few taps. Half of the videos in it were shot against the backdrop of home carpets, but this is the best evidence that TikTok's product managers did everything right. TikTok has become a popular app without exaggeration.

The key to success

TikTok is owned by ByteDance. Today it is one of the most expensive startups in the world with a valuation of $ 75 billion. ByteDance's flagship product is the Toutiao news aggregator with 120 million users. Because of this, the company is sometimes called the "king of clickbait". The success of Toutiao's clickbait headlines and TikTok's viral recommendations are powered by powerful machine learning algorithms. These algorithms are the company's "secret sauce". By analyzing user behavior, they quickly adjust to their tastes and offer exactly the content that will engage them. The more users, the more data for training - and the more effective the recommendations work.

Until a few years ago, it was thought that no one could create better recommendation algorithms than Google and Facebook with billions of users. TikTok posts are now getting four times more likes than Instagram posts with the same number of views.

In 2018, TikTok was downloaded over 738 million times, and the app was installed more often than Instagram and Snapchat. Now it is one of the most popular social networks in the world. The reason for this rapid growth is not only viral algorithms, but also huge marketing budgets.

Four ad agencies are promoting TikTok in the United States. The company allocated more than $ 1 billion for these purposes in 2018 and also hired former top managers of Facebook and YouTube. TikTok is promoted through popular Instagram and YouTube bloggers, and in some cases, the transaction amounts reach $ 1 million per post. The app is advertised on social media used by young Americans - Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook. In Snapchat, the app was promoted so actively that the company's management considered a ban on direct competitor advertising.

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