TikTok – Why is it so Successful?

by | May 14, 2019 | Branding, Influencer Marketing | 1 comment

Crazy Growth

TikTok claims to be the world’s leading app for short-form mobile videos. The mission stated on their website, is to capture and present the world’s creativity, knowledge and the moments that matter in everyday life.

They’re not wrong about being the “leader” in the industry. TikTok’s growing at an incredible rate, they generated more than 660 million worldwide downloads in 2018. They also gained 75 million new users in December 2018 alone, recorded the longest average session duration other social channels of 294 seconds. Currently at 500 million monthly active users (MAU) which is twice Vine at its peak. It even surpassed giant social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube in daily downloads on September 29th, 2018. However, the monthly usage today still falls behind its giant competitors. Apptopia reported that TikTok had a 29% user engagement (frequency of app being used), compared to Facebook’s 96%, Instagram’s 95%, Snapchat’s 95%, and YouTube’s 95%.

TikTok features short videos designed for sharing. Known as “Douyin” in China, the app was launched in 2016 and then in the U.S. in 2017. It’s in 150 markets with 75 different languages. The merger with Musical.ly brought the service to a whole new level combining music, video and a sizeable user base.

The Algorithm of Addiction

1. Seamless signup

It is simple to download the app, the onboarding process is a dream from signing up to finding content to watch.

2. Immediate content recommendations

The app is refreshing because it’s really not like Facebook or Instagram where you need to follow someone to be able to view content. It is built around hashtags and most of all, the content created is structured around challenges.

3. Challenges every user can take part in

As content being poured into your feed is categorised by hashtags, it encourages thoughts of creating your own content to be part of the community and to be discovered by other TikTok users.

4. A livestream with endless content

From a UX perspective, it feels like a live stream of endless content and the app is as smooth as butter.

5. Notifications notifications notifications

There are a lot of notifications. I mean really a lot. And it is a complete chore to turn off notifications (at least for iOS). It is annoying but it’s a way to draw users back to the app.

6. Mental rewards

As a form of “reward” like getting more followers and likes on Instagram, TikTok users count on views and likes.

TikTok vs Instagram vs Vine

In comparison, TikTok is not very different from Vine. One might even say TikTok’s success really proved the 15s format’s potential to engage audiences. But because of its binge-watching algorithm and sophisticated array of sound and video effects within the app, it creates endless possibilities for creators.

Now that Vine is no longer part of the equation, we see TikTok’s closest competition as Instagram.

But comparing TikTok and Instagram, they are very different in terms of user demographics and the obvious case, the app usage and features.

TikTok has a notably younger audience with almost no other age groups above 35-year-olds. Instagram is far more balanced these days and also has notable reach in the older segments.

From an advertising standpoint, unlike Instagram’s reliance on advertisers and advertising revenue, TikTok remains an ad-free space. But it is reported that TikTok made USD 3.5 million in just one month of in-app purchases (emojis and digital gifts). In the year from October 2017 to October 2018, the company saw an enormous 275% increase in in-app spend. I think no-one doubts the significant revenue potential of the platform.

The Cringe

Something that is uniquely TikTok is what the users call cringe-worthy challenges. People deliberately create cringy content and love it. Watch the compilation below and you’ll see some even created reaction videos to the cringy content on TikTok.

Digital Wellbeing

Digital wellbeing is more important than it has ever been. Since tech companies started optimising for user engagement, the user is unable to escape the app. You will always feel dissatisfied when you close the app, because the notifications keep on coming and the content never seems to end. To us it seems, TikTok has taken this idea to another level and built the user experience to deliberately create addiction.

In addition, the numbers of likes and views are very misleading with TikTok’s AI algorithm. As some content creators go to extremes for the number of views and likes. As seen in the unbelievable case reported of a woman dancing in front of a moving bus in Hong Kong to garner more likes for her TikTok video. Sadly, while some are willing to sacrifice their lives for views and likes on TikTok, they can’t even check who liked their video.

Surprisingly, The New York Times has praised TikTok as “the only truly pleasant in existence” for it’s ad-free, news-free interface and The Verge defended it from critics as the “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine”. We agree about the “ad-free” part, but not necessarily the joyful part. Cringeful – definitely 🙂

Working with brands

GUESS is one of the first to jump on the bandwagon following the TikTok trend. As TikTok’s content is generated mostly by “challenges”, the brand created an #InMyDenim challenge. The campaign kicked off with popular content creators like @ourfire (2.3M fans), @madison_willow (+983k fans), @jammincammy (+184k fans), and @operamericano (+380k fans) participating in the denim transformation challenge.

Here’s a compilation of the #InMyDenim campaign on TikTok. The PR was heavily distributed even before the launch of the campaign, which made us believe that’s part of the reason why the campaign was not as successful as other challenges on the platform. Additionally, the content is very much brand-centric compared to other content which is more humorous.

The Future

It is hard to see TikTok slowing down anytime soon. We have seen several social media apps come and go, but there is one key difference with TikTok. It’s from China and they have the advantage of understanding the APAC market better than anyone else. APAC drives 61% of global social media user growth.

Secondly, TikTok has an adult management team, unlike Snapchat or Vine. Being on the same wavelength with the users while executing a compelling product is one thing, being the CEO of a fast growth company is something else. It requires life experience and accountability structures, and those two roles can be hard to balance.

But it is hard to say if the app is here to stay or if it’s just living the hype at the moment. With influencer marketing to represent brands on TikTok, it might be a turn off for some as just like The New York Times stated, “the only truly pleasant in existence” for it’s ad-free and a news-free interface that might change in the future when more brands are jumping into TikTok for advertisement space.

Drop comments below and let us know what you think the growth drivers of TikTok are and if you have marketing experience on the service.

1 Comment

  1. Manish Gaur

    TikTok, also known as Douyin in China, is a media app for creating and sharing short videos. Owned by ByteDance, the media app was launched as Douyin in China in September 2016 and introduced to the overseas market as TikTok one year later.


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