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TikTok: What is it, why is it so popular and should you care?

TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media networks on the planet with more than 500 million monthly users worldwide – but what is it and should you care?

Simply put, TikTok is a short-form, video-sharing app similar to the now defunct Vine, which shutdown in 2016. Available on iOS and Android, it allows users to create and share 15-second videos with their followers. Most of the site’s content is light-hearted and fun. Popular genres include short skits, lip-synching and cooking videos.

Where did it come from?

TikTok was originally launched for markets outside of China in 2017 by ByteDance. They launched Douyin for the Chinese market a year earlier. Both TikTok and Douyin share the same software but rely on separate networks in order to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions.

ByteDance spent up to $1 billion in November 2017 to purchase musical.ly, a popular social media video platform targeting the US teenage market. As a result ByteDance merged TikTok with musical.ly in August 2018 to create a larger video community. Existing accounts and data were consolidated into one app but kept the name TikTok.

How many people use it?

TikTok gained traction globally in 2018 after the merger with musical.ly. In September 2018, it surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat in monthly installs in the AppStore. In fact, by the end of the year it had been downloaded more than a billion times.

TikTok (500 million) is ahead of both Twitter (336 million) and Snapchat (186 million) in terms of global monthly active users. With this said, it sill lags behind Facebook (2.27 billion).  However those figures include WhatsApp and Instagram, which the social media behemoth also owns.

Who uses TikTok?

TikTok has a very specific user demographic. This is to say that the app is most popular among people aged between 16 and 24. Specifically this age group accounts for almost half (41%) of its total user base. Unfortunately the data made available by TikTok is limited beyond this. Regardless, it would be safe to assume that most of the remaining users are under the age of 30. Of course most of TikTok’s users are based in China but it is also hugely popular all around the world. To illustrate this, the app is currently available to download in more than 150 markets and in 75 different languages. The below list was published by Brand Synario in February 2019 and gives a breakdown of TikTok downloads outside of China: 1. India – 119.3m 2. USA – 39.6m 3. Turkey – 28.4m 4. Russia – 24.3m 5. Mexico – 19.7m 6. Brazil – 18.4m 7. Pakistan – 11.8m 8. Saudi Arabia – 9.7m 9. France – 9.1m 10. Germany – 8.8m

What celebrities are on the app?

As the popularity of TikTok grows, more and more celebrities are joining the app. Cardi B, Jason Derulo and Khloe Kardashian all have TikTok accounts while Jimmy Fallon often showcases the app on popular US talk show The Tonight Show.

Why was TikTok banned in India?

TikTok has endured it’s fair share of controversy since launching globally. Several countries have even attempted to have the app banned over privacy, cyberbullying and addiction concerns.

For example, TikTok was banned in India in April 2019 after judges ruled that the app “encourages pornography”. In addition, young users were cited as being at risk of being targeted by sexual predators. However this ban was overturned just weeks later following a plea from developer Byedance Technology.

How are brands using TikTok?

To some extent TikTok is yet to fully realise its potential as a platform for brands to market their products and services. However the opportunity is certainly there, especially if you are hoping to target a younger crowd.

Fashion house Guess is one of the most well known brands to have taken the leap so far, successfully partnering with TikTok in 2018. Every time users opened the app, they were directed to the #InMyDenim challenge and urged them to post videos with the hashtag. This proved to be a fantastic way for Guess to connect with potential customers and promote their brand to an international audience.

TikTok’s success is built on ordinary people making videos that go viral, landing them tons of followers in the process. The most popular users of the app have follower counts surpassing 30 million.

As a result, some of the world’s biggest consumer brands are turning to TikTok to run influencer marketing campaigns. This is often at a cut-price rate when compared to rival social media platforms. Sony, Fifa, Calvin Klein, Huawei and Coca Cola are just a few big names to have already worked with TikTok stars.

So, should you care about TikTok?

TikTok can no longer be dismissed as a flash in the pan. With more than 500 million active monthly users globally and counting, it is one of the most popular social apps in the world. However the lingering question for Digital Marketers and anyone hoping to monetise the app, is to what extent big name brands can join in on the fun, if at all.  Currently they appear to be finding it difficult to themselves into a conversation almost exclusively involving young users therefore any future marketing success is likely to come about by developing effective relationships with influencers.

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