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What is TikTok? Why Is It So Popular?

Every few years, a new app redefines the way we use social media. 2020 was the year that TikTok took over.

The kids love it. Everybody else says it’s a waste of time. But there’s no denying its popularity.

Like it or not, there is a great migration that happens with social media as new platforms capture the zeitgeist of culture. They offer newer and more unique ways to interact.

The mass adoption of new social media platforms flows through continuous cycles. From Myspace in 2005, moving to Facebook in 2008, and then to Instagram (with a brief interlude by Snapchat) in about 2014. The move to a new social platform is always reluctant, but eventually, the popularity of the platform coerces us all to join.

In 2020, the mobile app TikTok is the newest contender for the throne. A mix of music,  lip sync videos, and micro-video content, TikTok is not an easy platform to understand at first glance. It has even led to the growth of the competitor platform Triller, which aims to take some of the attention away from the app.

TikTok is still undiscovered territory for anyone over the age of 25. Extremely popular with Gen Z , TikTok is a glimpse into what it means to be growing up in today’s hyper-connected world. The vast majority of users on Facebook today at aged 40 plus , while Instagram is more popular with users aged 20-40.

In this article, we will look at the history of TikTok, who owns TikTok, and how users and advertisers are benefitting from the platform.

tiktok app - most downloaded app 2020
The TikTok app is the most popular social media app in 2020. It has been in the top app downloads since 2018.

TikTok Statistics to Know in 2020

  • As of late 2019, the userbase of TikTok users had reached 800 Million . It is estimated to reach over a billion users in 2020.
  • As of June 2020, teenagers accounted for 32 percent of TikTok’s active user accounts
  • Almost 50% of TikTok’s global audience is under the age of 34 . 26 % of all TikTok users are aged between 18 and 24.
  • The TikTok app has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times worldwide.
  • The TikTok app reach is worldwide : 466 million are from India, 173 million from China, and 123 million from the U.S.
  • The average user spends 52 minutes per day on the TikTok app
  • Bytedance the company that owns TikTok is valued at $75 million, making it the world’s most valuable startup .
  • TikTok reports that it has over 80 million monthly active users in the United States. 60% are female, 40% are male.

 

Musically-tiktok
Musical.ly was a popular lip-syncing app until it was acquired and merged into TikTok in 2017.

Who Invented TikTok?

In 2014, a social media app named Musical.ly (pronounced Musical-ly) became incredibly popular with the 13-18 year old demographic. The main purpose of Musical.ly was user-generated videos that combined popular songs with videos from the users (often called Musers). The most popular use of the app was to create videos where they were lip-syncing and dancing. By mid-2017, the Musical.ly app had over 200 Million users.

In 2016, Chinese app developer ByteDance created an app named Douyin, a rival to Musical.ly. Launched initially only in China, the app was renamed and rebranded to TikTok for better international appeal. Within a year, the TikTok app had more than 100 million users, and the popularity of lip sync videos continued to rise.

In late 2017, Musical.ly was acquired by ByteDance for a fee of $800 Million. In 2018, Bytedance consolidated the user accounts of Musical.ly and TikTok, merging the two apps into one under the name TikTok.

With this unified brand and user base, the app began to increase in popularity very quickly. TikTok became the most downloaded app on the Apple App store in early 2018, surpassing Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube. As of July 2019, TikTok has over 500million total installs on the Google Play Store.

Who Uses TikTok?

TikTok is named Douyin in China, and currently has a userbase of over 250 Million users. In the rest of the world, the app is called TikTok and is available in 154 countries worldwide.

Currently, 40% of TikTok users are located outside China. India has a particularly large user base and accounts for approximately 25% of app downloads to date. As of March 2019, the userbase of TikTok in the US was approximately 14 Million.

The 2019 Internet Trends Report revealed that China internet users spent more than 600 million hours per day watching short videos. Looking forward to 2021, TikTok will continue to be a dominant force in the social media world.

 

Why us tiktok so popular?
TikTok offers short-form video content for over 500 Million users around the world.

Short Form Video Entertainment

When you open TikTok, a whirlwind of amateur videos greets you. Most of the videos are teenagers lip-syncing to music or sharing something about their day, their romantic crush, or school life.

For anyone over the age of 20, this content has no relevance. But to those in the age demographic, it can garner millions of views and followers.

Perhaps the hardest part of understanding TikTok is the shortness of the content.

TikTok primarily shows video content that is 15 seconds in length.

While there is an option to share videos up to one minute long, there is no longer-form video, and no image or text sharing options. These restrictions make the app harder to comprehend the first few times you use it.

