TikTok: Everything marketers need to know

TikTokBrief-form video app TikTok seems to have taken the world by storm.

All of the sudden, the app’s neon emblem and 15-second, looping videos replete with memes, inside jokes, sped-up music and young individuals lip-syncing or dancing seem to be in all places, and publications from Bloomberg to The Hindu are discussing its viral success.

However how did TikTok, the abroad counterpart to a Chinese app, Douyin, achieve such big reputation – to the extent of turning into, at one point, the most-downloaded app in the US, with downloads surpassing Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat?

How does it differ from its Chinese counterpart, and the way did its father or mother firm, Bytedance, handle to launch the app so successfully in the West? And may TikTok keep up its spectacular success, or is it destined to go the same approach as different once-popular short-form video apps like Vine and Dubsmash?

What’s TikTok?

TikTok is a short-form video app by which users can create, edit and add looping movies of between three and 60 seconds in length (although the app is greatest recognized for its 15-second format). These videos are sometimes set to music from TikTok’s library of licensed music clips, however don’t need to be. They will and do include anything from dancing to stunts, paintings, pranks, lip-syncing, cooking, pets, make-up tutorials and far more apart from.

One of the massive draws of TikTok is its modifying functionality. In contrast to some short-form video apps that solely permit users to report video, TikTok supplies the power to velocity up and slow down movies, add soundtracks, trim video clips, add filters and stickers – two features which have prompted comparisons to Snapchat – and quite a few different results, a few of them extremely refined.

For instance, one in style effect allows the consumer to “control” rain in a video by holding out their hand in the direction of the digital camera, which employs advanced image recognition know-how to determine the appropriate body part and detect its motion.

TikTok users may also upload a video that they’ve created utilizing their telephone’s native video performance, or one other video recording app, and use TikTok to edit it, as long as it matches inside the app’s time limitations.

Different distinctive options embrace the React perform, which allows customers to document themselves reacting to another TikTok video, and the Duet function, which displays two videos side-by-side (the original and the duet) as one individual joins in with the other’s track, dance, stunt, and so on. Dueting has given rise to a variety of TikTok’s viral crazes, as celebrities and common TikTok users problem others to take part with them.

What concerning the metrics? On the time of writing, TikTok has more than 500 million month-to-month lively users across more than 150 nations and regions, a milestone that it sailed past in June 2018. In February, it passed one billion app installs worldwide on the App Retailer and Google Play, in accordance to SensorTower. Roughly 663 million of those installs befell in 2018, which matches to show how rapidly TikTok’s consumer base is growing.

These numbers are even more spectacular considering that TikTok’s Chinese equivalent, Douyin, was solely launched in 2016, with TikTok getting into the overseas market the following yr. Thanks to this ‘overnight’ success, TikTok has typically been referred to as “the biggest app you’ve never heard of”.

A quick historical past of Douyin and TikTok

Brief-form video app Douyin, which has a name that actually means “vibrating sound” (Dǒuyīn 抖音), was launched by Chinese language internet know-how firm ByteDance in September 2016, originally underneath the identify ‘’. It was rechristened and rebranded as Douyin three months later.

The app, reportedly developed in simply 200 days, was not the primary short-form video app from ByteDance: it had launched its first, Toutiao Video (later renamed Xigua Video) six months prior. Different video apps in ByteDance’s portfolio embrace BuzzVideo (initially often known as TopBuzz) and Huoshan (often known as Vigo Video overseas). Nevertheless, none of them has loved the unbridled success of Douyin, which reached the 100 million consumer mark in beneath a yr.

Douyin had stiff competitors for Chinese netizens’ attention in 2016: the market was (and still is) crowded with short-form, long-form and live-streaming video platforms, together with Tencent-backed Kuaishou; Miaopai, owned by Weibo (China’s reply to Twitter); Alibaba-owned Youku; and Baidu-owned iQiyi. Nevertheless, the app has a couple of tips that helped to safe its success (and that have led to reputation abroad).

Super apps: How the remainder of the world is following in China’s footsteps

One is its swipe-to-view format; in contrast to most video apps that require the consumer to select a video to play it, movies on Douyin auto-play, and navigating to the subsequent one is just a matter of swiping upwards. Once a video finishes enjoying – or if the consumer gets bored – they will swipe to the subsequent, and the subsequent, and the subsequent, creating an countless stream of fast, funny, artistic, and musical videos. This swipe-to-view navigation is equivalent, in truth, to the favored brief video app, which ByteDance would later acquire.

