Easy Life, Simple Tik Tok
Picture showing TikTok’s logo
Image: Sam William, Ranieri, All rights reserved
By Irene Liu Siyu
Tik Tok has emerged as a creative market leader in developing and transforming content sharing into a more visual and engaging video-sharing (Yang, 2020, p.4). It has overturned the age of sharing into a more interactive one compared to other mobile sharing software. With the revolution of Tik Tok, a critical analysis will draw on the transformative effects of interactive video-sharing and problems faced within this digital sharing era.
The first section of this essay covers the overview of the current operation of Tik Tok. Then, section two provides a detailed analysis of historical development. The third and fourth sections will then draw focus on its business model and social ecology. Lastly, Tik Tok’s internet revolution, innovative tools, and challenges within the software will be explored.
What is Tik Tok?
Tik Tok is a mobile application for sharing creative short videos to gain interactivity amongst the users. Tik Tok, Chinese name Douyin, launched in China in September 2016, owned by ByteDance, an upgraded version of content sharing through short videos rather than boring feeds to inspire creativity and bring joy to the users (TikTok, 2020). It requires an amount of participation and attention; John’s theories of the sharing economy involve production (short videos) and consumption (users) to circulate the content through data and reviews (John, 2018, p.66). The presence of Tik Tok provides the content with an interconnected network for users to imitate, create, share, and explore the other users within a simple flipping up and down (Abbate, 2017, p.9).
A brief historical beginning of Tik Tok
Tik Tok started its journey as three different mobile software. Firstly, Musical.ly, it is originated in China, 2014. It started with an online learning platform with 3-5-minute short videos, and then the founders, Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang chose to combine music and video in a social network for the convenience of the users. It is easier for users to shoot music videos to share with friends (MarketingHub,2020). In the beginning, it has attracted an amount of attention amongst American teenagers. They enjoyed making videos of themselves lip-syncing music. Through its creativity, Musical.ly built a substantial amount of following and stands a significant position in iOS popularity.
Pictures showing Tik Tok including Musical. Images: Picsart, Pinterest
In 2016, ByteDance launched a similar service in China called Douyin. It attracted 100 million users within a year, viewing more than 1 billion videos per day. In 2017, ByteDance bought Musical.ly and introduced Douyin globally, and rebranded Douyin as Tik Tok in the international market (MarketingHub,2020). In 2018, Tik Tok topped for the first in the free mobile app internationally.
Source: LifewithErick, Youtube
Within the digital sharing network, the blend of local, national, and transnational markets provides a space for economic sectors (Martin, 2019, p.93). Tik Tok helps to create useful services with creative user-generated content for business involvement the online marketing (Martin, 2019, p.93). It has a transformative effect on our use and understanding of video-sharing and widens our knowledge of the digital world. Here is a brief analysis of four aspects: economically, politically, socially, and culturally.
- Firstly, as the new mobile software. Tik Tok offers an uncontrollable space to exchange creativity and information through short videos (Karppinen, 2017, p.100). The term “Microcelebrity” introduced by Senft, refers to users who manage platform systematically to gain popularity (Yang, 2020, p.4) Tik Tok provides a platform for marketing and advertising purposes; influencers could involve in marketing brands and cooperate with brands through short-video sharing. They could promote the brand that matches their profile to the followers in direct and distinctive marketing (Marino, 2020).
- Secondly, government regulating content and sharing is inevitable, controlling and removing harmful online content (Robert, 2018, p.4). The myth of digital media could contribute to political change through internet users’ social knowledge (Couldry, 2015, p.608). It could direct the public’s perspectives on specific events or things—for example, the United States’ presidential election, Donald Trump saying that the Chinese Communist party accesses American’s personal and proprietary information (Paul, 2020).
- Thirdly, users interact with one another through soundtrack imitation, short-video sharing likes, and comments. The form of video-sharing gives more specific content objectives and gaining user’s interactivity more interestingly. It has a more noticeable impact on the youth group in social participation, role-playing, and value judgment while scrolling the videos (IAMCR, 2020).
Lastly, Tik Tok has abundant resources for content sharing. Users use soundtrack in different languages. It also helps users gain creativity in digging one’s talent, gaining multiple career opportunities to explore, and widening our overview. Tik Tok provides a platform for cultural diversity; users could learn to appreciate others’ cultures simultaneously (Tik Tok, 2020).
Source: Tik Tok Philippines, Youtube
The Business model of Tik Tok
The term business model refers to the architecture of flow for product, service, and information flow, including a description of different firms and revenue sources (Mustafa, 2015, p.343). Tik Tok owns by ByteDance. ByteDance introduced Tik Tok as a place for creativity and transforming ideas into exciting videos. As a new mobile software, Tik Tok is focusing on growth and popularity. They aim to expand their exposure rate. Nevertheless, Tik Tok has its business model through advertisement, interactive marketing, in-app purchase, and coin-system. Moreover, we will have an analysis of the interconnectivity and function of these profitable models.
The advertisement is shown once users open up TikTok. Many brands also run in-feed video advertisements that show up between the user’s generated content (ChinaBrands, 2019). TikTok gathers user’s data on their interests and biases for advertisement distribution to the targeted audiences. Data collection could boost efficiency and control the amount of advertising time. Also, it helps to save the costs of advertising.
Source: Info TikTokAdvertising, Youtube
→ Interactive marketing:
All Tik Tok influencers have a number of followers. Followers equal to the fixed audience with specific styles. The brands will collaborate with the influencers that match their brand positioning to advertise their brand in their channel or during the live stream.
