Is Tiktok the future of Social Media?
There is no denying that TikTok is the hottest social platform at the moment. The short video app, created by Chinese software company ByteDance, has been downloaded over 1 billion times globally, stayed on top of the “most downloaded iOS app” chart for five consecutive quarters, and become a window into contemporary youth culture.
It has proven to be more than a fad or fluke, and its sustained popularity reveals a few interesting things about the direction in which social media is evolving: meme-driven, highly personalized by algorithms, and untethered from real-life connections or social graph.
I have had Tiktok for just over a year now (i think) well I actually had it when it was called Musical.ly before it was renamed. I dabbled in it for a couple weeks making some super cringy lip sync videos, then deleted the app and forgot all about it... mainly feeling too old to be doing this stuff as I was fast approaching my thirties. Heck I don't even bother with Snapchat since Instagram offers a lot of the same features and more! But now since Tiktok is coming back in a massive way, the team here at Cancian Digital figured it might be time to look back into it again and see what all the fuss is about, I mean it is all the rage among the youngest generation able to use smart phones after all. So let's look at Tiktok and try figure out if it is worth worrying about!
What is TikTok?
To figure out if Tiktok is the future of social media, we are going to have to answer something first... WHAT IS TIKTOK?!
“Hey girl, you like me a little bit?” “Oh, you’re with her now?” “Why do good girls like bad guys?” These are questions young people have asked each other since the dawn of time, but on TikTok, they’ve turned into massively widespread memes set to music, reaching millions in every corner of the globe.
Tiktok was bought and merged with Musical.ly in 2018 which gave it a direct intake to the American teenage market. The premise is creating short vertical videos with a soundtrack, usually the most popular songs of the moment. Videos can be up to 15 seconds long and TikTok offers extensive filters and augment reality options to spice up videos. The social angle works just like Instagram or Snapchat where people follow accounts or send their videos directly to one another. I compare it much to that of Vine, when that was at it's peak! Where Tiktok goes further is the editing capabilities that work a lot like Vine used to. This lets people easily make cuts and stitch together bits of video for fun and cinematic effects. If there is a future contender to the big dog that is Instagram, it’s definitely Tiktok. There are already a massive 500 million monthly active users around the world ( and that's about half as many as Instagram) and has a big presence in the US and China, which are the world’s two biggest markets. But after spending countless hours (and days) scrolling through my feed, I can’t help help but wondering why is Tiktok so popular? It’s just bite sized videos of people lip syncing, dancing, or playing with emojis. Sometimes it’s literally a girl synchronizing a wink with the drop in a song, and it has 100K hearts. All of this makes TikTok extremely fun to use, and helps explain why it’s grown so massively: In September 2018, it surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat in monthly installs in the App Store, and was downloaded more than a billion times in 2018. It’s smaller than Facebook (2.27 billion global monthly active users, including Instagram and WhatsApp, which it owns), but it’s far ahead of Twitter (336 million) and Snapchat (186 million). And as of February 2019, 27 million of those active users were in the US.
Teenagers LOVE TikTok
It's their social media platform after all. Specifically designed and branded towards the younger generation, but that doesn't mean us oldies cant have a bit of fun with it either! Average teenage users of Tiktok spend an astounding 52 minutes per day on the app. The top types of content are dance challenges. Much like Instagram, influencers on Tiktok have huge communities. They post choreographed clips and rack up likes. The practice and execute dance moves that drive their followers to try the same thing. Like Instagram, they are usually beautiful and charismatic. But where Tiktok is different from Instagram is the fact that we all want to be silly but not look like a fool. Tiktok lets you be fun with music and filters and lets anyone contribute anytime.
Unlike the demands of Instagram, where people only post when they do something interesting, Tiktok opens the gates to posting all the time, since anyone can nod their head with a cool filter to the latest hit song it doesn’t matter if you’re on a beach in Greece or at your grandma’s house for the weekend. Instagram has also become the territory of jealousy, it’s all about doing cooler things than everyone else. Tiktok is about pulling off cooler things, and since people can rehearse their moves, anyone can put out a positive look.
This is probably one of the unspoken reasons why teenagers use it so much, most probably don’t live a very glamorous life to stand out on Instagram. Tiktok lets you lip sync from your bathroom to a song that everyone already loves so the base level of coolness is already fairly high.
I have two nieces that are fourteen, and we have had fun doing little dance challenge videos recently. Tiktok can actually be a great way to connect with the younger members of the family and bond over some silly dancing antics.
Should Brands get on Tiktok?
All signs point to yes. Tiktok is the new frontier, the home of the attention of Generation Z. It boasts an average engagement rate of 29%. Tiktok is by nature an app that is used with the sound on, compared to Facebook and Instagram which is almost entirely consumed without sound. Which ultimately provides an additional dimension to marketing.
For the moment most brands go through official partnership channels with Tiktok in order to create challenges and hashtags like Guess did with the #InMyJeans challenge last year. The challenges are a great way to engage a young audience but they come with risks.
Whenever you use user content to spread a message, you lose some part of control of that message. Kids dancing around in their bedrooms might seem harmless until one of them does something borderline (or illegal) and your brand gets sucked into that mess.
There is also the difficult question of how music can be used on the platform if the purpose is commercial – it’s not the same type of license if a brand uses a Sia song to sell its chandeliers than if I take a video of myself swinging on one.