One other function is TikTok’s personalised feed. Like different successful entertainment platforms, Douyin has an algorithm that learns what varieties of content users are enthusiastic about viewing extra of based mostly on their interactions with the app, and presents it to them in a tab labelled ‘For You’. This leads to a extra satisfying experience for the consumer than the strategies utilized by rivals like Kuaishou, which current users with videos with the very best number of playbacks. These can typically be sensational or horrifying, and aren’t all the time to everyone’s taste.

Douyin’s personalised feed, combined with its countless scrolling, make for such an addictive expertise that its creators have been pressured to add a warning that pops up after 90 continuous minutes spent viewing movies (the equivalent of 360 15-second videos). After two hours, the app will lock itself, requiring a password to unlock.

Douyin initially gained traction with a young demographic: in July 2017, 51.9% of Douyin customers have been aged 24 and beneath, with 10.1% aged 25-30, and 18.1% aged 31-35, in accordance to figures from Analysys and WalktheChat. Nevertheless, this has evened out over time, and by February 2018, solely 31.eight% of customers have been aged 24 and beneath, with 23.4% aged 25-30, and the same proportion aged 31-35.

Douyin usersDouyin’s most prolific content material creators are still young, nevertheless, with 50% of Douyin’s prime female creators and 40.1% of their prime male creators falling in the 21-25 age bracket, according to the Miaozhen Douyin Report 2018.

ByteDance launched Douyin’s worldwide counterpart, TikTok, in Might 2017; a few of its earliest abroad markets included Indonesia, Japan, and Vietnam. But while TikTok was similarly quick to achieve success in neighbouring Southeast and East Asia, it saw little uptake in western markets like america, the place one other Chinese language-owned brief video app,, was already dominant.

The rise and fall of

In order to perceive TikTok’s current phenomenal success in the west, it’s necessary to perceive Whereas some analyses of TikTok deal with the app as if it sprang out of nowhere, ByteDance’s savvy acquisition of vastly aided TikTok’s uptake overseas, giving it a ready-made userbase that was already accustomed to using a very comparable app. was launched in August 2014 by Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang. The company was headquartered in Shanghai with an workplace in California, and the app was initially launched in each China and the USA with the intention of catering to both markets. Nevertheless, after saw considerably more uptake within the U.S., its founders determined to focus their attention there, and shortly grew a loyal consumer base.'s’s emblem’s app allowed its customers (recognized colloquially as ‘Musers’) to create and add 15- to 60-second-long videos and choose soundtracks to accompany them from a library of licensed music. The app boasted quite a lot of modifying options for videos including time lapse, slow-motion, sped-up, and ‘epic’, in addition to filters and effects. turned well-known for its lip sync movies, though initially they were not the primary use of the app. Co-founder Alex Zhu informed Forbes that within the early days whereas was struggling to achieve traction, the group observed a spike in searches for “lip sync” on the app store each Thursday night time because the present Lip Sync Battle was airing in the USA. made some design modifications to emphasise lip syncing as a main use case for the app, and it rapidly took off.

By 1 July 2015, had climbed to number one within the App Retailer in the US and 18 other nations, and tens of millions of customers have been becoming a member of the app. By October 2016, had more than 133 million customers worldwide and an estimated $500m valuation, as reported in a profile revealed by Billboard. proved to be a serious boon for the music business, which scrambled to use it to promote hits to an engaged viewers of pop-loving teens. In Might 2016, at the peak of’s reputation, a promotion for Selena Gomez’s hit ‘Kill ‘Em With Kindness’ accrued 34.6 million likes on – versus simply two million likes on YouTube. The following month, Coca-Cola used as a platform to launch its #ShareACoke campaign. In July, debuted a live-streaming platform, additionally launched the careers of younger influencers like Jacob Sartorius, one of the app’s most popular stars, whose first single Sweatshirt reached number 10 in the iTunes Store after he promoted it on; and Child Ariel, who turned’s prime consumer on the age of 15, and subsequently landed numerous brand offers and launched a line of lipstick.