Picture showing Chinese influencer, Jiaqi Li, selling products while live streaming.
Source: screenshot, author, Tik Tok.
→ In-app purchase:
In-app purchases are interconnected with advertisement and interactive marketing. TikTok users could easily shop products using sponsored hashtags (King, 2019); it enhanced speedily purchase without changing to other mobile software, such as Taobao, Amazon, and Tmall.
Picture showing in-app purchase, gifts.
Source: Tereza Litsa, Tiktok-app-store, ClickZ
→ The coin system:
Only users above 18 years old have the authority to buy coins. Most importantly, it is used to purchase Virtual Gifts; the coins cannot exchange for money (TikTok, 2020). For example, the coins could use for sending virtual gifts to the influencer during their live streaming. An influencer could receive diamonds and cash out.
Tik Tok provides a two-way selection for users to enhance their experience on the application. We could see that Tik Tok influencers receive the most significant benefits from the other users from the analysis. Furthermore, Tik Tok’s advertisement is an essential contribution to the overall profits.
Source: Learn How with Andy Isom, Youtube.
Note: Does not include downloads from third-party Android stores in China or other regions.
Source: Craig Chapple, Sensor Tower, 2020, Author restructured the graph.
→ Some general problems and inquiries
Some critics argue that data protection and user’s rights are not protected but are used for commercial and political purposes. Tik Tok collects a significant amount of user’s data to track individual information to messages and related metadata (Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato, 2020, p.39). The data collected could be used for advertisement, government, and other Tik Tok’s corporate groups (Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato, 2020, p.40). A significant number of users in Australia feel insecure about their data and privacy collected by social media (Groggin et al., 2017, p.1). Furthermore, Tik Tok has denied sharing user’s data with Beijing authorities, and some places said Tik Tok is a threat to national security. For example, TikTok ending its operations in Hong Kong due to the new national security law (Davidson & Hern, 2020). Digital rights are essential to secure one’s identities and need to be protected through regulation (Groggin et al., 2017, p.6).
Tik Tok’s internet ecology
As express by Maes (1999), internet ecology is a collection of people and machines that perform activities in a distributed way (Looi, 2000, p.56). Tik Tok situated itself as mobile software for creative short-videos; it is focusing on user-generated content (Yang, 2020, p.5). As Tik Tok is a relatively new internet platform compared to others, they contribute legal and lawful user data to the government. In 2020, Tik Tok confirmed to work with Oracle and Walmart to overcome the ban by Trump administration (Rouke & Kuo, 2020). Furthermore, Tik Tok partner with UnitedMasters, a music distribution company to allow direct access for users from apps like Apple Music, Spotify and Youtube (NyTime, 2020).
Comparing with other digital media platforms shows the uniqueness of Tik Tok, such as Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, or even Netflix. Tik Tok consists of each venue’s characteristics and identities for smartphone users’ conveniences (Munger, 2020). There are similar applications that are similar to Tik Tok, such as Like (Singapore-based social video platform), Byte (‘Vine 2,’ hit No.1 in overall iPhone downloads on July 8), Triller (hits No.1 download on August 1)(Bossi, 2020). Lastly, Kuaishou, Xigua Video, Weishi, Quentin Video (Chinese-based application, popular in China) (Chen, 2020).
The core suppliers of Tik Tok are its active content creators; the mainstream users use Tik Tok to scroll feeds to get the latest information or news. Tik Tok collects data to target short-videos to the users distinctly, which captures the interest of the users. The Chinese government regulates Tik Tok (Chinese version) for censorship purposes to demand Chinese society’s unity ( Ryan, Fritz & Impiombato, 2020). Also, Donald Trump insisted on banning TikTok as the Chinese government could collect US citizens’ data (Paul,2020). He thinks that Tik Tok could direct or mislead users’ decisions on political issues, such as during the United States Presidential election.
Below is a diagram of Tik Tok’s internet ecology:
Tik Tok Ecosystem:
Pictures show logos of Tik Tok’s competitors.
Source: TeamNewsable, Wikimediacommons, Pocketlint
Tik Tok – the transformative innovations
Internet innovation may characterize as a path-dependent process driven by the diversified and innovative developments towards integration and sustainability (Knieps & Stocker, 2019, p.7). The emergence of Tik Tok transforms our understanding of traditional feed sharing, such as Twitter and Facebook. We could explore a new world of sharing through creative short videos.
→ How is it innovative?
- Tik Tok changed the sharing network in terms of delivering content in a more structured and visual way. It actively involved interaction between users through self-generated trends, such as lip-syncing games, creative content using similar soundtracks, and dance movements (IAMCR, 2020). Tik Tok provides an engaging and joyful environment for its users.
- Tik Tok introduced new types of business strategies that are different from the traditional ones. For example, the live stream coin system, active short-video advertisements. It provides more opportunities for firms to choose Tik Tok for brand advertising.
- Tik Tok runs self-operation internationally except China; the US government insists Tik Tok would threaten their national security by collecting citizens’ data from the Chinese government (Paul, 2020). Moreover, the Chinese government has a Tik Tok account for administration and unity, targeting the young users to receive political information, since Tik Tok targets the youth market.
Picture shows Tik Tok account of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Source: Screenshot, Author, Tik Tok.
Tik Tok opens up brand new world of mobile short-video applications for more users’ interactions and engagements. It changes the way we receive news and feeds and communicate with friends, which adds more joyful elements to our creativity. Furthermore, the existence of Tik Tok provides more commercial opportunities with its profitable and functional structure. Always stay on trend, stay new.
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