In 500 days the Chinese micro-video app has spread throughout China
Chinese app Douyin is seeing a massive wave of video production in China. Douyin, a multimedia production and social media app, is considered a clone of musical.ly, its US counterpart. Launched in September 2016, Douyin allows users to choose a song, create a video by miming and dancing on the melody, adding various filters and speed options such as time-lapse and slow motion, and then share the final work on the app or on other social platforms.
“I’m not taking any more selfies, just a video on Douyin,” says Erin Huang, a 21-year-old who grew up in Shenzhen, was educated in Singapore, and is one of the first influencers on the platform. Supported by the Bytedance company – which acquired musical.ly last year – Douyin became the second short video app in China, dedicated to user-generated content (UGC) and unique downloads.
Douyin has beat out micro video app Kuaishou, backed by Tencent, and beats Meofe Meipai and Miaopai supported by Weibo. Douyin now has 32.5 million users and added an average of 1 million users a day over the last six months, according to data company Big Jiguang.
A proven app concept in a growing market
When Douyin hit the market, Chinese mobile users already had a dozen short video apps to play with. People were creating and consuming more micro-videos than ever through their phones, thanks to lower data costs and increased demand for small content.
Between 2013 and 2016, the market saw a jump of 302% to reach 153 million users. About one in 10 of those users is Chinese.
Each of these reduced-format video apps has a distinguishing characteristic. Some generate professional clips, like Xted by Bytedance. Others focus on UGC, including Douyin, Meipai, and Kuaishou.
While Kuaishou’s easy-to-use interface attracts mostly men, and largely inhabitants of smaller cities who amuse themselves with joke videos, Douyin has started to generate a user base similar to that of Meipai: young urban women.
However, instead of offering tools for eye enlargement and facial slimming – features typical of the Meipai app – Douyin chose to adopt something that Musical.ly has shown is popular among young US users.
The videos synchronize the movement of the lip and dance moves of Douyin users. According to Huang, they are not like clips from other video platforms. They require a good level of body coordination and musical talent to succeed well.
“Not everyone can pull off these stunts. I often spend hours practicing for a 15-second clip. My followers would comment like, “This is nice, how did you do it?” Adds Huang.
A new trend is born through Douyin, and is fueled by the influencer who created it
Douyin has managed to capture a target market. Today, a whopping 80% of app users are under 30, 66.4% are women, and over 40% live in first and second-tier cities.
In addition to performing in the videos, Douyin’s influencers also have a varied background that may be evident in their production. They often dress in fashion or appear in exotic places, a sign that they live or study abroad, which explains why some of them can perfectly mime songs in English.
“They are like reference models for young Chinese people. They come from well-to-do social classes and live in big cities or abroad,” notes Fabian Bern, founder and CEO of the Influencer UpLab Asia marketing agency. “Douyin was very smart at using these influencers.”
To scout the influencers that could become idols for its app users, Douyin did what the other Bytedance apps do: offered many benefits. In 2015, the Bytedance news app, Toutiao, announced a monthly salary of around 1,600 USD per 1,000 of its contracted employees. Douyin’s influencers are treated equally well.
“Douyin’s pay was much better than other short video apps,” recalls Huang. She started making lip-synching videos on Musical.ly during a stay in Singapore, but was soon discovered by Douyin and invited to join as a contract-based content creator.
Most of Douyin’s early influencers are young people who live in cities
Once these stars are on board, Douyin pampers them with an assortment of advantages. Contracted influencers get much more visibility on the app than ordinary users and can potentially grow their audience from 10,000 followers to 1 million in as little as 60 days.
The app also tries to instill a sense of belonging to these new influencers immediately offering exclusive parties, monthly gifts and the possibility of being part of the process of iterating the product. Huang, for example, participated in the modification of the app’s name from A.me to Douyin – “shaking music” in Chinese – a more graphic representation of the musical movements of the software.
Marketers attribute Douyin’s rise to its aggressive advertising efforts, such as self-service karaoke kiosks in large shopping centers
The Chinese government has also repeatedly launched short video apps, including Kuaishou and its Bytenance rival, Huoshan, among the country’s content cleansing efforts in recent months. “The big brands are sensitive to what they associate with,” adds Wang.
But Douyin seems to follow similar content to those on Kuaishou. Douyin’s trendy content has already gone beyond the purely musical to get to what Huang calls “low quality” arena, such as a video of someone licking a bowl of noodles.
Huang and his influencer clique complain about the app’s pivot as compared to its “cool” atmosphere. They are also getting less promotion from Douyin, as the app now wants an ever-wider range of content.
“Youth is actually Douyin’s main audience. But, at the product level, we think that Douyin is actually more universal, “Douyin general manager told the media last month. To this end, the app has changed its slogan to be more inclusive: “Record the good life”.
The catchline recalls that of Kuaishou, “Register the world, register yourself”. In fact, the two apps share a stackable audience: 43.1% of Douyin users are also on Kuaishou, according to Jiguang.
“Of course, there are still a lot of people and fashionable things about Douyin. They are an important part of a lifestyle, of Douyin’s “good life”. But we want users to appreciate people of all ages, geographies, and genres. Their content is just as beautiful and exciting,” explains Zhang. “If Douyin wants to beat Kuaishou, I think he could,” concludes Sha.
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