Nevertheless, regardless of this marketable attraction, struggled to find a viable monetisation strategy. A November 2017 article by Digiday noted that as a result of influencer advertising on was so new, “there is no standard on an individual’s ‘influence’, and the pricing can only be based off of the person’s past work because hasn’t yet opened its application programming interface to advertisers.”

Pricing per branded video, according to Joe Gagliese, co-founder and managing associate of talent agency Viral Nation, might range anyplace from $200 to $20,000 – a wildly various vary, and on the upper finish, a serious gamble for brands to tackle a largely unproven platform. An earlier Digiday report noted that early worth points for promoting had been even greater – round $300,000 per day, and for some ad packages, upwards of $2.5m.

Not every new social platform is predicted to discover its ft immediately, in fact. However the failure to achieve traction with its advertising offering forged a shadow over, whose star was waning slightly by late 2017. It doubtless didn’t assist that the brief video area was already notorious for producing short-lived sensations like Vine, which had been discontinued the previous yr, and Dubsmash, one other lip-syncing app that achieved viral reputation in 2014 and 2015 earlier than laying off 20% of its employees in November 2016, after which all however 5 staff members in the summertime of 2017.

It was presently that ByteDance swooped in to purchase, with the Wall Road Journal reporting the acquisition on 9 November 2017. The worth tag for the app, whereas unconfirmed, is speculated to have been between $800m and $1bn.

ByteDance ran as a separate app to TikTok for 9 months, before merging the two in August 2018 and gaining a ready-made audience of more than 200 million lively users. Soon after, the corporate began a concerted advertising push to promote TikTok, with copious advert placements on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook. Whereas this incurred some backlash from users sick of seeing the advertisements, it also labored – TikTok was the speak of the digital town.

TikTokA Google Developments graph illustrating the sharp rise in search curiosity in ‘TikTok’ within the US in 2018.

Comparing the respective success stories of and TikTok – each Chinese apps, one in every of which saw great success in the USA before declining and being acquired, whereas the other saw nice success in China earlier than happening to even higher success in the USA – it’s troublesome not to ponder whether should have made another try at launching in its house market, the place there was clearly a huge urge for food for short-form video. Maybe a Chinese language launch in 2016 would have seen it compete with or even beat it to the punch?

Nevertheless, as a startup with no different merchandise, would possible have struggled to divide its time and a spotlight between two very totally different markets. ByteDance, a extra established tech firm with multiple profitable merchandise (together with the popular content platform Toutiao) was a lot better placed to increase and purchase properties abroad. wasn’t even ByteDance’s first short-form video acquisition; in February of the same yr, it acquired Flipagram, a brief video creation app as soon as thought-about a potential menace to Instagram.

It additionally stays to be seen whether TikTok’s present viral streak will continue. As anyone who has been watching the digital panorama over the previous 5 years is aware of, short-form video apps completely can obtain success within the West – but turning a profit with them is more durable.

Can TikTok monetise efficiently?

Regardless of being one of the world’s most beneficial startups with an estimated $75bn valuation, TikTok’s mother or father firm is at present making a loss: in accordance to a report by The Info, it misplaced $1.2bn in 2018 following TikTok’s “costly” abroad launch. Regardless of months of rumours, ByteDance has but to go public, though the Wall Road Journal has reported that Wall Road banks are “lining up to lend” to the company.

Maybe learning from’s ill-fated entry into the advertising area, TikTok has yet to absolutely throw its weight behind model promoting, though the floodgates are starting to open. In January, users noticed what appeared to be an ad unit check for meals supply firm GrubHub (see it right here).

The advert reportedly lasted for round 5 seconds, and had a button within the right-hand nook permitting customers to skip over it. TikTok declined to touch upon the check, but Digiday succeeded in acquiring a pitch deck that TikTok had despatched to “a large advertising agency in Europe”, which sheds extra mild on the app’s advertising plans.

Digital media and advertising marketing consultant Neil Perkin analysed the deck for Econsultancy’s Digital Shift Q2 2019. The pitch deck boasts that TikTok has 17 million month-to-month lively users across Europe, with its hottest European markets being France, Germany and the UK. Throughout these markets, customers are reported to open the app a mean of eight occasions per day, spending a mean of forty minutes per day partaking with the app. The deck also outlines 4 key promoting codecs: brand takeover, in-feed native video, hashtag problem and 2D, 3D and augmented actuality lenses. Of those, the Grubhub ad check seems to have been an instance of in-feed native video.

