Impact of the Douyin economy: Short videos have changed people’s consumption habits and employment patterns.


As the Internet continues to develop, Douyin, a social media platform, has become popular. Douyin is a short video platform launched in China in 2016, targeting Chinese users only. Douyin has more than 320 million daily active users in 2020 (Hung& Tse& Chan, 2021). Douyin is the short video platform with the largest number of Chinese users, and with more than 730 million users by the end of 2022 (Yu, 2023). Obviously, with the development of the Internet, Douyin’s continuous innovation and research and development have launched the function of e-commerce, which is also very popular with users. At the same time, the introduction of e-commerce is changing users’ spending habits, giving rise to new employment models that fundamentally change the way we interact with social media and make a living.

Douyin user” by XIAOTINGWANG is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

2.The background of short video

In their free time, people are constantly browsing social media platforms, looking for something that can grab their attention in seconds, which is short video. People can share their interesting stories or daily life through short videos, and short video content also allows people to obtain information through short videos of tens of seconds (Petic, 2023). It provides a quick and engaging way to share content from different themes, such as funny videos, entertainment news, dance challenges. Additionally, for marketers, short-form video content provides them with a unique opportunity to engage with their audience in a way that is both entertaining and informative, like advertising. Brands can publish short videos on Douyin to showcase their products, so that the audience can learn more information and make purchases, that is e-commerce. Last year, Chinese consumers spent 1.41 trillion yuan (about $208 billion) on the Douyin app, an increase of 76% over 2021 (Osawa, 2023). This is a sign that the e-commerce function launched by Douyin, a short video app, has changed people’s consumption habits and is very popular with users.

3.Douyin’s changes to people’s consumption habits

3.1.Content consumption:

As mentioned earlier, short videos capture the essence of people’s attention span in modern society, and Douyin is currently the most popular short video platform in China, and the experience it brings to users cannot be underestimated. Qian refers to Douyin as ‘viral spread‘, which primarily engages users through pop music and special effects and easy-to-learn video content to reach a visually and auditory stimulating audience (Zhou& Lee& Liu, 2021). Next, users will carry out a new round of imitation and recreation, thus forming a circular process, and users will be ‘brainwashed’ by these short videos. In addition, Douyin has many social features, such as inviting friends, following each other, liking, commenting, private messages (Zhou& Lee& Liu, 2021). This social feature enables creators and audiences to generate better communication, thus reaching this ‘viral spread’ trend. At the same time, with the help of big data, when the user opens the Douyin app, the system will automatically push the video that the user is interested in, and automatically play, which is more attractive to the user’s attention. If you want to watch the next video, you only need to swipe the screen. This simplified operation attracts users in another sense. As Douyin’s ‘viral spread’ users become addicted to short videos, spending more and more time on the platform. Users spend 1.5 hours a day watching Douyin short videos. The daily usage rate of Douyin App is higher than that of other social media apps.

Average amount of time spent on leading online content platforms per day in China in September 2022 – source (QuestMobile: Average daily time spent on leading online content sites in China 2022| Statista, December 20, 2022.)

As mentioned earlier, as soon as you open Douyin App, big data will push you the content you are interested in, and all these operations require algorithms to know the user’s personal information to provide personalized recommendations and services (Jeroen et al., 2019), so there may be privacy violations. This leads to a series of cybersecurity problems such as causing trouble to users. But despite this, users seem to have acquiesced to this big data monitoring and are not opposed to this monitoring, so Douyin’s users will continue to increase in the coming years.

3.2.Influencer Marketing and E-Commerce:

Douyin’s influencer marketing and e-commerce have become popular projects for Douyin. Those influencers seamlessly integrate their content with their products, leading to impulse purchases and a surge in e-commerce orders. Deloitte found in the China E-commerce Report that Douyin users engage in e-commerce activities on other social media far more often than users around the world, and that Douyin users spend a higher average amount (Gentlemen Marketing Agency, 2023). Douyin also allows influencers to sell goods through live streaming. What is Live Streaming? In a live stream, influencers present many products, each with their own purchase link that guides consumers to purchase a specific product (Bellucci, 2022).

Screen shot by Yinghui Liu, the left one is Live Streaming and the right one is Jiaqi Li Douyin account.

There is a very famous influencer in China, Jiaqi Li, who has more than 41.3 million followers on Douyin, and once sold 15,000 lipsticks in five minutes (Hung& Tse& Chan, 2021). That’s why he is the ‘Lipstick king’, and it’s because of this that influencers have quickly become major marketers on social media. Jiaqi Li started out as a counter salesman and gained a lot of expertise from it, and then trying to sell things through live streaming and recommending things to the audience that he thought were worth using, so most fans followed him because of his persistence and hard work. But during a recent Jiaqi Li livestream, he said something wrong, which caused many fans to chill him. Fans believe that his achievements are also achieved by the spending power of fans, but he says that fans can’t afford it because fans don’t work hard. So overnight his fans dropped nearly five million. This means that the network’s ‘enrichment’ is likely to make influencers go against their original intentions.

The video “Following Rant, China’s Biggest Influencer Accused of Being ‘Out of Touch” on YouTube.

Of course, this is clearly not an event worth discussing, as Jiaqi Li immediately made a live apology the next day. People continue to buy from him because many brands give Jiaqi Li a lot of discounts, so his prices are the lowest on the Internet in China. Nevertheless, Douyin’s live streaming e-commerce has also generated $200 billion in revenue in 2022, and the track of influencer live streaming is not to be underestimated.

4.Douyin’s changes to people’s employment patterns

Many online platforms are known as carriers of the “participatory society” and the “sharing economy”, but they do not simply promote citizen participation and entrepreneurship, but “data” and “commoditize” all social relations through collection and algorithmic processing (Jeroen et al., 2019). Douyin has launched a new employment model where any ordinary person can post their own content on Douyin and become a content creator. Douyin’s algorithm has been rewarding consistent content creators. During Covid-19, it was a time when content creators emerged in large numbers as people were locked down at home, which inspired some to start filming their lives and stimulated the creativity of ordinary people. Douyin understands the importance of getting early adopters of an idea on board as early as possible. The result is a loyal following of content creators who can produce high-quality clips (SAMPi, 2022). So, they went from part-time content creators to full-time influencers, with advances in media technology allowing content producers to reach millions of viewers at a very low cost.

Influencer jobs are a form of gig work in the sharing economy. And the influencer is a precarious job, their income is unstable, and there is no job security (John, 2016). If you want to turn the profession into a relatively stable job, you can choose to sign a company, and the company will provide a job channel for the influencer. But signing up with companies isn’t necessarily a good thing, because they’re like a ‘gig economy‘ where they will be eliminated, or wages reduced if they don’t create good quality content (Foundation for Young Australians, 2020). While influencers gain fame and fortune, there will also be some challenges, because there are many factors of job instability for influencers, so they will have a lot of stress, competition, and mental health problems. But since the income of influencers is not to be underestimated, there will still be many people willing to try to become influencers, which also creates a strong network effect (SAMPi, 2022).


All in all, the impact of Douyin’s rapid growth on consumption habits and employment patterns is undeniable, and it has also brought many positive effects, such as reshaping the ‘gig economy’ and providing people with more employment opportunities. While Douyin’s impact is undeniable, it also faces many challenges that need to be addressed, such as privacy issues, regulatory issues, and labor rights issues caused by the instability of the gig economy (John, 2016).  The Douyin economy proves that in this digital age, creativity is never-ending, and the direct boundaries between consumption and creation are constantly blurring. The emergence of Douyin’s short videos has changed people’s consumption habits and employment patterns.

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