This essay will analyze TikTok, which is the most popular short video application. Its unique short video social features have a transformative effect on people’s understanding of the Internet and online business models. In addition, because it is an application from China and has a strong competitive relationship with other social apps, it also has a transformative effect on the political relationship between China and the U.S.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a creative music short video social application, a music short video social platform for all ages. Users can select songs, shoot short videos, and form their own artwork through this app. In addition to shooting their own work, more users choose to browse short videos created by others on TikTok. Based on users’ browsing history, the platform uses big data analysis to show users short videos that better match their interests (Omar & Dequan, 2020).
Whether users are browsing or creating short videos, the app is completely free. TikTok’s feature of creating short videos is the ease of use, similar to Snapchat and Instagram stories. Most TikTok short videos are about 10s long. Users can shoot or upload their own short videos at any time, and choose from a variety of filters in the app to beautify them. Most importantly, TikTok provides a wide range of music, mostly pop songs, as the background music of the user’s short videos. When users are browsing short videos, they can scroll up and down to see what the system shows them. The content appears to be random, but the system actually analyzes to show users the content that best suits their tastes. Users can also like or comment on their favorite videos and follow their favorite creators. Thus, TikTok can be seen as a social app based on music and short videos.
The history and development of TikTok
TikTok is an application from China. It is the international version of the Chinese short video app, Douyin. In 2014, a lip sync app called Dubsmash caught the attention of many people, and the first short video social apps began to emerge. Some similar short video social apps like Musical.ly also appeared, but did not have the same success as Douyin and TikTok.
The Chinese company ByteDance owned by Zhang Yiming, created Douyin in 2016, and launched it in China. Before creating Douyin, ByteDance already had several successful social apps in China, such as Jinri Toutiao, so they were already experienced in running social apps. After Douyin was launched in China, it quickly attracted a large number of users because of its unique short video social features. Users have been shooting all kinds of short videos on Douyin and have developed many business opportunities. In May 2017, TikTok was launched as an international version of Douyin in many countries outside of China (Kaye et al., 2020). In November 2017, ByteDance bought Musical.ly, a North American short-form music video social platform, and merged it with TikTok. TikTok and Douyin are almost the same in terms of basic functionality, interface and software features. In February, TikTok became the 4th in global app download rank and by that time, this app had been downloaded more than 738 million times all around world. However, TikTok was temporally banned in Indonesia in 2018 for the bad content at this app. In August-September 2020, the U.S. government issued a series of bans on TikTok and Wechat (Lim, 2020). These bans have not yet been fully implemented, and ByteDance has asked the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington to intervene. TikTok, as a successful short video social application, has had a transformative effect on people’s lives, business models, and even politics.
The business model of TikTok
The current business model of the short video has two main aspects, one is advertising and marketing, the other is user fees (Ha, 2019). In terms of advertising and marketing, short videos have a very short playing time and are not suitable for front-placement ads and titles; therefore, advertising mainly relies on traditional ads and short videos with original ads (Mhalla et al., 2020). Another advertising model is to create short videos to convey the brand’s message to users without affecting the user experience. The video should be similar in format to the content the user is currently viewing, but should visually display the brand or product information. According to the brand, platform and content, it is important to create short videos that can move users and achieve the purpose of advertising. Social media influencers play a big role in this business mode (Hu, 2020). When TikTok became popular, a large number of influencers appeared. Some of them deliberately send short videos for commercial opportunities, and some of them become popular by chance and then start commercial cooperation with brands. These influencers have many followers, and they post short videos with advertisements on their TikTok channels to attract fans to watch them for advertising.
On TikTok, there are also some user-pay services that can be profitable for them. Users charge their membership to unlock more privileges, such as more video effects. In addition, when an anchor broadcasts live, users can reward the anchor with virtual gifts, and TikTok will take a cut of the profits.
The unique business model of TikTok as a successful short video social application has a transformative effect on the marketing model in the market. More and more people are trying to become influencers to make money from it. More and more brands are cooperating with TikTok to advertise with short videos.
