TikTok: The App That Everyone Needs to Start Paying Attention to

“TikTok? Is that the app where teenagers lip sync to pop songs?” Chances are you’ve heard something like this before. And yes, that is what happens on the app. But there is more. Way more. TikTok has a phenomenal reach of 500 million monthly active users on the platform (in contrast, Snapchat has 287 million, Twitter 326 million and Instagram 1 billion monthly active users) (statista.com, 2019). People who do not fall into the category of lip syncing to songs might know TikTok from all the extravagant youngsters who cosplay, do funny dances or react to other people’s videos. If that’s the furthest your knowledge on the app goes, we are not surprised. The app is primarily popular among people younger than 25.

But TikTok’s reach stretches further than young adults. Although half of their 500 million users are below 25 years old, another 45 percent of users are still below the age of 40. Once people get older, their interest in the app seems to fade away. Yet, not all of the top content on TikTok comes from Gen Z and Millennials. There is an entire subculture of older people (who are at least old enough to be the parents of some of the biggest TikTok stars) posting funny videos of them dancing, cooking or doing other stuff to keep their audience entertained.

Origins

In order to truly understand what TikTok is about, we need to take a look at its origins. TikTok was founded in China, where today it is still known under its Chinese name: Douyin. The app is owned by ByteDance and launched in 2016. Just one year later, ByteDance bought its US competitor Musical.ly for 1 billion dollars. In August 2018, ByteDance took the bold decision to merge TikTok and Musical.ly into one. And it paid off. TikTok is now available in 150 markets, in 75 languages. In October 2018, TikTok was the most downloaded app in the US and the world’s most downloaded iOS app for the full first half of 2018. Some of the most popular TikTok celebs right now are German twins Lisa and Lena, Loren Gray, Baby Ariel, Jacob Sartorius, and Jojo Siwa.

Short content triumphs

TikTok allows users to upload videos up to 15 seconds long. The videos can be sped up, slowed down or edited with one of the many filters available on TikTok. The app also boasts a wide range of music that users can edit and place in the background of their videos. Creators then have the ability to share their video on TikTok or other social media platforms. The short format of TikTok generally leads to more creative content, as content creators need something special to capture the audience’s attention in those short few seconds. Users also are not obligated to start following accounts before they get to view content. The app created an algorithm that allows users to browse through an infinite amount of highly engaging videos.

The thing that makes TikTok really stand out from other platforms, is their “Duet” and “React” features. In the “Duet” feature, TikTok allows users to film a video next to another video. This often leads to hilarious collaborations.

In the “React” feature, users film their reaction to a specific video, over which it is placed in a small window that is moveable around the screen. TikTok stimulates its users to be as creative as possible and emphasises that on the platform, the original does not matter, only your version of it. TikTok encourages users to collaborate by reacting to a video with another video, liking or commenting. This leads to the best content on the platform and shows that you can’t do TikTok alone. TikTok has brought back the social in social media.

Mainstream media

TikTok is known to be the founder of several viral challenges. Jimmy Fallon, the famous American late-night host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”, integrated TikTok in his show. Back in November 2018, the show introduced a segment where Fallon asked viewers to submit videos of themselves on TikTok doing a certain challenge like #TumbleweedChallenge. The idea worked as it led to thousands of people submitting their own version of the challenge on TikTok.

Jimmy Fallon and more mainstream entertainers could be TikTok’s secret weapon to reaching a new and older audience. By driving his predominantly mature audience to view content on the app, Fallon has opened the gate for more mature users to migrate to the platform. Especially when you learn that TikTok has nothing to do with the collaboration and that it was Fallon’s own idea to play around with TikTok challenges on air. This is the kind of exposure that TikTok needs to capitalise on. If TikTok could align its strategy to attract content creators that cater to an older audience, it could possibly establish itself as the world’s number 1 social platform. And with their highly engaged social user base, it won’t be long until big advertisers realise its full potential.

Snapchat vs TikTok

When learning more about the app, some may find it hard to distinguish the difference between TikTok with Vine and Snapchat. Vine is known for its short six-second videos and Snapchat for their expiring content. All three channels initially had their eyes set on Generation Z while Millennials are ageing out. But Vine has already died (the app officially shut down in December 2016) and Snapchat just can’t seem to find the right way to build upon their connection with its Gen Z users and simultaneously reach a new generation. TikTok seems to have Gen Z in their palm, and are now slowly but surely figuring out how to reach older generations.

Snapchat, whose core user base is mainly teens, realises the threat that TikTok poses and has, just like TikTok, started up their own challenges in December 2018 after a dramatic year where the app for the first time ever saw their audience decline. The platform has rolled out other features like the Snapchat Lens Studio where users put lenses on their Snap content, and Snapchat Originals: original shows created exclusively for the platform. Nobody knows if this will be enough for Snapchat’s audience to stay close to the platform instead of moving towards one of its biggest rivals.

Advertising

TikTok’s revenue source at the moment is through app purchases where users can buy emojis and digital gifts to share with another user. Some brands have started using TikTok for influencer marketing campaigns. The biggest example is fashion brand Guess, who launched their own hashtag challenge in August 2018: #InMyDenim. The challenge shows users transforming from sleazy-dressed to all glammed-up in Guess. Another example of influencer collaborations on the platform is Universal Pictures who had TikTok influencers promote “The House with a Clock in its Walls” for the film’s launch in September 2018.

With TikTok’s Chinese alternative, Douyin, ByteDance actually created the opportunity to test out different tools and ideas before they are launched in western markets. This gives TikTok the benefit to innovate faster in terms of new options and gives the app a broader understanding of ads and potential opportunities towards advertising on its platform. With Douyin, ByteDance gives TikTok an advantage over any newcomer.

So don’t worry if you never really paid attention to this app when your niece or nephew were playing with it over Christmas. There is still time to learn. TikTok is growing by the day, and advertisers should start taking the platform seriously when planning their advertising spend. If TikTok succeeds in attracting an older demographic, it won’t be long before the app will be eye to eye with Facebook and Instagram.

The Creators Marketplace