TikTok ad formatsSource: Digital Shift

The hashtag problem and lens codecs are oriented in the direction of user-generated content, with the idea of sponsored lenses a well-known one to anyone who has ever marketed on Snapchat. The hashtag challenge format, meanwhile, is designed to enable manufacturers to work with influencers to kick off viral challenges on the platform. Hashtag challenges are well-established on TikTok (and on its predecessor, with users making a video depicting a specific dance, stunt or move – often set to particular music – and tagging it with a hashtag.

Fashionable TikTok challenges have included the #stairshuffle – a shuffling dance carried out up a flight of stairs, set to a sped-up model of ‘Pretty Girl’ by Maggie Lindeman; the #unmakeupchallenge, a makeup removing problem; and the #trustfallchallenge, during which the subject of the video performs a spontaneous “trust fall” onto an unsuspecting bystander.

TikTok has already carried out one sponsored hashtag marketing campaign with style model Guess: #InMyDenim, a trend challenge inviting customers to exhibit their greatest appears in denim, set to the track ‘I’m a Mess’ by Bebe Rexha. On the time of writing, the #inmydenim hashtag has been used a complete of 37.eight million occasions on TikTok, with a further 9,000 makes use of for #inmydenimchallenge (right here’s an example).

Some superstar figures have also found how to harness the facility of TikTok with no formal brand deal. Speak show host Jimmy Fallon, for instance, has publicly declared himself a fan of TikTok and devoted a new phase of his present, Tonight Present Challenges, to challenges he points on TikTok. The primary problem, The Tumbleweed Problem – during which fans have been challenged to drop down onto the ground and roll around like “human tumbleweed” in a clip set to western-style music – generated greater than eight,000 submissions and more than 10.four million engagements for TikTok – the most important spike that the app has seen from a single problem, as reported by Selection journal.

Judging by these figures and the nature of TikTok, it appears possible that the two user-generated content material advert formats will generate the perfect returns for advertisers, as they each invite engagement and generate publicity, all while enjoying into TikTok’s burgeoning influencer tradition. A few of the hottest figures from’s heyday, like Child Ariel, Cameron Dallas, and Lisa and Lena Mantler, have stayed on the app and are amongst TikTok’s largest stars, while newer influencers like Spanish comic Javi Luna have already built big followings.

For less participatory advert formats like in-feed native video, the presence of a ‘skip’ button is vital: research by Kantar Millward Brown found that Era Z, the demographic most lively on TikTok, are more doubtless to be constructive in the direction of skippable pre-roll advertisements, however are “especially damning” in the direction of non-skippable advertisements, and different invasive formats like pop-ups. The agency additionally discovered that Era Z will skip advertisements three seconds quicker on common compared with the older Era X.

Nevertheless, if TikTok can good an advert format that its customers will respond to – or at the very least, not skip over – manufacturers may have a chance to get their message in entrance of TikTok’s tens of millions of customers, tremendously growing model consciousness. The pitch deck from TikTok also revealed that in-feed native video advertisements may be mixed with a hashtag challenge for max influence.

Influencers on TikTok: Will they stick round?

Influencers are one of many largest promoting factors for an app like TikTok. They act as a serious draw to the platform, retaining users coming again to the app and interesting with their content. For manufacturers, influencer endorsement can add legitimacy and relate a model message to their viewers in a method that a company can’t.

One of the key elements in the demise of Vine, the TikTok of the early to mid-2010s, was that lots of its hottest influencers departed the platform for social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, the place they might appeal to a larger viewers and land greater model offers. While some quantity of drift was inevitable as Vine influencers “outgrew” the platform or sought totally different artistic retailers, by 2016, the problem for Vine was endemic, leading to stagnant consumer progress, a dearth of search interest and model interest, and the departures of a few of Vine’s prime executives.