TikTok’s Internet ecology
As a social media application, TikTok competes with many well-known social media applications, including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Tumbler (Mou. 2020). From the list, it is clear that TikTok mainly competes with Facebook, Inc. In 2018, Facebook launched a short music video app called Lasso to compete with TikTok, which was called “Facebook’s TikTok clone” by critics. Lasso is similar to TikTok in that users can shoot 15s of short videos and set background music. But with such a strong competitor as TikTok, Lasso was not well known and has been shut down since August 2020. Perhaps it is because Facebook has felt threatened by TikTok and wanted to get rid of the competitor that Zuckerberg has strongly supported the U.S. Congress in banning TikTok.
Facebook’s competition with TikTok has caused other Facebook competitors to partner with TikTok. When TikTok was threatened with banning in the U.S. in September 2020, Microsoft negotiated to acquire TikTok’s U.S. operations but was rejected. After that, Oracle has became TikTok’s tech partner, and Tiktok also partnered with Sony Music in November 2020. In addition, TikTok has announced its Marketing Partner Program which recealed about 20 technology partners, including Bidalgo, Bidshake, Sprinklr, MakeMeReach, QuickFrame, etc.
In addition to the above-mentioned social software competitors, TikTok has a fierce rivalry with Youtube because both apps are video apps. TikTok, being a short video, has a user experience that differs from Youtube in many ways. This different user experience attracts some Youtube users to TikTok.
Users of TikTok are mostly individuals, while some individuals seek the chance to became influencers and make money from it. This is one aspect that TikTok has changed people’s career expectations. In addition, there are some users who are professional influencers who have their own team to manage their corporation with brands. As for regulation, TikTok do not only be regulated by Municipal and State governments in which it operates, it also regulated by the Chinese government. And the regulation of the Chinese government has rise to a number of contradictions, which are going to be described below.
Transformative effects of TikTok
TikTok has transformative effects on various aspects including individuals’ daily life, business model online and political issues.
In terms of individuals’ daily life, TikTok has become so popular that hundreds of millions of people spent so much time on it every day. Its content delivery system can accurately capture the user’s interest and keep them hooked. So once a user opens TikTok, he or she would be addicted to it and it is hard for him or her to close it in a short time. In terms of uploading videos, TikTok allows users to easily upload short videos that they have created, thus allowing them to share their lives in a video format. While being a Youtuber requires a lot of time and professional equipment to shoot and edit videos, TikTok attracts many users who want to upload videos by just taking a short video. They see an opportunity in this and plan to make a career out of it by becoming social media influencers through TikTok. This has even become a career plan for many young people (De Veirman et al., 2020). This might be unethical but it is a strong transformative effect on individuals’ life. In addition, many people want to become famous, so they post overly novel and even harmful content on TikTok, which has caused some parents to worry that their children will be exposed to inappropriate content on TikTok (Weimann & Masri, 2020).
In terms of business model online, TikTok has developed a method of advertising with short videos which has been discussed above. Unlike traditional ads, this type of short video ad requires the creator to create an ad that is similar to the viewer’s favorite short video and insert it into the viewer’s content as seamlessly as possible. This type of marketing relies heavily on social media influencers, which has led many people to make this a career goal.
On the political side, the app is part of the conflict between China and the United States, as TikTok is regulated by China. Many countries are concerned that China will use TikTok to spy on and steal the affairs of their countries because users often discuss political issues on TikTok (Serrano et al., 2020). And the censorship from China over users on TikTok has somehow been identified. Groot used an example in his book to prove censorship. He claimed that a Uighur woman in the United States once posted a short video on TikTok that began with a makeup video and continued with a complaint about human rights issues in Xinjiang, China. The video was quickly deleted by the system (Groot, 2020). This aroused the suspicion of the U.S. government, which was concerned that applications from China would send user information back to the Chinese government. From July 2020, Donald Trump introduced a series of bans on TikTok and Wechat. The video below is of Trump demanding that TikTok be sold to a U.S. company within 45 days (by September 15, 2020), otherwise it will beshut down in the U.S. These policies are part of the U.S.-China trade war for political reasons as well as for economic reasons. This transformative effect has brought great contradictions to the U.S. – China relationship as well as a really hard time for ByteDance.
A final note
TikTok changed the way that individuals understanding and using the Internet because of its unique short video social strategy. It also has a transformative effect on political issues because of the doubts about Chinese regulation as well as its tremendous competitive role.
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