This will certainly all change though as the growth picks up and advertisers looking for young eyes move their dollars away from Facebook.
So right now the best thing to do is get in touch with creators on the platform if you want them to spread your message, and why not create a brand account just in case the platform starts to really take off. I would say if you cater to that young audience, get in now while the getting’s good.
Less Social, More Content
Another thing that sets TikTok apart from the other social platforms is how frictionless its user experience is. Designed to be less reliant on social graph and focuses instead more on driving engagement and content discovery, ByteDance applied what it learned about algorithmic recommendation from Doutiao, the hit news and online article aggregator app it made for Chinese consumers, and created a powerful social video platform where you can instantly get a personalized feed as soon as you start using it for 5 minutes. For ByteDance, AI is the core product it relies on, and the algorithm-driven app is also reshaping how we consume social content.
Unlike social graph-driven apps like Facebook or Twitter, TikTok’s onboarding process is extremely streamlined and optimized for mobile. Users don’t even need to sign up for an account to start swiping down an endless stream of full-screen vertical videos and, in the process, teaching the algorithm what they’d like to see more. There is no burden placed on the new users to find people they’d like to follow and build up their feed — the meme-centric content of TikTok means that algorithms can handle most of the curating and thus offer users a more lean-back, ‘just show me something fun’ experience.
TikTok content may still percolate through other aggregating channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, but the bulk of consumption is happening on its own app, controlled by its own algorithms.
Unbundling Social Media
We have always led a life bifurcated between the public self and the private self. The way we conduct ourselves is always in context to the company that we are in, and we often have distinctly different goals in mind in regards to our social interactions in different contexts. For far too long, social media have somehow believed in a one-size-fits-both solution, but over the last few years, we have come to face the downsides of social media and sharing our lives online in an open, public manner, and start to recalibrate our online social behaviors accordingly.
Privacy issues aside, it also created psychological pressure for users, as people struggle to keep up the perfect facade and manage their online reputation. As a result, Snapchat gained momentum with ephemeral, private messages, before Facebook successfully copied the Stories format to its own properties. While TikTok and Instagram aim to satisfy our need for self-expression and social capital, other kinds of social interactions are quickly retreating into private messaging channels. Even ByteDance recognized this growing need for separate social platforms by launching a messaging app called Flipchat which encourages users to create forums and chat groups centered around their hobbies and passions.
It is no coincidence that Facebook is also turning its attention to messaging to not only step away from the many issues plaguing its public platforms, but also to amplify one of its biggest advantages — the real-life social graphs it owns. To be precise, Facebook is trying to have its cake and eat it too. The way it incorporated direct messages and Stories into Instagram is a clever way of adding a more private, ephemeral dimension to the platform. Still, adding those options for private communications do little to negate the public-oriented characteristics of Instagram, which remain the primary focus of the platforms.
Similar arguments can be made for Facebook proper as the company doubles down on interest-based groups and local events, but Facebook is obviously not going to do away with its main moneymaker, the News Feed, anytime soon. In trying to do everything, Facebook gave apps like TikTok an opening to grab attention with a separate, controlled environment to fulfill people’s need for status-oriented, non-private social interactions.
Of course, the unbundling of social media goes way beyond just TikTok, exemplary as it may be. Reddit is driving a lot of niche, community-based online discussion that Facebook is hoping to capture; local apps like Nextdoor are reinventing the community centers online; Amazon-owned Twitch is becoming ESPN for a generation who grew up on video games and esports; and massive multiplayer online (MMO) games like Fortnite are creating a dynamic virtual world where some players simply log on to explore and socialize with each other, instead of focusing on the gameplay.
Some Tiktok Statistics
Most Downloaded app in Apple App Store Q1 2018
6th Most Downloaded App in the World Q1 2018
Available in 154 Countries
Downloaded by 1 in 7 People in Thailand
20 Million Active Users in India
Highly Popular in Many Asian Countries
150 Million Active Daily Users in China
500 Million Active Users Worldwide
Most Downloaded App in Google Play Nov 2018
Between $800M and $1B Purchase Price
200 Days to Develop
1 Million Videos Views per Day in First Year
800 Million Installations
$1.4 Million Estimated Monthly Earnings
42% Revenue from the USA
$50M Spending on TikTok
80% on Android Devices
28.56% Use App Daily
10th Ranked Video Player / Editor in France
3.81 Million US Installs
29% Engagement Rate
275% Increase in In-app Spending
41% Users Aged 16-24
68% Watched Someone Else’s Videos
63% Followed Someone in the Last Month
53% Uploaded a Video in the Last Month
54% Commented on a Video
63% Followed Liked a Video in the Last Month
43% Uploaded a “Duet” Video
1,000,000 Estimated Daily Page Views
3,225 Alexa Ranking
So have we figured out if TikTok is truly the future of social media? I think the answer is too hard to clear cut right now. Its a Big yes and a Big No. It's the social media platform for Generation Z, getting them thinking creatively and a jump start into the dominant social media realm that we have all found ourselves trapped in. Thus, the future of social media will likely be one of bifurcation, with performative, algorithm-driven platforms like TikTok on one side to satisfy our insatiable need for social capital and interstitial media, and messaging platforms like WhatsApp on another for handling interpersonal communication and deepening our social connections.
This dual set of social functions, conventionally housed under one roof in most social media today, can no longer withstand the changing user preference, and therefore must become unbundled.