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TikTok took the world by storm when it launched in 2017, and it’s only expected to grow.

After its launch by Chinese developer ByteDance, it only took one year for the app to reach 600 million downloads worldwide, and it experienced a 181% increase in users between 2018 and 2019 in the United States alone. This is partly due to TikTok’s acquisition of another popular app,, in late 2017, but it also attracted an audience all its own.

Nowadays, there are about 500 million active TikTok users worldwide. It was the second most downloaded app in the world in 2019, and by July 2020, it had taken the #1 spot. And in some ways, this exponential growth is baffling. It’s not unheard of for social media platforms to gain popularity quickly, but most of the examples that we have – platforms like Facebook, for example – were forerunners in the industry and were making headway in a market that didn’t yet exist. TikTok is only five years old, and arose during a period where many of the industry giants were already established. So what made this app so different?

Photo credit to Solen Feyissa on Unsplash.

How TikTok Works

If you’re not familiar with TikTok, the app works like this: each individual video (generally referred to as “TikToks”) is between 3 and 60 seconds long and loops when it finishes, much like a GIF. The app offers a wide range of tools for editing and customizing these videos, including the ability to import images from the web, emojis, text overlays, filters, distortions, and many more. It also includes a sound library that users can access to add music or other noises to their videos – interestingly enough, these “Sounds” have a huge effect on today’s music industry. “Old Town Road” became one of the most popular songs of all time after gaining popularity as a TikTok Sound with an accompanying dance.

From the user side, videos are presented in a feed format – users can easily swipe through recommended videos or videos from accounts that they follow. At the moment, most of TikTok’s users fall into the 18-24 age group, though it’s been found to be prevalent in many older age groups as well.

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Why Is TikTok So Popular?

As it’s gained and held its popularity, researchers have started to unpack why TikTok is such a game-changer in the social media landscape. There are three main reasons that the app has been so successful:

1. It Offers More Creative Freedom To Users

The first thing that makes TikTok so popular, particularly with younger generations, is the wide range of creative options available to users. TikTok isn’t just a social media platform – it’s a creative outlet, offering a cheap and comprehensive toolset for users to realize their vision. The app is a combination of a social media platform and a creative service like PhotoShop or Canva, offering a new way of connecting with people that we’ve never seen before.

2. TikTok Is A Unique Combination Of Other Successful Platforms

Yet another reason is that TikTok combines characteristics of other wildly successful platforms to create a new breed of social media platform that still works in familiar ways. Like YouTube, TikTok is entirely made up of video content, but the content is presented in a “feed” format, similar to Facebook and Twitter. This mix makes content consumption digestible and entirely addictive. TikTok also took a page out of Netflix’s playbook – the default mode of encountering new content is via a recommendation algorithm, rather than content presented by “friend” or “following” networks. This ensures a constant stream of new, novel content to keep users glued to the app. And TikTok’s catering to the age of mobile devices echoes strategies used by Snapchat and Instagram – the app is built for mobile phones, making it a lot more popular with younger people who are more comfortable with that type of device.

The result is a wildly popular, addictive app stuffed to the brim with interesting content and engaged users.

Photo credit to Good Faces on Unsplash.

3. TikTok Launched A Successful Marketing Campaign Right After Launch

The last reason that TikTok is so popular is simple – they marketed themselves insanely well. From the beginning, TikTok established partnerships with celebrities to bring new users to the app and created an ideal environment for influencers to thrive, making their app an instant marketing tool. Much like Snapchat, TikTok also works with brands directly to create lucrative marketing campaigns via the app. Because of the wide range of content that’s popular on the app, there are few brands that can’t benefit from TikTok in some way.

TikTok Is The Future Of Social Media Marketing

In the end, the app that everyone thought would be a passing fad is reshaping the social media landscape as we’ve come to understand it. And with these shifts come new opportunities in the world of marketing as well. Many companies are already using TikTok in innovative ways, and we’re excited to see how this relationship evolves as time goes on. 

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