“TikTok app icon” by Ivan Radic is licensed under CC BY 2.0
What is TikTok？
With the development of the Internet, we have arrived and lived in the rapidly evolving Web 2.0 era, where digital media platforms have become the infrastructure in our lives. Tiktok is one of the digital media platforms that combines video-sharing and social networking. Ever since it was launched, it has been rapidly expanding in size and number of users. Tiktok currently has 800 million active users and has been downloaded over 2 billion times on the Apple Store and Google Play. (Big 3 media, 2020) The prevalence of its use is already in competition with Twitter and Facebook.
Development history of TikTok
Douyin was launched in 2016 by a Chinese tech company called ByteDance. After its launch, Douyin then quickly grew to become the largest social media platform for video sharing in the Chinese market. In 2017, ByteDance acquired a social media application called Musical.ly, which featured short 15-second lip-sync videos that users could create and share. (Big 3 media, 2020) Later, ByteDance shut down this application and subsumed its functionality into Douyin. Finally, in 2018, Douyin launched its global version, which is now known as Tiktok.
Why Tiktok is so successful?
The slogan of Tiktok is ‘Make every second count’ and the slogan of Douyin is ‘Record the good life’. As slogan says, Tiktok is a platform where users can share and watch 15-second videos whenever and wherever they want, making it easy to record any happy and meaningful moment in their lives. In today’s fast-paced life, people enjoy this quick and easy way to entertain themselves and get information in pieces on Tiktok. Unlike other video sharing platforms, Tiktok offers a wide range of filters, effects and music for users (Lydia, 2021) who want to use them, all of which are easy to operate and include all aspects of video content. As a result, the videos in Tiktok are very personalized and diverse. Another important reason why Tiktok has grown so successfully is its elaborate algorithm. Bytedance has designed an algorithm that calculates what content users are likely to be interested in by comparing their frequent video content viewing and viewing time, for example, whether they will watch the video through and search for more similar videos or just slide away the video, and based on the user’s tastes and preferences make personalized recommendations, rather than all users browsing to the same content. For example, for young girls around my age, we would browse more beauty videos, and for our mum-age users, Tiktok would recommend more short videos in social news categories. This special algorithm and recommendation method does not disinterest users but rather attracts them to use it.
How does Tiktok make money?
‘Tiktok for business’ was launched in June 2020 and Tiktok provides paid advertising for brands to generate revenue. One of the ways in which Tiktok promotes brands’ products and services is through videos that appear as users scroll through them, this is called ‘In-feed video ads’. (Lydia, 2021) The second way is ‘Branded hashtag challenges’, where brands create their own hashtag challenges and make the hashtags appear on people’s discovery pages and pay Tiktok for them. Tiktok users can post videos with specific hashtags and participate in the challenges, which not only extends the brand’s promotion but also creates brand awareness. The third method is called ‘Brand Takeover Ads’ (Lydia, 2021), which means that when you open a Tiktok, the first page is an advertisement that sends a direct message to the target audience. Tiktok creates specific filters or stickers for brands in a type of advertising called ‘Branded Effects’ (Lydia, 2021), which lasts for 10 days and allows users to engage with the brand more intimately.
Live streaming is very popular in today’s Internet society, and more and more users will live stream on Tiktok, and there is a lot of live content such as eating, gaming and chatting live. Therefore, another source of revenue for TikTok is virtual coins. Users can buy 100 coins for $0.99 and 10,000 coins for $99.99, with virtual gifts ranging in value from 5 to 5,000 coins. (Madhav, 2021) Tiktok coins can be used by users to buy virtual gifts for influencers they like when the influencers are doing live streaming. Alternatively, users can buy virtual gifts for video creators through Tiktok coins when they see the videos they like. Video creators or live broadcasters who receive coins worth more than $100 can withdraw them, but they do not receive the same amount as a gift, because Tiktok takes a 50% commission, (Madhav, 2021) which means that half of the money spent by users on coins is received by the video creators and the other half by Tiktok.
Users can make purchases on Tiktok and pay for them online. When the user views a video advertisement for a product, a pin for the product pops up on the screen and if the user is interested in the product they can click on the pin and add the product to their shopping cart. In the shopping cart, they can see all the items they are interested in and choose to pay online and complete their online shopping. Tiktok will make a profit from the user’s purchase and the remaining amount will be taken by the product company. In China, selling goods in live streaming is hot. Hosts will display and promote their products live, and at the bottom of the screen there will be a shopping cart icon, which can be clicked on to see all the products on sale, and users can click on the products to pay and buy them directly. Similarly, Douyin will make money from the amount of merchandise sold. In TikTok, Livestream shopping is also being implemented. Walmart was the first major retailer to do TikTok Livestream shopping and the results have been very successful. (Johnson, 2021) Therefore, an increasing number of brands and individual distributors are doing Livestream selling in Tiktok and more users shopping in live streaming.
The concerns of Tiktok
As Tiktok has grown at a rapid pace, it has also faced more problems and concerns. Firstly, there is the huge concerns of users’ privacy. The US government fined Tiktok $5.7 million for illegally collecting private information from children under the age of 13, such as their names, addresses and photos. (Timberg & Romm, 2019) The second is the impact on the users. Tiktok gives the user all the information in fragments. The absorption of too much fragmented information can then cause people to become inattentive and their thinking logic to deteriorate. 15 seconds of quick browsing and the fact that Tiktok uses a special algorithm to recommend videos that match the user’s preferences for viewing can make them addicted, especially to young people. (Marinescu, 2019)
Tiktok is arguably the most successful media platform of recent years, having only been established in 2016 it already exists in competition with media giants such as Twitter and Instagram. Its special algorithms and special content services have differentiated it from other media platforms and attracted more users. However, Tiktok still faces many problems and will need to change to cope with them in its future development.
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Marinescu, A. (2021). Teens Addicted to TikTok. Taft Tribune. Retrieved from
Timberg, C., & Romm, T. (2019). The U.S. government fined the app now known as TikTok $5.7 million for illegally collecting children’s data. The Washington Post. Retrieved from