Douyin & TikTok: Two Names and One International Success


Quickly rising at the top of social network charts is the Chinese Douyin, aka TikTok. The music video app from the PRC is the most downloaded in the world and Facebook now runs for cover with a copycat


While walking on the street or taking any public transport, it is common to see young people captured by their phones. Videos of pets or clips of children showing their talents, video contents took everyone. Riding the wave, a Chinese startup created an app that allows users to create 15-second videos. It is Douyin and it quickly ranked 1 among most downloaded free apps.


Douyin now already exceeded 500 million active users monthly across 150 countries and 150 million daily active users in China.


Until now, Western apps had always been the most downloaded but a sign of changes came last year when four of the top ten most downloaded apps were Chinese. Finally, in 2018, not only users spent more money on Chinese apps but Douyin 抖音TikTok for Western market – also became the favorite app worldwide with an estimated 104 million downloads.

The Chinese startup, formerly called, was launched in September 2016 by Zhang Yiming – the founder of China’s news platform Toutiao – through his company ByteDance. Later that year, the app changed the name into Douyin and started its race to become the leading short video platform in the world. Aiming to reach the American teenage market, ByteDance then spent $ 1 billion to purchase the Santa Monica/Shanghai-based, which it merged into TikTok this August.


Although Douyin was developed in just 200 days, within a year it reached 100 million users with more than 1 billion videos viewed every day.


TikTok’s success lies in its user-friendliness and versatility. The user can search for videos with keywords or let the algorithm choose the ones that best suit the tastes. While the user swaps from one video to another, hearts and comments are what make this app a real social network.


Douyin and TikTok - social share integration - cifnews

© Weibo. Zhang Yiming recognized the importance of the social network’s environment, so Douyin also integrated social sharing with major platforms such as QQ, Weibo, and WeChat.


Like many other social networks, Douyin allows users to upload their own 15-seconds video by direct recording, broadcasting or previously recorded video but it adds a little fun thanks to its wide gallery of funny effects and the possibility to synchronize them on a musical base. The interface is also appealing, while competitors used to ask to click on videos, the Chinese app implemented the “swipe” interface, the action that has lead to success other big social networks.

However, ByteDance was not the only company to bet on video content in China, other colossuses before it spent giant investments on apps that reached a decent success in the country.

In 2012, Weibo launched Miaopai 秒拍 but it did not reach the success the microblog expected. Five years later, Tencent also tried to invest in the market by giving $ 350 million to Kuaishou 快手, which thus reached 100 million daily active users. In the same year, Baidu got in the game and launched Haokan Shepin 好看视频 that now ranks 27 among the free apps downloaded. Nevertheless, despite their local success, these competitors did not manage to cross the Chinese borders yet as TikTok did.

A big contribution to Douyin’s growth in popularity is given by Key Opinion Leaders and International brands did not wait long before taking advantage of this promising opportunity.


Douyin and TikTok - Yang Mi and Mark Chao - michael kors - cifnews

© Weibo. Yang Mi and Mark Chao, the Douyin in-house KOLs, promoted a “City catwalk” hashtag challenge by sharing videos of them doing a catwalk with Michael Kors products.


The American fashion label Michael Kors was the first to partner with Douyin to send its KOLs at the brand’s event. The 4 million followers-influencers promoted a city catwalk hashtag challenge by sharing videos of them doing a catwalk with Michael Kors products. The clips were streamed for over 5 million times and 30,000 users posted their own 15-seconds catwalk videos using the hashtag. Adidas Neo – Adidas sub-brand for a younger audience – is another International firm that used the platform to reach its target by publishing original contents with local celebrities.

But with great power also comes a great responsibility. ByteDance had to respond to the accuse to be too much addictive as 22% of users use it more than one hour a day as described by Zeng Hu, a project manager from Jinan, to CNBC “On a weekday, I would often spend two to three hours watching those 15-second short videos. Over the weekend, I can watch up to five hours a day”. ByteDance thus tried its best by setting alarms and password-blocks whenever the app is used for more than an hour.


According to app analytics firm QuestMobile, Chinese people spend 9% of their time online on video clips like TikTok’s, a 5.2 % jump from 2017.


Douyin has now established a strong international presence, especially in the United States and Japan where many videos reached millions of views and thousands of comments.

In the American market, TikTok gradually became a hit thanks to a “Riverdale”-inspired meme titled “Karma is a Bitch” then the Late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon may be the user that pushes it over the edge. The app’s download here overtook behemoths like Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube with almost 80 million downloads, including nearly 4 million downloads in October alone.

The US users, frustrated by the closure of Vine – known for its six-seconds looping video -, quickly moved to the Chinese platforms without even knowing it came from the PRC. Here, Douyin was, in fact, able to fill the gap left by the American counterpart implementing what Vine’s 200 million users loved the most integrating perfectly with the market’s taste.

Now, Mark Zuckerberg also tries to reach Vine’s users. In fact, Facebook recently (and quietly) launched its own lip-synching app called “Lasso” in an attempt to replicate TikTok’s popularity with teens.


Douyin and TikTok - gackt - jpop - cifnews

© Weibo. Due to its growth in popularity, Japanese celebrities like GACKT and Yukina Kinoshita have opened accounts, and the app has been discussed on TV.


But while the US ranks first in free apps download, 30% of TikTok’s downloads come from Japan. The Chinese app has created a whole new digital ecosystem here also thanks to its skill to adapt in the local market offering a wide variety of J-pop songs. Compared to the American one, Japan has always been one of the most important markets for Chinese app developers as two out of the top ten downloaded apps are Chinese, indeed. On one hand, there is NetEase’s action game Knives Out, and on the other Douyin ranks first. Here, many Japanese influencers emerged setting the trends that affect worldwide users.

It is now clear that Douyin does not represent just a social network for musical selfies anymore. As music videos are now conceptualized to become memes, it turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity for a brand to visually present its personality. Although social networks’ users usually tend to show their perfect self rather than their real one, Stefan Heinrich, TikTok’s head of global marketing, recently confessed that “What he loves about TikTok is that people show their real side.”

Moreover, while someone thinks it will be just a fad, it really seems to have open doors to a new form of communication. The truth is that unlike what happened with other Chinese apps that were successful only in the local market, Tik Tok reached overseas countries where people are now crazy about it.

According to statistics, China’s short video market is expected to hit around $ 14.08 billion by 2020. Although it is still far from the giants like Tencent or Alibaba, Douyin is approaching quickly and everything indicates that it will close the year with record economic results.


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