Catering To Variety

As of 2019, TikTok has been downloaded over 1 billion times. As the platform is growing, it is evolving and capturing the interest of both brands and celebrities.

Actor Will Smith recently joined TikTok and within a few weeks, had already amassed a following of over 5 Million people.

Other influencers such as entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck have also adopted the platform and have been sharing repurposed content that is more relevant to the demographic.

The biggest draw of TikTok is the ability to post about anything. Humor, hobbies, fitness, travel, music, photography, dance; every category is open and gaining huge attention. Each area is offering exposure for those that can adapt their content to the short-form video model.

While entertainment seems to be the main draw at the moment, there is an increase in both educational, aspirational, and business-oriented content.

 

will smith on tiktok
Will Smith was one of the first celebrities to embrace TikTok. He has over 40 Million followers as of November 2020.

What’s The Point of TikTok?

When a new app emerges on the market and starts to grow in popularity, it can be hard to understand why it’s needed.

Instagram, for several years, seemed like a simple photo filter app but slowly emerged into a social platform and branding tool. Snapchat stories initially seemed ridiculous, but as they grew in popularity, Instagram essentially stole the idea, and Instagram Stories now dominate the social network. Twitter, with its confusing hashtag system, eventually became a new way to track news and current events.

When it comes to TikTok, there is a vast market of people looking for micro-entertainment and distraction for a few minutes during the day. If a video is interesting or appealing, it is reshared quickly by the algorithm on the ‘For You’ page and gains millions of views.

How Safe is TikTok?

Using any social network can be risky, but it’s possible for kids to safely use the app with adult supervision (and a private account). When you sign up for TikTok, your account is public by default, meaning anyone can see your videos, send you direct messages, and use your location information.

Parents should make sure to turn on all privacy settings for accounts kids are using, so only people you know can interact with your videos or message you on the app. That means either opting for a private account or changing the settings for comments, duets, reactions, and messages to “Friends” instead of “Everyone.” You can also turn those features off completely.

 

tiktok restricted mode tiktok family pariing
TikTok introduced new settings Digital Wellbeing, and also the ability to do Family Pairing for user accounts.

What Are the Dangers of TikTok?

As the social media platform has grown, there have of course been concerns about the dangers of TikTok.

The overwhelming majority of TikTok users are identified as Gen Z, between the ages of 14 to 24 years old. Because of this, many parents feel a responsibility to understand the dangers of inappropriate content on TikTok and to teach their children to be safe and aware online.

According to TikTok’s community guidelines, the video sharing app is “deeply committed” to child safety and has “zero tolerance” for behaviour that could lead to child abuse or sexual exploitation. In February 2020, TikTok announced a new set of parental controls, called “Family Safety Mode”.

TikTok’s Family Safety Mode is designed to let parents set limits on their children’s use of the social media app. The parental control features include limits on direct messages, screen-time management, and a ‘restricted mode’ that limits the appearance of inappropriate content.

The restricted mode on TikTok allows an active user to switch to a private account you can approve (or deny) new follower requests. A private TikTok account only allows an active user you’ve approved to see your content. By default, your TikTok account starts as public. This allows TikTok to share your videos, other users post comments, reactions, or create short video duets with the content you’ve created.

 

tiktok oracle purchase
In 2020, ByteDance made a $12 Billion deal to sell the subsidiary TikTok Global to Oracle and Walmart in the US.

 

Why Was TikTok Almost Banned?

The TikTok app is the first Chinese app to gain massive popularity in the United States. This huge growth in popularity led to concerns that the data collected by ByteDance was being stored by the Chinese government.

In January 2020, the U.S. military banned TikTok from government-issued phones. In August 2020, there was a growing concern from U.S. President Donald Trump that the Chinese Government was gathering user data that could potentially threaten the national security of the United States.

The President then signed an executive order that would potentially ban TikTok if the Chinese app was not sold by ByteDance to a US company with 45 days. Trump also then signed a similar order against the WeChat application which is owned by the Chinese company Tencent.

The Trump administration then issued a new executive giving ByteDance 90 days to sell or spin off ownership of the  U.S. TikTok business. Initially Microsoft was in the running with an offer of $50 Billion to take ownership of the US TikTok business.

In September 2020, ByteDance made a tentative $12 Billion deal to create a US subsidiary called TikTok Global. This new TikTok subsidiary would be part-owned by the US companies Oracle and Walmart. With the new deal in place, Oracle and Walmart will own 20% of the new company, ByteDance says will still own 80%.

Although it appears that ownership of the US business will give control of the data collection for the TikTok content, the actual process is still unclear.

