Created by Bytedance, the app now known as TikTok was launched in September 2016 in the Chinese market under the name Douyin (抖音). The name roughly translates to “Shaking Sound.” Within just one year the app had over 100 million monthly active users. With this astounding success, Bytedance launched the international version Tik Tok. Shortly after launching Bytedance acquired Musical.ly. By leveraging Musical.ly’s existing user base, the Bytedance was able to create a large community and set the app on a path toward tremendous user growth.
In terms of features, both Tik Tok and Douyin are nearly identical. Both offer a feed of short videos (under 15 seconds) that users can browse through. By creating a profile on the platform you can follow other users, like videos, and of course, post your own. Many compare the app to a combination of Snapchat and the now-defunct Vine.
The most common type of video on the platform is lip syncing videos. Users sing along to songs included in the app. However, there are videos related to, dancing, parkour, challenges, magic tricks, “fails,” and more!
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While there was a ton of hype surrounding the app in 2018, it seems to have died down a bit in 2019. Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of 2019, let’s take a look back at the achievements of the app and the challenges it faces ahead.
What Makes TikTok Special?
Short Videos? Filters? Lip-Syncing? I bet you’re wondering, “Haven’t we seen all these features before?”
It’s true most of the features on TikTok aren’t really unique, but the way that they’ve been packaged together and offered to users has been something not seen before. Unlike predecessors in the short video market that simply curated content, TikTok incorporated a lot of features that simply make content creation easier.
With other platforms, most users simply consume content and thus have very little interaction with the platform. By providing editing tools, music clips, sound effects, filters, and more for users to use in their video creation, they’ve made it incredibly easy to make a high-quality short video clip.
The Challenge function implemented on TikTok further incentivizes users to actually go out and create their own video. TikTok frequently releases platform-wide challenges that users can take part in. It also actively encourages its most popular personalities on the platform to participate in these challenges. Hashtags also give users something to participate in. One of the most popular of these trends was “The Seaweed Dance,” which you can see below.
All of this entices users to actually participate in the platform rather than just observing it. Based on a user study conducted in March 2018 77.6% of TikTok users stated that their motivation for making videos was wanting to try themselves to replicate funny videos made on the platform.
Tiktok’s Performance Since Launch
TikTok (Douyin) has become one of the most popular apps in China, particularly with younger generations. While competition in the short-video sector has been steadily increasing with platforms like Kuaishou, Weishi, and others attempting to steal the spotlight. TikTok has managed to maintain its lead as the most popular short video platform in China.
In terms of performance, TikTok has done very well in quite a short time. With the platform only launching in 2016, Bytedance claimed that the app had over 500 million monthly active users worldwide on July 16th, 2018, making it the 9th largest social media platform worldwide!
TikTok’s Active Users
Later that same year in November 2018, the company claimed that it had achieved over 400 million monthly active users in China alone, but did not comment on its total numbers worldwide. It also stated that 200 million of its users in China were daily active users which, if true, would mean that its users are highly engaged and consistently returning to the platform. Compare this to Sina Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, which after nearly 10 years of operation has 465 million monthly active users and 203 million daily active users according to its 2019 Q1 Financial Report.
However, it’s not just user statistics that are experiencing growth. In 2018, Bytedance’s Advertising Revenue was around 50 billion yuan, nearly double the year before. With 36% of these revenues coming from TikTok. You can see this growth in the chart below created by China Internet Watch.
Tik Tok’s Growth
While still relatively insignificant the app has also had success with in-app purchases, bringing in revenues of nearly 500 million yuan through the sale of virtual coins in early 2019. What’s most surprising about this was that around 55% of this revenue came from users in the United States. These figures don’t even include the various Android app stores in China, meaning it is likely much higher.
However, all of this doesn’t come without a cost. As mentioned in A Closer Look at TikTok’s Expansion Overseas, Bytedance has been spending around 20 million RMB per day on traffic acquisition for the app to boost user numbers.
This has paid off though as you can see from the numbers above. Even businesses are starting to take notice, with over 12000 organizations applying for “Verified Organization Accounts” on the platform. In China, larger brands have begun running marketing campaigns on the platform though it’s clear these are still in their early stages. Many marketers predict TikTok marketing could be an excellent method for reaching China’s younger population.
A key feature of TikTok’s success has been its ability to gain popularity overseas. This is the first Chinese social media platform to truly take off overseas, giving it the potential to surpass many of China’s domestic powerhouses like Weibo, Kuaishou, and others.
It has been particularly popular in a few markets, with it grabbing the number one spot for short video apps in countries like Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and Germany The popular video app in China, TikTok hits 150 mn DAU and 300 mn MAU up in June 2018.
In February 2019 it was noted that 46% of its overseas downloads came from India, with the next largest contributor being the United States with 10%.
TikTok has invested heavily in bringing overseas influencers onto the platform. In overseas markets, some influencers maintain follower bases of nearly 10 million which is quite impressive on such a new platform.
Tik Tok’s Overseas Challenges
While Tik Tok only earned USD $4.5 million dollars in revenue from overseas markets, it hasn’t taken the same steps toward monetization that it’s taken in the domestic Chinese market as of yet. So there is certainly still room to grow in this area.
Although TikTok has been the first Chinese social media platform to see success overseas, it hasn’t been all easy. They’ve faced legal issues and concerns over the types of content shared on the platform and its data collection policies in both the United States and India.
In India, TikTok faced scrutiny as regulators believed that the app was hosting content that was explicit in nature and lead to “cultural degradation”. Given its widespread accessibility, they claimed that it could have negative effects on Indian users. The app was banned from the Google Play store in India under a court ruling for one week. It was later reinstated after Bytedance promised to better implement its filtering system to remove explicit content.
In the United States TikTok was forced to pay a fine due to its data collection practices. Specifically in regards to children. However, it wasn’t actually Tik Tok that had violated US law, but Musical.ly, the platform it had merged with to kickstart its international expansion. While it wasn’t the first company to violate COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), it set the record for the largest fine ever levied for violation of this law. With a fine of USD $5.7 million.
Tik Tok’s Performance in 2019
With TikTok already achieving a relatively high penetration rate in China it will undoubtedly see slower growth in the coming years. It is likely to face significant headwinds in the coming year, but it’s still performing quite well in 2019. Maintaining its position as the 3rd most downloaded app globally.
New data regarding the platform’s growth in 2019 is hard to come by. Marketers and observers have to come up with different metrics to track its growth.
For example, Hootsuite looked at its performance Q2 Digital Statshot 2019: TikTok peaks, Snapchat grows, and we can’t stop talking on Google Trends, a tool released by Google to track search volumes for keywords which can indicate the popularity of a given topic. This shows that as of April TikTok had reached popularity levels similar to that of Snapchat. However, it is still nearly 15-20 times lower than that of Instagram. You can see the chart below.
Tik Tok Revenue Growth
One metric that we can see steady improvement in is in in-app purchases. Revenue from in-app purchases has grown over 500% from May 2018 to May 2019 TikTok User Spending Hit a New High in May, Growing 500% Year-Over-Year. On a more granular level, revenue grew 22% in May 2019 as compared to April 2019.
With the end of Q2 approaching, we expect that Bytedance will likely release some updated statistics to showcase its growth and performance in 2019. Until then we’ll need to rely on data provided by 3rd party sources to track the performance of the platform.
Although growth is slowing to more reasonable levels, TikTok still seems on course to experience significant growth in 2019. It’s a common consensus among marketers and social media observers that TikTok could really be “The Next Big Thing”.