You may not have even heard of TikTok, but that’s likely to change. This relatively new social media app is taking the online world by storm and is seeing phenomenal growth.
It’s reportedly already up to 800 million users a month and is seeing a number of key Instagram influencers move over, lured by the huge potential of an emerging international online market. CGTN’s Phil Lavelle has more from Los Angeles.
Sushi the dog is already a big deal on TikTok – she’s only been on this network for a few months but is already north of 250,000 followers. Her owner, Teresa, explains why they’re so excited, telling CGTN, “The reach that you can have on there is just phenomenal. TikTok is super fun and they’re growing so fast.”
And the key reason: “It just takes one video to blow you up and we’ve had a couple of videos,” she adds.
Sushi’s already on Instagram. But, increasingly, the pair is turning their attention to TikTok: “We love Instagram. It’s a lot of fun. The community is great. But it’s a lot harder to grow, just because it’s so competitive… With TikTok, if you’re a new user with no followers, you can make a video that can go viral just from one video.”
The big question is: what is it that makes TikTok different from all of the other social media networks out there? The obvious answers are about what it offers: whereas Facebook is increasingly about sharing news or photos or personal content and Instagram is about capturing a moment and sharing it, TikTok is more about creating a moment. Its bread and butter is video: users are given the tools to make a fifteen-second, polished and produced film which loops. Some have pointed out its similarity to the once-popular, now-defunct Vine.
But the other big difference is ownership. Unlike the other big social networks that are U.S. owned, TikTok is Chinese. It’s part of Bytedance which calls the app Douyin in China, and acquired the previously medium-sized American network, Musical.ly before folding it into the TikTok service.
“It is unusual for Americans to latch onto a Chinese-owned app so quickly – but they did in this case”, explains Mike Sington, a pop culture expert based in Los Angeles.
He’s not concerned about the market being over-saturated with social networks: “There’s room for TikTok because it’s so fun. I mean, it’s so fun, it’s addictive. It’s positive, it’s funny, it’s entertaining. It’s not toxic like a lot of the other social networks can be. It’s highly enjoyable. If you wanna jump on TikTok, now’s the time. It has absolutely exploded.”
The other social networks are clearly taking note: Facebook recently launched its own competitor app called Lassoo, while Snapchat has officially added TikTok to its list of competitors.
Although Snap doesn’t need to be too worried, just yet, said Ryan Walker, a social media marketing expert who runs the TSMA agency in Los Angeles, working with influencers: “I would say it’s significantly different to Snapchat in the way that Snapchat’s specifically more candid. The content on TikTok is much more formal in the sense that it’s produced, edited.. created in a way that’s targeted to a specific audience and could be used to grow an influence.”
At a time when social media networks are increasingly under the glare of campaigners and governments over privacy, TikTok has, itself found itself embroiled in its own scandal: fined $5.7 million in a case over privacy and child accounts. The record amount was to settle allegations that it violated children’s privacy law and also led to the app bringing in a policy to gain parental approval for those under the age of 13, in line with federal law. It related to the now defunct Musical.ly app.
But the controversy doesn’t appear to have damaged TikTok’s popularity. Moving up and down the top few download spots in the app charts, its clearly catching the excitement of users in an age when anybody can be a film-maker and a viral video can be the key to stardom.
Sara Hsu looks at popular Chinese apps going global
CGTN’s Elaine Reyes spoke with Sara Hsu, associate professor of Economics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, about the rise of popular Chinese apps.