The Wildly Popular Social Network that Even the US Government Can’t Shut Down
As a growth strategy in marketing example, TikTok shows the strength that popularity can bring. Over one billion monthly active users make this the sixth-largest social platform—and growing. In 2021, it was the #1 most-downloaded app, with 656 million downloads worldwide. TikTok continued its most-downloaded streak, with 672 million downloads in 2022.
It’s also well known that Chinese-owned TikTok doesn’t keep sensitive user information private. In the United States, TikTok as a perceived espionage tool of the Chinese Communist Party is a bipartisan issue. In 2020, the Trump administration Commerce Department attempted to shut down the app in the US. In 2022, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores (neither company appeared to comply).
This growth strategy in marketing example shows that if a product can gain enough traction, it can become nearly unstoppable.
Growth Strategy in Marketing: What is TikTok?
Even with a billion active users (and three billion downloads), several billion people worldwide don’t regularly use TikTok. So what is it?
“TikTok is a social media app centered around short videos. Many people think of it as a bite-size version of YouTube, with videos ranging between five and 120 seconds in length. TikTok calls itself ‘the leading destination for short-form mobile videos’ with a mission to ‘inspire creativity and bring joy.’”
The best way to understand the platform is to see it in action. Here are two stand-out videos, each with over a billion views.
@zachking They rejected my application to Hogwarts but I still found a way to be a wizard. ?#illusion #magic #harrypotter ♬ Zach Kings Magic Broomstick – Zach King
@jamescharles Welcome to the Sisters Christmas Party! ??❤️ #fyp #christmas #HolidayBeat ♬ Tactical Christmas – Chivi ?
Growth Strategy in Marketing: History of TikTok
Chinese company ByteDance launched TikTok to the world four years ago, in August 2018. By October 2018, this new app was enjoying more downloads than Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube. But the app has alternated between wild successes and serious missteps over its brief history.
Timeline of TikTok Successes
TikTok’s growth strategy in marketing its platform shows the creation of must-watch content from platform super-stars, which has resulted in an impressive valuation for parent company ByteDance.
- January 2019: TikTok’s website reached 1M daily page views
- September 2019: NFL and TikTok announce multi-year partnership
- November 2020: Named the third-fastest growing brand of 2020 by Morning Consult
- February 2021: Justin Bieber attracted over four million unique viewers to a Valentine’s Day livestream
- March 2021: Private trades value parent company ByteDance at $250B
- June 2021: In Q2 2021, consumers spent $535M via the TikTok app. Shopify has a relationship with TikTok, enabling ecommerce on the platform
- November 2021: Named the sixth-fastest growing brand of 2021 by Morning Consult and earned $4B in advertising revenue in 2021
- January 2022: Highest-paid TikTok influencers collectively earn $55.5M annually on platform, a 200% increase from the previous year
Timeline of TikTok Missteps
The missteps below show that TikTok reacts to controversy instead of trying to get ahead of predictable problems other social platforms have already worked on. This situation is possibly due to the platform’s meteoric rise in popularity, which likely put a strain on development resources. Also, the company has demonstrated its drive to track user data through the app.
- August 2018: Due to concerns about the app being addictive, ByteDance releases a feature that encourages users to take a break every 90 minutes
- February 2019: ByteDance fined $5.7M by the FTC for collecting information from minors under 13
- January 2020: TikTok comes under pressure for hosting misinformation about COVID-19 and adds a feature to allow users to report misinformation
- April 2020: Became the most-blocked social media app by parents, as TikTok grew into the most popular social media app for kids and “kids aged four to 15 now spend an average of 75 minutes per day watching TikTok videos.” In response, TikTok launched “family safety mode” that gives parents more control
- August 2020: The Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok tracked Android user data in violation of Google policies. The app collected “unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices, data that allows the app to track users online without allowing them to opt out”
- June 2022: BuzzFeed reports, “Leaked Audio From 80 Internal TikTok Meetings Shows That US User Data Has Been Repeatedly Accessed From China.” Data includes user birthdays and phone numbers. These recordings contradict a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony to the US Senate that US user data is inaccessible to ByteDance employees in China
Growth Strategy in Marketing: TikTok Competitors Take Note
Other social platforms recognized the competitive threat posed by TikTok and launched short-form video of their own:
- Instagram Reels launched August 2020
- YouTube Shorts launched September 2020
- Facebook Reels launched September 2021
- Reddit Video redesign launched July 2021
Despite the competition, TikTok maintains its dominance as the short-form video leader. And that’s because users absolutely love it.