A large part of the problem was a scarcity of compensation: while a handful of Vine’s stars landed lucrative brand sponsorships or main document deals, as an entire the top influencers on Vine felt under-compensated for their efforts, in addition to uncared for by the platform, which failed to interact them or tackle points like persistent harassment and abusive comments. In the autumn of 2015, 18 of Vine’s prime 50 influencers met with Vine’s artistic improvement lead in an attempt to negotiate better compensation and much-needed product modifications like remark filtering. Nevertheless, Vine failed to act on their requests, main to its demise a yr later.

A current piece by BBC Capital on the fortunes of TikTok stars suggests that TikTok’s prime influencers are seeing comparatively little compensation for their fame so far, though things are enhancing, with the inspiration of a talent agency for TikTok influencers, Influentially, and the arrival of metrics that give influencers an insight into who their posts are reaching, providing an incentive for manufacturers to associate with them.

The interviews between Capital and TikTok’s stars recommend that TikTok influencers are completely satisfied for now to simply have the platform as an outlet for his or her creativity and aren’t apprehensive about bringing in large paycheques – but that would change. While TikTok is understandably cautious about over-commercialising its platform, it needs to make it possible for it doesn’t jeopardise its fortunes by waiting too lengthy.

Fortuitously, TikTok appears aware of the need to hold its creators completely satisfied, with in style TikTok customers reporting that TikTok’s employees are extremely responsive to their needs and eager to involve them in conversations – a state of affairs that has improved because the app rebranded from to TikTok.

Over on neighbouring Douyin, the story could be very totally different the place business promotion is worried. Brand content material is plentiful on the app, with manufacturers creating official Douyin accounts, posting hyperlinks to ecommerce web sites, and partnering with influencers to provoke hashtag challenges and promote offers.

Some influencers, such as the comedy duo Liu Qikun and Liu Yicun (better recognized on Douyin as Uncle Beibei and Dao Muxiong), have been in a position to make a dwelling creating Douyin videos, incomes money from advertising offers with corporations like Alibaba.

Will this be the top objective for TikTok as nicely? Perhaps – but China’s model and business panorama could be very totally different to that of the west, and an article by TechNode just lately noted that exercise on Douyin is slowing down, with audiences turning into fatigued by influencers, who’re beginning to saturate the platform.

It’s a fantastic line to stroll for all social platforms, however notably ones that depend upon viral memes and influencer culture for fulfillment – and TikTok has lately faced other challenges as properly.

Challenges and censorship

A couple of high-profile controversies have dogged TikTok over its brief lifespan, principally associated to government intervention and public outcry over the content material hosted on its platform.

On three July 2018, the Indonesian authorities briefly blocked the TikTok app due to considerations about “negative content” on the app that Indonesian authorities thought-about to be blasphemous and pornographic. The federal government unblocked the app every week later, after TikTok agreed to take away the content in question, and open an workplace in Indonesia to liaise with its government on content material considerations. TikTok additionally agreed to set up a group of 20 censors in Indonesia dedicated to monitoring and sanitising content, and put further restrictions on users aged 14 to 18.

But these concessions didn’t forestall TikTok from incurring one other ban lower than a yr later – this time in India, its fastest-growing abroad market. On 3 April 2019, the Madras High Courtroom asked the Indian authorities to ban the app as a result of it “encourages pornography” and put youngsters utilizing it liable to being targeted by sexual predators. Two weeks later, Google and Apple both eliminated the TikTok app from their respective app stores in the nation.

Regardless of an attraction from TikTok dad or mum firm ByteDance, which argued that it had eliminated greater than six million movies that violated its group tips in a evaluation of content from users in India, the High Courtroom refused to overturn the ban. It was lastly lifted greater than every week later, on 25 April, but TikTok’s popularity was dented following its second government ban – and the block is estimated to have value it as many as 15 million customers in complete, and $500,000 per day in revenue.

TikTok has additionally run afoul of authorities in america, incurring a $5.7m fantastic from the Federal Trade Commission in February for amassing knowledge from minors beneath the age of 13, in violation of the Youngsters’s Online Privateness Protection Act (COPPA). The corporate responded by implementing a “kids-only mode” for under-13s, through which users are allowed to view curated content and report videos but not to add them, build a consumer profile, ship direct messages or depart comments on different customers’ movies. (This measure is determined by youthful customers accurately reporting their birthdate, which in fact some determined users might not).

