TikTok–By Creating A New World of Online Sharing

TikTok app by Mashable SE Asia, CC BY 2.0.
TikTok app by Mashable SE Asia, CC BY 2.0.

In recent years, TikTok has attracted a large number of active users, mostly target in young and mobile-first people (Anderson, 2020). Nowadays, it gradually becomes an indispensable part of people’s lives. For instance, users can use TikTok to share their life, meet new people, and learn about interesting things in a short time. Based on TikTok’s fast-developing process, this essay is a critical analysis of TikTok and its transformative effects on people’s online sharing habits.

The first section of this essay will give an overview of TikTok, and its growth as a platform. Later, I will analyse of TikTok’s business models and Internet ecology. Lastly, the final section will discuss how TikTok has created a new world of online sharing.


What is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-sharing social networking application, which enables creative short videos to be shared on social media platform worldwide (Hayes, et al., 2020).

It is the overseas version of China-only application Douyin. TikTok is essentially a youth-focused music short video platform. The users can choose songs an create their short video through techniques, such as lip-synching, video editing and special effects (repeat, flash, slow motion) to make videos more creative (TikTok, 2020).

Besides, TikTok can best cater to users’ need for expressing their self-worth. “Inspire creativity and bring joy” is the vision of TikTok, which has made the application increasingly popular among the young people all over the world and brought good economic benefits (Yang & Zilberg, 2020). TikTok short video is an embodiment of changes in the way of people’s sharing in modern society. It not only includes the culture in the Internet ecology but also reflects the ideology of young people. Even though TikTok has problems with content supervision, it is strengthening platform supervision and committed to promoting better quality content.


The Development of TikTok

TikTok has developed rapidly after a short period of exploration since its launch. Chinese digital media company ByteDance developed Douyin in September 2016. During the early period of its launch, Douyin committed to exploring the characteristics of its users, and constantly adapting the core function of this application (Kaye et al., 2020). For example, improves the definition and fluency of the video, and adds various stickers and filters. These moves laid a solid foundation for the later explosive development of TikTok.

Video 1: https://youtu.be/P2VO6ELhwQY (The Rise of TikTok: From Chinese App to Global Sensation)


TikTok was launched a year later and kickstarted its growth in the US by acquiring.

  • In late 2017, TikTok acquired and merged with lip-synching application musical.ly (Guinaudeau, et al., 2020).
  • In the same period, TikTok’s marketing team invited stars to release new songs on this platform and sponsored variety shows. 
  • In 2019, TikTok was the most downloaded application in the US, and second in the world was WhatsApp (Guinaudeau, et al., 2020).

However, due to the quality of users is uneven, a lot of inappropriate videos and comments appeared during the development of the platform. And even involves the issue of user privacy leakage. TikTok uses User Generated Content (UGC) as its content production platform (Li et, al., 2020). Nevertheless, the explosive growth and virus-dissemination have made diversified content lack standardization. For example, in 2019, TikTok was accused of infringing on children’s privacy, and America Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a fine of 5.7 million US dollars (Dow Jones Institutional News, 2019). Hence, TikTok has drafted fairly strict Community guidelines and optimized the reporting and commenting functions.



TikTok’s business model

The business model describes the value that the company can provide to customers, as well as the company’s internal structure, partner network and relationship capital, to realize this value and generate sustainable income (Rocha, 2018).

The reason for the explosive growth of TikTok downloads and users is inseparable from its business model.

  • On the one hand, TikTok mainly targets young people, and this part of users can be divided into the original content creator and receiver. The former has a strong desire for self-expression, keen to record personal life and share it with others. While the latter has certain needs for entertainment and recreation.
  • On the other hand, TikTok accurately captures the increasing fragment browsing habits of users in the form of short videos, attracts users’ attention through its simple operation.

Figure 1. TikTok app screenshot by TikTok Download, CC BY 2.0.

According to the promotion slogan of TikTok, which originally was “let the worship begin here”, and later changed to “make every second count”.

  • Characterized by the youth and cool, TikTok combines music creativity to attract users’ attention. It positions the product as a short video community and focuses on the new generation of music.
  • Especially, on the search page, TikTok uses maximal flow algorithm to display hot spots to users in real-time (Stokel-Walker, 2020).
  • In addition, users can also watch short videos created by near people under the same city page.
  • Through intelligent algorithms, TikTok recommends new content to users might be interested in a precise way (Li, 2019). It is not only greatly improving content consumption efficiency, but also enhancing the adhesiveness of users.

Video 2: https://youtu.be/pLqHuhQxW1M (How Does The TikTok Algorithm Work – Reverse Engineering TikTok’s Content Flow)

In the sense of the profit model of TikTok,

  • The most common model is monetized by advertising. TikTok cooperates with advertisers through pre-rolls advertisements and stream advertisements (Markande, 2019). With the continuous upgrading of short video marketing, advertisers more and more prefer to content-based native advertising.
  • Another profit model is e-commerce diversion, which provides more market opportunities for short video industries (Li, 2020). For Instance, in 2019, TikTok and Amazon have reached enterprise cooperation, merchants can directly display Amazon products in short videos, and users can purchase directly through paid links (Xiao et al., 2019).
  • The third type of TikTok profit model is users should be paying for high-quality content (CNN Business, 2020). It is a trend of current Internet product development. As a potential profit model for TikTok, payment for high-quality content is expected to improve the ecological quality of short video on the entire platform.