Growth Strategy in Marketing: The TikTok User
I was on Zoom with a friend and colleague and happened to mention my research for this growth strategy in marketing article. She became very excited about TikTok:
“I love TikTok! I get quick ideas for recipes, and watch fun videos. People make such creative and interesting videos. It’s addictive, and I get caught up with what Gen Z is up to. I don’t really care that they have information about me. I gave them a fake birthdate. What are they going to learn, that I like dogs?”
She proceeded to hold up her beloved TikTok cookbook, which her husband gave her as a gift. Her enthusiasm for the platform is mirrored by other users, who typically spend more than 14 hours per month using the app, and 90% use the app more than once a day. Interestingly, user engagement with content is high, without a lot of “lurkers” (users who look but never interact):
- 55% Uploaded a Video in the Last Month
- 54% Commented on a Video
- 63% Liked Someone Else’s Video
- 63% Followed Someone in the Last Month
Cassandra Tan, Director of Insights and Analytics for Universal Music Group, Southeast Asia and Korea elaborates:
“With TikTok, there is a shift from views to creations. There is no ‘formula’ in posting ‘the right thing’. A platform that embraces diversity, TikTok encourages users to project images of themselves without thinking too much about complying with certain standards. Anyone
can be a creator or a trendsetter. With this democratization, content becomes more hyperlocal and thrives on being ‘receh’ as the Indonesians would say – where content that is humorous, irreverent, snackable.”
Also, TikTokers are more likely than average to consider themselves musicians and value staying on top of trends in music.
Demographically, users trend to younger Millennials and Gen Z, with a significant minority aged 10-19. In the US, 69% of teenagers are regular TikTok users, and 61% are women.
Growth Strategy in Marketing: How TikTok Changed Social
Thanks to TikTok, short-form video content has become a critical element of growth strategy in marketing for many brands. In its 2022 Social Media Trends Report, HubSpot writes:
“TikTok will take over social media, leaving other platforms to adapt. If there is one trend that is almost guaranteed as we move into 2022, it’s the continued domination of TikTok. The short- term video platform has broken download records, quickly becoming the go-to app for connecting with current and future consumers. Powered by a highly personalized content recommendation system, TikTok can help brands gain exposure to and connect with a qualified, engaged audience. As the app looks to introduce an e-commerce aspect and monetization model, brands that want to connect with consumers need to be TikTok savvy.”
During the years of COVID-19, brands had to get more creative with ways to digitally engage consumers who were staying at home. Instead of advertising to customers, brands created interactions with customers. Short-form video is a perfect vehicle for this approach, as long as brands truly understand their customer segmentations.
Growth Strategy in Marketing: Future of TikTok
TikTok’s future depends on how well it can weather concerns from governments around the world. India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia join the US in their criticisms of the app. TikTok is even banned in China itself. Bytedance offers a Chinese-specific version of the app called Douyin that removes foreign content.
But it seems the appeal of short-form video won’t suffer, no matter the fate of TikTok. Along with well-known social brands, competitors such as these five are making short-form video more accessible with less controversy:
Will TikTok go the way of MySpace and Vine? These social platforms soared with success… until they came crashing down. Despite the future of TikTok itself, its legacy of popularizing short-form video around the world will remain.