If it feels like everyone you know is on TikTok, you might be right! It is currently the fastest-growing social media platform beating out Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and more.
This Chinese short video-sharing app is extremely popular, racking up billions of views and engagements in almost all 195 countries in just under five years.
Despite its success, it is also controversial. It was banned in Indonesia in 2018, in India in 2020 and ex-US President Donald Trump threatened to pull its plug, accusing it of being a spy app from the Chinese government. But none of the controversies seems to bother its fans, continuing to attract a wide range of diverse users and content they create. So what makes TikTok um... tick?
TikTok began life in Shanghai in 2014 as the app Musical.ly, a social networking app that offered short 15 second videos of singing, lip-syncing, dance choreography and more.
In November 2017, ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming purchased Musical.ly for about $1 billion. In 2018, Musical.ly became TikTok, and the rest is history.
Bytedance is a Chinese tech company with big ambitions, and he dreamt of building a China-based global tech company that would be "As border-less as Google." This dream off course, was near impossible since Communist China operates a completely different internet from the rest of the planet. Western apps such as Youtube and Facebook - among others - are banned, so you'll find many similar homegrown apps. However, none have broken through into the international scene until TikTok.
So what makes TikTok unique? It's powered by artificial intelligence, creating a personalized feed based on user interests. Though for some, this could be dangerous from a mental health standpoint. It is content-based, so it's not a closed network. You can see the content you enjoy from people you don't know or interact with at all.
Content really is key with TikTok. You can post anything under the sun, including travel, music, dance, fitness, parodies, hobbies and others. Entertainment is, of course, on top, but every day, more and more financial, educational and even other business-growth related content pops up on the app.
TikTok's marketing savviness also contributed to its popularity. The product itself is genius, making it easy to make shareable videos with its built-in editing functions. Users were then encouraged to share their TikTok content on other social media platforms. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it made for great free publicity.
They also gave content creators a taste of fame by allowing them to beat the TikTok algorithm on purpose. When their TikToks blew up and went viral, it fueled creators to come up with even more content, with the quality increasing along with the number of videos.
So what does the future hold for TikTok? The possibilities are endless. Though many see it as just a collection of silly dance challenge videos, the platform is quickly evolving, its followers growing - and this is just with minimum effort by its founders. Its implications for the future of ads and online shopping and a source of information - news and education - are exciting.