It is hard to pinpoint the exact reasons one social media platform becomes a success and another fails, but TikTok is clearly in the winner category.
While there’s no doubt some luck involved, when it comes to TikTok’s success, the most likely reason for the platform’s success is that it’s fun. TikTok is filled with short, entertaining videos looking for laughs, helpful tips, or their new favorite song. Another contributing factor is that it’s generally seen as more positive than other social media platforms.
For advertisers, TikTok has become a way to connect with their target audience, and amplify their message through influencers. It’s quickly become a very popular digital ad platform for reasons we’ll share in a moment.
What Is TikTok?
TikTok is a video app and social media platform with over a billion monthly users. The TikTok app (available for Android and Apple/ioS) allows users to create and share short videos from 15 seconds to ten minutes long. Longer videos were introduced more recently, but most are still very short.
It’s wildly popular, and was the most downloaded app in 2021 and 2020, reaching more than 3 billion cumulative downloads in 2022 according to BusinessofApps. It reports more than one billion active TikTok accounts per month.
In terms of demographics, the audience tends to be younger (Gen Z and younger millennials), and skews female, but not but not exclusively so. It has a worldwide audience.
Why Is TikTok So Popular?
It is both hard and easy to say why TikTok is so popular. It’s not the first social media app to feature shorter videos. Vine did something similar; it was later acquired by Twitter then archived. Snapchat also features videos but a fraction of the users TikTok has. And then, of course, there is YouTube which offers short videos - YouTube Shorts.
What has TikTok done differently to set themselves apart? For one thing, it’s addictive. Once on the app, users often find themselves scrolling much longer than planned.
Some say it’s done a better job than others in keeping the platform fun and engaging. The TikTok algorithm has been described as “scarily good” at finding new content for the ‘“for you” page in the app, which helps bring people back and increases engagement. It also encourages video sharing and makes it easy to do that.
6 Reasons for TikTok's Success
Here are six specific actions and characteristics of the platform that have made the platform so successful:
1. User Acquisition
The acquisition of Music.ly in 2017 helped TikTok increase their initial user base. It allowed them to quickly expand in the US, and removed their main competitor. That bump in growth could have taken years to achieve otherwise.
2. Short Videos
TikTok videos started out as very short, mostly dancing and lip syncing videos of 15-60 seconds. Since then it has offered increasingly longer formats, but it’s not YouTube where videos can be very long. This was a differentiator that also keeps users scrolling through their feeds looking for that next must-watch video.
3. Interaction Encouraged
Facebook and Instagram may have groups and live video streaming, but TikTok has interaction and collaboration built into the platform. It encourages users to create videos and offers suggestions of what to create. It offers lots of video formats, including duets, where someone responds to someone else’s video, the ability to stitch videos together, tools to easily use effects you see on others’ videos, hashtag challenges, and more. All of these features and effects create a collaborative platform.
4. Personalized Experience
Unlike other social media platforms that try to keep your feed full of posts from your connections or friends, TikTok’s algorithm focuses on what you seem to be interested in. Spend time watching certain types of videos and you’ll see more of them, and then TikTok will make suggestions based on what you react to.
5. Music and Trends
Perhaps one of the most unique things about TikTok is the way music and trends are embedded into the platform. Trends are constantly circulating throughout the platform and picking/creating the right audio is often as big a piece of making a successful TikTok as the video content itself. This is very different to any other social media platform. It is also worth noting that TikTok offers users the ability to use copyrighted music under certain conditions, which is also unique.
6. Easy Content Creation
TikTok provides numerous tools to make it easy for anyone to be a content creator. It includes tools and suggestions that allow anyone to start creating videos on TikTok.
Challenges for TikTok
But just because TikTok has seen incredible success, that doesn’t mean it has no challenges ahead. Regulations are likely to continue to affect it and other platforms.
Social media companies as a whole have been under increased pressure to collect less data on consumers and to at least have clearer data collection disclosures with the option to opt out. TikTok has received extra scrutiny in the U.S where there are concerns about the data it collects from users and how it uses it, especially concerning since a Chinese company owns TikTok.
As the app has grown in popularity, so have the types of content shared. Like any social platform it struggles with political and health misinformation, which is drawing criticism and regulatory scrutiny, as well as affecting user experience,
Then, of course, there’s the normal concern of slowing growth, new competitors, and users jumping to new platforms. You don’t have to look far for examples of that: Vine, Periscope, Friendster and others were once very popular, though not at the level of TikTok.
What This Means for Advertisers
The rise in TikTok’s monthly active users is driving more and more businesses to add TikTok marketing to their advertising strategy. This is great news for TikTok along with its influencers and content creators who are looking to partner with companies.
Some advertisers are reporting great results at an affordable cost on TikTok. The New York Times shared stories of advertisers who are seeing much better results on TikTok than on other platforms like Instagram or Facebook. But it also highlighted missteps and skepticism by some that aren’t sure the metrics they see are accurate.
More advertisers flocking to the platform also means more competition. Costs will likely rise and it may be more difficult to get results from TikTok ad spend. But for now it is still a very effective platform for many advertisers.
Coming Soon: The Complete Guide to Advertising on TikTok
Who Is The Creator Of TikTok?
Zhang Yiming is the creator of TikTok. TikTok, which was originally Douyin, and remains Douyin in China, is not the only business Yiming created. He also started ByteDance, which is the parent company of TikTok, and Toutiao. The tremendous success Yiming has achieved has put him on the list of richest people in China.
How Does TikTok Make Money?
TikTok currently makes money through advertising revenue and selling virtual coins.
Advertising revenue is significant: it reached $4 billion (USD) in 2021 and was expected to double by 2024, according to Statista. A New York Times story reports it is estimated to make $10 billion in ad revenue in 2022, blowing by that estimate in just a year.
While advertising revenue is the common model for most social media platforms, virtual coins are largely unique to TikTok’s platform. TikTok users can buy TikTok Coins using real money and then buy gifts for others, who can then turn them into real money. It’s described as a way to tip creators.
Why Do People Like TikTok?
Everyone has different reasons for liking the app but here are a few for each type of user:
Content Creators: It’s easy to become a content creator on TikTok. You don’t need to invest in expensive editing software, or learn a lot about video editing. TikTok has made it as easy as possible to do what they need right within the app.
Digital Marketing Teams/Advertisers: Digital marketers will find a lot of data in the app, all of which makes it easy to analyze performance and run ad campaigns in the future. It is also very easy to find and work with TikTok influencers, and there is a range of ad options to help businesses get the best results possible.
Users: Many TikTok fans report that the platform isn’t as negative as some other social networks. In general, it’s considered positive, fun, and helpful. And now TikTok is being acknowledged as a search engine, which will only help to grow its popularity.