TikTok’s Internet ecology

As expressed by Smart (2017), Internet ecology is based on Internet technology as a core, oriented by user value, and through the integration of the industrial chain and users’ relationship, and subvert the ecological model traditional business.

TikTok, which represents for a short video, can be placed as a new form of media. It is gradually accepted and applied by people. Short video content begins with a musical theme and then transitions into people’s daily lives. Meanwhile, TikTok established a popular online sharing community. There are a variety of online activities that not only enrich the content of short videos but also transform users from niche youth to the general public.


Companies such as Snapchat, Lasso (Facebook), Roposo and Triller are the direct competitors of TikTok. All of these companies are focus on developing short video platforms. In recent years, the popularity of TikTok has aroused the vigilance of social media giants. For example, Lasso, a kind of Facebook’s software, is mainly used for short entertainment videos. It almost replicates all the functions of TikTok and relies on Facebook’s social relationship chain to quickly accumulate users (Bailey, 2020). However, the first-mover advantage of TikTok is easy to grab users’ minds. Once a viral spreading is triggered in the market, it can quickly form a user scale effect.


According to TikTok’s users, the number of TikTok’s global active users is close to 800 million in 2020 and distributed in 154 countries. In addition to this, TikTok is available in 39 languages, and has at least 40.3 million fans and continues to grow. TikTok is particularly popular in many Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam (“TikTok Revenue furthermore Usage Statistics”, 2020). Compared with the prementioned companies, like Facebook, it took nearly four years to reach the same number of TikTok’s monthly active users (“10 TikTok Statistics”, 2020).


Below is a diagram of TikTok’s internet ecology:


TikTok—As a disruptive innovation, how to create a new world of online sharing?

Disruptive innovation refers to a technology whose application significantly affects the way a market or industry functions (Baughman, 2015).

Combined with the development of TikTok, it can be considered that TikTok is an Internet disruptive innovation. TikTok captures the characteristics of young people accustomed to killing fragmented time. As the influence of TikTok continues to expand, use the various fragmented time to watch short videos anytime and anywhere is become people’s living habit. TikTok also follows its marketing strategies and builds trendy brands, which results in product differentiation. Even if they are constantly imitated and criticized by the above-mentioned competitors, TikTok still insists on product positioning and innovation.

Changed the way people relate socially

There are some characters of TikTok’s information dissemination form, such as a low barrier to entry, easy to imitate and start from the grass-roots class (Yang et, al., 2019). Combines these with decentralized operation model, they enhanced the depth and effectiveness of instant interaction among people. For example, following each other has become the basic criterion of modern social networking. Meanwhile, TikTok has broken the phenomenon of celebrities monopolizing fans in other short video platforms, allowing normal people also attract considerable attention. That is to say, TikTok is the enthusiasm and momentum in people’s innovation. Furthermore, TikTok respects the individual’s desire for self-expression. It can be said that, as a part of social activities, TikTok short videos meet the psychological needs of people in modern society.


Video 3: https://youtu.be/oLJEwh8r5lQ (How To Sktrocket GROWTH On TIkTok In 2020)

Mobilise culture change

In addition, the other transformative effect of TikTok is to create an online platform of participatory culture. Henry Jenkins (2006) emphasized that participatory culture is in web 2.0, media consumers are no longer passive audiences. Their spirit of innovation and creativity are greatly stimulated, and giving them a cross-identity of “prosumer” (producer and consumer) (Jenkins, 2006). When people use TikTok, media producers are no longer unilateral producers. Only by establishing a good collaboration with users can they follow the trend of media updating and mobilize cultural change.

Triggered new regulatory processes

However, even TikTok has achieved great results in terms of content quantity and operation mode and attracted hundreds of millions of users. With the gradual exposure of inappropriate content, it has brought challenges to the spread of TikTok.

  • For instance, some illegal businesses use TikTok to conduct false propaganda and mislead users for profit.
  • Similarly, a number of users use exaggerated performances to attract people’s attention.
  • Also, in 2019, the US investigated TikTok as a potential national security risk (Meisenzahl, 2019). Therefore, the TikTok triggered new regulatory processes.

Indeed, TikTok’s regulatory processes are to supervise content from the source. The regulating mechanism of TikTok is different from traditional media content supervision. In simple terms, TikTok monitors video content through keyword crawling. Simultaneously, the regulatory processes of TikTok through artificial intelligence (AI) support (Rupapara et, al., 2020). However, AI always inevitably be used to create inappropriate procedures to avoid regulation. Thus, the TikTok regulation team also focus on manual inspection, which has thousands of staff and is constantly expanding with the development of the platform.



Overall, TikTok respects short video and becomes a new media form of internet transformation. It creates a new world of online sharing. TikTok introduced convincing business models that easy to acquire users, improves the one-way sharing mode between creators and receivers, and satisfies people’s desire for self-worth expression. This is also the reason for the explosive growth of TikTok’s downloads. Furthermore, TikTok’s increasingly strict regulatory procedures and promotion methods have also been adopted by other companies.







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About Bella Chen 6 Articles
USYD student, major in digital culture & film study.