You could be forgiven for believing that Facebook has the social media market entirely sown up; their main platform still has almost three billion active monthly users despite the talk of younger netizens no longer considering the site as “cool”. Throw in the two billion active users of their WhatsApp messaging platform, the 1.5 billion people using Instagram each month, and then close to another billion people using the Facebook Messenger service… There is no way that Facebook is going away anytime soon, that’s for sure.
The Competition in Social Media
Just a decade ago, Facebook was enjoying almost universal success as the primary social media service of choice amongst every age group. Sure, there was Twitter, but just as today. the service has never managed to attract the kind of widespread penetration that Facebook has. YouTube was also on the scene back in 2012 too, but it’s service just wasn’t seen as a competitor to the monster that Facebook had already become. It’s a bit like the online gambling market – if you are searching for an online casino in PA, you aren’t going to find much by searching for a land-based casino in Las Vegas.
Today, YouTube has many more features designed to engage viewers with the platform’s creators, but the primary commenting method of engagement has never been integrated into the viewing experience in a way that makes direct communication between creators and viewers simple or straightforward. Enter: TikTok, an English language version of Chinese “micro-vlogging” platform Douyin.
TikTok & Douyin
As a Chinese language platform, Douyin has little viewership outside of the borders of the Chinese nation. Despite this, the service still has a huge audience of around 600 million monthly active users – that’s almost half the population of the entire country of China. Even more interesting is the combined total of both TikTok and Douyin’s user bases – a staggering 1.6 billion people.
When viewed in this way, TikTok could be said to be the world’s fourth largest social networking platform – ahead of Instagram, and way out in front of both Twitter and Snapchat. The big question that everybody is wondering is what is the huge draw behind TikTok? How has this Chinese company managed to infiltrate the Western social media industry in such a short period of time? Let’s investigate.
The Growth of TikTok
The age group most attracted to the service that TikTok offers are the so-called “Gen Z” crowd; this includes people born between roughly 1997 and 2012. Those dates align with the youngest of today’s teenagers at one end of the scale, and those aged around 23-25 at the other. The oldest of the Gen Z crowd includes many people who are just entering the workforce after completing their college education, as well as many people who skipped higher education and have now been working for five years or more.
But why is this age group attracted to TikTok so heavily? One commonly cited view is that the sites tight focus on very short videos makes it perfect for a generation who are said to have a very short attention span. TikTok used to enforce a tiny one-minute time limit on its videos, which was increased to three minutes after widespread appeals from creators for more flexibility in the kind of material they could upload.
For viewers, however, even this three-minute time limit could be too long – statistics revealed by TikTok themselves indicate that most people only watch a short portion of each video before moving on. Despite this, the site has recently begun allowing some creators to upload longer, ten-minute videos to the platform. This facility is supposed to be coming to all creators using TikTok in the coming months, though it would be fair to assume that TikTok could change their minds on this if people show little interest in this longer form content.
There is one other much-touted feature of the TikTok platform that many people feel has been crucial to its success with the younger generation. The site is said to use very advanced neural network based artificial intelligence algorithms to select which videos a user sees based on which videos they have watched in the past, which suggests the user clicks on, and how long they spend watching specific types of videos.
It is suggested that TikTok can build up an extremely accurate profile of an individual users’ personality within just a few hours of them beginning to use the platform and will soon begin suggesting ever more focused and personalized content to them. This personalization makes it more likely that a user will continue using TikTok, as the videos they are being presented with are almost always interesting and relevant to them.
The TikTok Effect
The success of TikTok has seen almost every other large social media try to launch a similar service – YouTube now has shorts, and Facebook has made several attempts to add short-form video content to their platform. The functionality has since been rolled into Instagram instead, where it does seem look a good fit – yet TikTok is still expanding at breakneck pace.
Other entertainment services are clearly struggling to catch up with the changes that are occurring in their market as a result of TikTok. Just as the biggest content creators on YouTube are now becoming well-known far outside their niche, the same is true of the largest creators on TikTok as well. TikTok seems to be the number one place where new memes are created, the first site where musicians will trial new tracks, and even the most likely place to find people searching for a new audience for their cause or activism.
One brilliant aspect of TikTok’s algorithm is its apparent ability to match the tiniest of content creators with an audience who will enjoy their work. As a YouTuber, making your way to 10,000 subscribers is a long, hard grind which can often require years of work before you have a chance of creating a viral video that will help you make the jump to being a full-time creator. Over on TikTok, if you create something good, it has a decent chance of being seen by a huge audience – whether you have one follower, or one million followers.
For both viewers and creators, keeping an eye on what TikTok is doing is only likely to become more important in the coming months and years.