How To Use TikTok for Marketing

While the average TikTik creator is part of Gen Z, TikTok is now beginning to attract a wider user base. According to recent studies, nearly 38% of TikTok’s users within the US are above 30.

If you own a business, TikTok marketing could potentially be a great channel for your brand. Even in 2020, there is relatively little business competition on the social platform among small to medium-sized companies.

You might think of TikTok for business as similar to using Instagram Stories. They are not meant to push for sales, but rather show the personality of your business.

 

tiktok-branded-hashtag-challenge
Some businesses such as Zalora have sponsored a branded hashtag challenge to encourage users to create content.

 

A great first TikTok video for business owners is to introduce yourself and your business. Remember that the more personal your business feels, the more people will relate to it. Tiktok Marketing is not about trying to sell, but about building brand trust.

Simply sharing fun facts about your team and a little about your business helps people become familiar with you. Another excellent tactic is to share your brand missions, what’s most important to your small business. This helps your potential customers understand what drives your business.

Another way to market your business on TikTok is to partner with an influencer. The rise of the TikTok influencer shows that people on the platform value the content they are creating. Every regular TikTik user will have a favorite content creator.

You can look at the current hashtag challenge that is popular and see if there is a TikTok influencer that you can partner with. These are often known as a branded hashtag challenge, where a business will sponsor a hashtag and challenge users to create content around the theme.

According to data from TikTok, over 50% of creators have participated in at least one hashtag challenge. The average engagement on a branded hashtag challenge for a TikTok influencer is 8.5%. Considering a user base of over 80 million people in the US, that is a considerable TikTok marketing opportunity.

How Brands Are Using TikTok

The NBA has always been an early adopter of online content and joined TikTok early. With over 5.7 Million followers, the NBA share highlights of games and celebrity player cameos. The NFL is following suit with 1.2 Million followers and growing. 

Fast food restaurant Chiptole has been another early adopter on the platform. The majority of their content celebrates the foods they serve, but they also run popular competitions for TikTok users to submit fun videos at the locations.

Media companies such as The Washington Post and NBC are using TikTok to give previews of their content and to showcase their reporters’ personalities through behind-the-scenes videos.

 

Brands on TikTok
Brands that have adopted TikTok early are reaping the rewards of high engagement.

How to Advertise on TikTok

In early 2019, TikTok began rolling out advertisements to some viewers on the platform. And it’s proven to be a big success for the company. Reports from TechCrunch/Apptopia show that TikTok’s Q4 2019 revenue grew over 300% from the same period a year earlier.

The ads are pre-roll (similar to the ads before a youtube video) and last for between 10-15 seconds. Similar to youtube, the ads can be skipped within a few seconds, and advertisers pay for impressions.

There are currently three types of ads available on TikTok:

 

Brand Takeover Ads

Full-screen five-second static or animated ads that appear when a user first opens the TikTok app. These brand takeover ads direct the users to a webpage or TikTok account. This ad type has a limited number of advertisers per day in each country and can reportedly cost up to $50,000 per campaign.

 

In-Feed Native Video Ads

Auto-playing full-screen ads that show up between videos of user-generated content. Similar to Instagram story ads, these ads will link the users to a landing page or an app store.

 

Branded Hashtag Challenges

These are themes generated by brands or businesses associated with a promoted hashtag. The goal is to entice users to create videos around the theme and share. These videos are part of a brand takeover ad or in-feed native ad packages.


Running ads on the TikTok app requires applying as the service is still being tested, and for this reason, there is no accurate data on TikTok advertising rates. Some agencies report that TikTok in-feed ads are sold at $10 cost-per-impression, and require $6,000 minimum campaign spend.

According to TikTok, over 90% of users on the platform visits several times a day, making it appealing for companies whose demographics match the TikTok audience. 

Can You Make Money on TikTok?

Currently, there is no direct way for TikTok users to capitalize on their popularity through the app. As the volume of views is incredibly high, most users will ask their audience to visit other platforms or websites to monetize. 

TikTok allows each account to share their Instagram and Youtube links in their profile, which makes it easier to gain crossover followers.

The main goal of brands on TikTok is engagement and attracting a new audience. While legacy brands do this well, it is not clear whether smaller companies can draw the same following on the platform.

The evolution of mobile marketing on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat has shown that anything is possible with the right audience.

For anyone with a business or personal brand that produces video content, TikTok is worth joining and experimenting with. As the app grows in reach, its ability to advertise and promote will likely become a big part of the ecosystem.

 

Want to grow your influence and reach on social media? Brandastic is a digital marketing agency with offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, and Austin. We specialize in creating marketing campaigns that impact and increase revenue for your business. Contact us today to see how we can help you grow.

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