Inappropriate content and privateness violations are not at all new issues for a social media platform, and TikTok has no less than been proactive find a resolution to these issues – arguably rather more proactive than major social networks like Fb and Twitter. Nevertheless, they’ve the potential to set TikTok again much additional than established gamers by denting its institution in new markets and tarnishing its status at this early stage. Inappropriate content material and privacy points are additionally inherently that much more critical on a platform primarily used by youngsters and younger individuals, prompting extra public outcry and stricter government crackdowns.

In China, brief video platforms including Douyin and other ByteDance properties like Xigua Video are additionally being pressured to grapple with strict new content material laws that dictate what can and may’t be portrayed in online videos – and that put the burden on the companies behind the platforms to censor and assume duty for “harmful” content. Whereas TikTok is just not topic to the same laws and scrutiny, anything that impacts the fortunes of TikTok’s dad or mum firm and its sister apps will finally affect TikTok.

On the other aspect of the equation, the truth that TikTok is a Chinese-owned app has prompted no small amount of concern in the west. ‘We Should Worry About How China Uses Apps Like TikTok’ proclaimed Yale Regulation Faculty fellow Nick Frisch in a New York Occasions op-ed, warning that, “The West’s increasing technological and economic exposure to China may have unintended consequences”.

These may look like heavy points to be associating with an app the place teenagers publish lip-syncing movies, and it’s unlikely that TikTok’s customers are considering too exhausting concerning the Chinese language surveillance state once they join the app. Nevertheless, a Cambridge Analytica-style knowledge scandal or full-scale authorities crackdown may finally pose a much bigger menace to TikTok than monetisation or influencer retention.

The future of TikTok – and short-form video

For now, TikTok has made it over the obstacles in its path, and its current seems vibrant. What may the longer term hold – for it and for short-form video as a medium?

ByteDance continues to be targeted on increasing and consolidating TikTok’s presence in numerous markets: it reportedly plans to make investments as a lot as $1bn into TikTok’s operation in India, regardless of the ban that it incurred there earlier this yr. The company has additionally branched out into occasions, the primary of which it held in Paris in September 2018, and sponsored the MTV European Music Awards in November in a bid to further improve its profile with younger Europeans.

Meanwhile, the short-form video market is heating up. Facebook was threatened sufficient by the success of TikTok that in November 2018 it launched its personal brief video-sharing app, Lasso, out there only in the USA. The app was launched with little fanfare, and hasn’t generated a lot buzz since, with CNBC reporting in February that TikTok was “staying well ahead of Facebook’s Lasso”, with Fb’s download figures failing to measure up to TikTok. A Tech in Asia evaluation noted the shortage of features like feedback and a search perform on Lasso, as well as TikTok’s superior video creation experience.

Nevertheless, quite a few commentators have additionally identified that it typically takes Facebook a variety of makes an attempt to greatest a competitor: it launched 4 successive Snapchat copycat apps (Poke, Slingshot, Lifestage and Flash) that attempted to replicate totally different parts of the Snapchat expertise earlier than landing on Instagram Tales. However as soon as it did, Snapchat was in hassle.

2019 may even see the launch of Byte, the long-awaited successor to Vine, by Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann. After the original plans for a Vine follow-up, V2, ran into authorized points, Hofmann announced in November 2018 that V2 was being reborn as Byte, with a launch date set for spring 2019. Final month, Hofmann sent out the first 100 invites to Byte’s closed beta, to considerable pleasure.

The success of TikTok has forged a bit of little bit of uncertainty over the prospects for Byte, which might have had the market to itself before TikTok came along. Commentators have queried whether the world “needs” one other Vine when it has TikTok, however Hofmann appears unfazed, telling TechCrunch that he perceives TikTok to be an evolutionary step past Vine, however not in the identical course as Byte.

While competitors could be stiffer for Byte with TikTok out there, TikTok’s hype might additionally work in Byte’s favour, generating pleasure across the format of short-form video and prompting each platform to enhance its offering to compete with the other. Users who dislike one platform could have an alternate, and influencers shall be afforded more bargaining energy than if that they had no different choice than to construct a following on TikTok (or Byte, or Lasso).

The resurgence of interest in short-form video means that the medium has more resilience than may need previously been believed. It only stays to be seen where it’ll go from right here.

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