Since 2018, TikTok has been going from strength to strength – quite literally. In 2020, the social network from China was one of the most downloaded apps ever and is well on its way to overtaking the big players like Facebook, Instagram and others. The history of TikTok goes back to 2014. Originally developed in Shanghai under the name Musical.ly, the application was able to enjoy significant user growth within a short time. Today, the app is known as TikTok and in more than 150 countries around the world – and is extremely popular with the younger audience. Almost a third of users are between 13 and 17 years old. By all accounts, TikTok continues its triumphant march in Generation Z.
But the history of the social network is also almost a story of failure. For at the beginning, the foundation seemed anything but promising. After his studies at Zhejiang University, Alex Zhu worked for SAP. There he came up with the idea of developing an app for short training videos. Together with his long-time friend Luyu Yang, the two managed to generate 250,000 dollars for the development of the app. Within six months, the friends developed the app “Cicada” together with a small team. But the short videos with educational content did not reach the target group of teenagers sufficiently. The creative head of the team, Alex Zhu, finally noticed something on a trip that would pave the way for one of the most successful apps: music-listening teenagers taking selfies and populating them with emojis. The team developed a new app called Musical.ly in just one month with the funding they still had – and made history. twitter downloader
After the takeover by ByteDance, Musical.ly is finally merged with TikTok and appears on an international level only under the name TikTok. The sister app Douyin will continue to be operated by ByteDance in China on a different server.
How Musical.ly became TikTok
What is Musical.ly?
Musical.ly was the “originating app” developed together by the two Chinese Luyu Yang and Alex Zhu. Users, later also known as “musers”, could record 15-second videos with the help of the app, edit them graphically and share them. For the lip-sync recordings, users had countless songs to sing along to. In addition to “playing back” the songs, users could dance, gesture or otherwise act out their videos. The app also organised regular contests in which users had to move to a given song. Just two years after the app’s release, it could look back on a broad user community: over 140 million people, including mainly younger Generation Z users, were active on the platform.
The history of Musical.ly
Musical.ly was founded in 2014 by the two Chinese entrepreneurs Luyu Yang and Alex Zhu. Users could use it to create and publish short videos. The user community gained rapid growth, and the app was sold to ByteDance for $1 billion in 2017. But the app also faced criticism: too many inactive users and accusations of encouraging paedophilia. Adult male users hid behind fake profiles and allegedly influenced girls. This became visible, among other things, due to certain hashtags from paedophile circles. This prompted ByteDance to discontinue the app.
ByteDance had already developed a similar app, Douyin, at that time. Douyin, however, was exclusively for the Chinese market. The Shanghai-based company eventually merged the two apps and launched TikTok on the international market in 2017. Douyin is still active at the Chinese level.
What distinguishes Musical.ly and TikTok?
Besides their different genesis, the two apps also differ in their content. While Musical.ly was solely based on publishing short music videos, TikTok users have the option to upload videos with other content that is not necessarily related to music.
In addition, the user base differed significantly at the beginning. TikTok users were mainly from Asian countries and China, whereas Musical.ly fans were in Europe and the USA. Before Musical.ly was discontinued, TikTok was already able to gather five times as many users behind it as Musical.ly – TikTok’s reach was thus significantly higher.
Imitators of TikTok
The success of the platform attracted numerous imitators. Instagram and YouTube were not long in coming and followed a similar principle with short videos. Instagram Reels also allows 15-second clips that can be edited using sound and other tools. The clips are not bound to musical content, this is up to the user.
YouTube also recognised the trend. With YouTube Shorts, the video giant from the USA is pursuing the same idea: short clips that can be edited and enhanced with effects. The user can then share his short video with the desired target group. Snapchat is also jumping on the bandwagon and is launching a similar feature with Snapchat Spotlight: short clips that can be edited and shared with friends or publicly.
The development of the app over the past years
The history of the platform is one of success. Initially and after the merger with Musical.ly, users mainly published videos with musical content and so-called lip-sync videos. Over time, videos with different content were increasingly uploaded to the app. Today, the content is broadly diversified. In addition to dance and singing videos, clips from other subject areas can also be found. These include animal videos, reenactments of famous dialogues, comedy and much more.
Almost half of all TikTok users are between 18 and 24 years old, 13 to 17 year olds make up just under a third. Taken together, this target group makes up around seventy percent of users. Companies or brands that want to create brand awareness among Generation Z are therefore close to the target group with their corporate presence or appropriately placed advertising on TikTok. In the meantime, more and more people over 30 are also interested in the social network.
TikTok enjoys great popularity and is already one of the largest networks. It thus ranks just behind Instagram and Facebook. In 2018, the app was downloaded more often than Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. With 800 million users, the social network can boast huge numbers. In just three years, the Chinese app managed to establish itself on the market – no other social network has been so fast before.
For all its popularity, the app has also come under heavy criticism. The USA and India in particular expressed concerns about user data. They accused the video portal of collecting sensitive information and transmitting it to the Chinese government. Among other things, there was the accusation that Chinese companies have internal communist spies who pass on this sensitive information to the regime. In addition to the accusation of espionage, there were also accusations of pornography. TikTok’s algorithm has even faced accusations of discrimination, with the social network allegedly censoring politically sensitive content.
The future of the trending app TikTok
TikTok recognises the trends in the advertising world. And for businesses, too, there is already almost no getting around the social network – if you want to reach Generation Z, you have to advertise here. TikTok for Business picks up on this trend and launches an advertising platform especially for advertising companies and agencies. Companies can also get exclusive access directly through a TikTok agency like TIGA Media.
This provides five ad formats that the advertising company can