With TikTok notching up three billion downloads, this blog explores the emergence of the world’s fastest growing social media app and the shift toward video in social media culture.
For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, TikTok is now the world’s hottest social media platform. According to data from Sensor Tower, TikTok has received over three billion downloads globally, making it the first ever non-Meta app to attract so many users.
As the platform of choice among younger Millennials and Generation Z, TikTok’s remixes, memes and mashups have become a window into contemporary youth culture. Currently, 47% of TikTok users are under 30 years old.
Despite its young following, you might be surprised to learn that TikTok wasn’t masterminded by a Silicon Valley twenty-something. Instead, TikTok was designed by 37 year-old Zhang Yiming, who lives in China.
Yiming launched TikTok and its Chinese equivalent, Douyin, in 2016. Yiming is now worth $49.5 billion, which makes him the second richest person in China. Because TikTok is privately owned, it’s difficult to specify the precise value of the company. However, recent estimates range between $50-75 billion.
TikTok is now the 5th most popular social media platform, behind Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram respectively. Far from being a fad or fluke, TikTok has enjoyed sustained growth for the past few years. According to Forbes, it was the most downloaded iOS app for all four quarters of 2021 and the first two of 2022.
With TikTok users expanding by 45% each year, it could take TikTok as little as three years to establish itself as the world’s most popular social media app. All this leads to a burning question: why do so many people love TikTok so much?
A range of explanations have been offered for TikTok’s soaring popularity. Some claim it’s because of the app’s accessibility (TikTok is widely acknowledged to be one of the most user-friendly social media apps). Others point out that once the app is downloaded, rather than delivering a tutorial, TikTok takes its users directly to the most viewed content. Each time you log in to TikTok, the top of your feed contains a video that’s algorithmically selected based on your past views and interests.
However, the best explanation for the world’s love affair with TikTok is actually quite simple. One word… video.
TikTok’s use of video and moving images perfectly encapsulates the energy of the young people that form its core audience. Editing footage, adding sound effects and applying filters offers a level of creative freedom that other social media platforms simply can’t match. Suddenly, posting a static photo of a meal on Facebook doesn’t feel like a particularly dynamic experience.
Most viewed TikTok to date.
TikTok is not the only social media platform to have built its identity around video-based content. Launched in 2013, Vine allowed users to record short clips of up to six seconds using its in-app camera. Users could then edit footage on the fly, or even use stop motion effects, bringing a new level of creativity to social media content. Vine folded in 2017, but provided a test-case for TikTok and proved that a video-driven social media platform could have mass appeal.
The popularity of TikTok reveals a few interesting things about the direction social media seems to be heading in: it’s meme and video-driven, highly personalised by AI algorithms, and involves content without real-life connections (for those who haven’t experienced the platform, TikTok posts tend to be about absolutely anything).
In what might be the biggest testament to TikTok’s influence, Instagram recently rolled out a series of changes that reflected their desire to keep pace with the world’s fastest growing social media app.
Recent adjustments to Instagram saw the introduction of a main feed driven by algorithms, the incorporation of video “reels” and pages crowded out by banners promoting a new “remix” feature. However, the addition of so much promoted content resulted in users struggling to find posts from friends and family, which have long been the bedrock of Instagram’s success.
Most viewed Instagram Reel to date.
The outcry against Instagram’s overhaul was typified by Kylie Jenner, a Kardashian and social media power user, who posted a widely shared demand that the platform’s leaders “make Instagram Instagram again”. Jenner added “stop trying to be TikTok. I just want to see cute photos of my friends” and signed the post “sincerely, everyone”.
Following backlash from social media influencers, celebrities and countless members of the public, Instagram decided to walk back some of the changes to its product in late July.
A spokesperson from Meta told BuzzFeed that Instagram would pause a test that had made the app open to full-screen videos and temporarily decrease the number of video recommendations in user’s feeds.
Meta’s spokesperson stated “we recognize that changes to the app can be an adjustment, and while we believe that Instagram needs to evolve as the world changes, we want to take the time to make sure we get this right”.
While Instagram has halted its TikTok-style revamp temporarily, the feeling is that the platform will inevitably move toward a video-oriented experience. This shift is being driven by user demand, with video posts attracting 48% more views, and 73% of social media users preferring video over all other content forms.
Beyond TikTok, a wave of smaller video-based social media platforms are rapidly gaining traction. As an example, video game streaming platform Twitch has grown from 102,000 viewers in 2012 to over 30 million daily users in 2022.
Much like Instagram, Twitter is now joining the video wave with its newest feature, Fleets. Fleets are temporary posts that expire after a day. With Fleets, users can post videos on their timelines which, according to Hubspot, are six times more likely to be retweeted than a photo.
Added to rising demand for video among users, social media marketers are leaning into the possibilities of promoting brands through video. As marketers continue to search for innovative ways to engage audiences, video has become a powerful way to tell a brand’s story, share a value proposition, and nurture relationships with potential customers.
Surveyed by Hubspot, 67% of marketers claim that sharing videos on social media has the highest ROI out of all marketing channels. As social media platforms and consumer habits trend towards video, more brands are investing in video marketing to keep the attention of their audiences and grow the reach of their business.
No social media company has capitalised on the shift toward social media video marketing quite like TikTok. According to Reuters, TikTok’s marketing revenue is likely to triple throughout 2022 and break the $11 billion mark, exceeding the combined sales of its rivals Twitter ($5.58 billion) and Snapchat ($4.86).
While TikTok’s metrics tell a story of jaw-dropping growth, keep in mind that the platform doesn’t stand unchallenged in the social media video space. Popular apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have integrated TikTok-style features, aiming to appeal to new audiences. Only time will tell if these companies are able to prise away a portion of TikTok’s loyal following.
As far as social media content is concerned, video is destined only to grow. Whether or not TikTok will continue to grow alongside it will depend on the company’s ability to innovate and lead the way in the next era of social media video sharing.
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