Without a doubt, TikTok is the breakout app of 2020.
Although the video- and music-based social media platform has been around in the U.S. since 2018, it recently exploded in popularity — in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. Consumers seeking out new ways to stay entertained and connected at home flocked to TikTok, leading to millions of new mobile downloads. In Q1 of 2020 alone, the TikTok app had 315 million downloads. That’s the best quarter by any app in history!
While TikTok has taken the world by storm, it’s not without its fair share of controversy. Today, we’re giving you a high-level overview of the platform and some insight into the future of TikTok.
A little background
The TikTok we know today was born from two different apps. It started with Musical.ly, an app where users could create and share 15-second videos lip-syncing to songs and sounds. Musical.ly launched in Shanghai in 2014 and quickly became popular in the U.S. after the short-form video app Vine closed in 2016.
Just as Musical.ly took the U.S. market by storm, Chinese tech giant ByteDance created a similar short-form video app in China, called Douyin. Within a year, Douyin had 100 million users in China and Thailand. The app soon expanded outside of China to other Asian markets with a new brand name — TikTok.
In 2017, ByteDance acquired Musical.ly and operated both apps separately: Musical.ly in the U.S. and TikTok in international markets. Then, in 2018, ByteDance merged the two apps to create TikTok. Currently, the app is valued at about $50 billion and is rapidly growing in popularity worldwide. TikTok now has about 1,400 employees in its Los Angeles office, with plans to add 10,000 more U.S. jobs in the next three years.
The basics of TikTok
TikTok’s platform has a simple, user-friendly look and feel. After downloading the app, you can immediately start scrolling through content on the “For You” page, a feed of popular videos and curated content that acts as a homepage. To post your videos, you’ll need to sign up for an account. From there, you can start creating content using a variety of filters, music, and video editing effects.
What’s the best way to learn TikTok? Just jump right in and start exploring!
It’s all about the algorithm
Part of what makes TikTok so appealing is its fast-learning algorithm. It only takes a few minutes to start seeing content tailored to your interests on your For You page.
Recently, TikTok pulled back the curtains on its algorithm, revealing that it curates content for individual users based on their profile, location, and previous interaction with similar videos.
What’s so unique about TikTok’s algorithm is that users don’t need thousands of followers to gain visibility and even go viral. Unlike Instagram, where perfectly curated feeds reign supreme, TikTok thrives on authenticity, spontaneity, and personality. The platform prides itself on being a judgment-free zone, where anyone can become a successful content creator — no formal video editing skills or high production values required.
Right now, TikTok has about 800 million monthly active users around the world. In the U.S., tweens and teens dominate the platform, and 62% of users are under age 30. But TikTok isn’t just used by trendsetting young people. With more time on their hands due to the pandemic, older Millennials, Gen Xers, and even some Baby Boomers are getting in on the fun to browse content and even create their own.
TikTok is an app for content creation and discovery. That means you don’t have to film anything to explore the latest trends. However, 83% of TikTok users have posted at least one video.
So, what makes TikTok so addictive? It’s an appealing combination of an endless stream of content, catchy songs and sounds, and snackable short-form videos. In short, it’s the Vegas slot machine of social media.
TikTok is well aware of its addictive nature. In February 2020, the app introduced a new Screentime Management feature to help users control their time on the app. It also launched the “TikTok Tips” account, which uses popular creators to promote messages about privacy, safety, and digital wellbeing. (When’s the last time you heard an influencer telling you to stop scrolling?)
The future of TikTok
TikTok’s success has also made it the target of a lot of skepticism. National security experts have raised questions about the Chinese-owned app’s handling of user data, including personal information, content moderation, and locations. The app was recently pulled from app stores in India, its largest market. Now, the app faces a possible ban here in the States if its U.S. operations aren’t sold to an American company by mid-September. Oracle reached a tentative agreement to become TikTok’s U.S. tech partner, so the summer-long soap opera may come to a close any day now.
Of course, all the drama surrounding TikTok has led to some new competition in the social media space. Facebook is currently wooing top TikTok influencers to Reels, its new short-form video feature for Instagram. Likewise, Snapchat and YouTube have also debuted new features that closely resemble TikTok’s fast-paced video scrolling format. And other video-music apps like Byte, Triller, and Dubsmash are rising to the top of app download charts as users consider migrating from TikTok.
While TikTok’s future is uncertain for now, it’s safe to say the addictive appeal of short-form video content is here to stay.
Are you curious about the value of TikTok for your brand? Next time, we’ll be talking about how to use the platform to expand your brand’s reach and market to target demographics.