The story of TikTok is a tale of two halves. In the West, teenagers grew up with Musical.ly, the music-focused social app. In the East, Douyin (branded as TikTok for the western world) entertained teenagers. In 2018, these two apps merged, propelling TikTok to meteoric heights in a relatively short period of time.
The Smart Marketing of TikTok
TikTok’s user numbers skyrocketed after its merger with Musical.ly, thanks in large part to a smart marketing campaign by ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok. They strategically advertised TikTok on various social sites where young people spend their time, including Snapchat and YouTube.
Despite its rapid growth, TikTok remains relatively unknown to many outside its core demographic. If you were to ask the average person about TikTok, especially those over 30 who are not parents, most would claim to have never heard of it.
See How Fast TikTok Has Risen to Dominance
TikTok’s journey began with Musical.ly, which originated from China. Founded by Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang in Shanghai in 2014, Musical.ly initially started as an online learning platform with short videos. However, it lacked interest and viability. Undeterred, Zhu and Yang rebuilt the platform, creating a social network that combined video and music.
When introducing Musical.ly to both China and the USA, it was American teenagers who embraced it the most. They enjoyed creating videos of themselves lip-syncing to music. By July 2015, Musical.ly had gained a substantial following, surpassing Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram in iOS popularity. Its users even gave themselves a nickname – “musers.”
The success of Musical.ly was further amplified when it introduced Live.ly in July 2016, a livestreaming platform that allowed talented youngsters to showcase their live performances.
One key factor contributing to Musical.ly’s success was its ability to forge partnerships with major music companies, securing licensing deals for copyrighted music. This enabled teenagers to upload videos of themselves lip-syncing without legal repercussions.
The Birth of TikTok
In September 2016, ByteDance launched Douyin, a short-form video app, in China. Within a year, it amassed 100 million users who watched over 1 billion videos daily. Recognizing its potential, ByteDance expanded the app internationally in September 2017 and rebranded it as TikTok.
By January 2018, TikTok claimed the top spot as the most downloaded free mobile app in several countries, including Thailand.
The Merger of TikTok and Musical.ly
In November 2017, ByteDance acquired Musical.ly for an undisclosed sum, estimated to be close to $1 billion. With this acquisition, TikTok aimed to expand its reach in the US teenage market dominated by Musical.ly.
Existing accounts from both platforms were merged into a single app, carrying the name TikTok. However, the original Chinese version, Douyin, remained a separate app. Today, Douyin boasts over 300 million monthly active users.
While TikTok continues to enable users to upload and share 15-second videos with music, it has evolved beyond a music-centric platform. People now upload a wide variety of videos, including dancing, cooking, magic tricks, pets, and comedy skits.
TikTok’s Global Presence and User Base
TikTok’s global impact cannot be denied. It has a presence in over 150 countries, with more than 1 billion users worldwide. In the United States alone, TikTok has been downloaded over 210 million times. If your brand’s target audience ranges from 13 to 60 years of age, having a presence on TikTok is highly recommended.
Experts predict that the number of Douyin users will exceed 835 million by 2025. Douyin has solidified its position as China’s leading platform for knowledge, culture, and art.
Celebrity Influence on TikTok
As expected, TikTok’s rise in popularity attracted celebrities and high-profile individuals. Late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon, for example, spoke about TikTok videos on his show, introducing challenges and encouraging viewers to participate. Skateboarder Tony Hawk and even the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have joined TikTok and garnered massive followings.
Other celebrities who have embraced TikTok include Jennifer Lopez, Amy Schumer, Paris Hilton, Swae Lee, Marshmello, Jason Derulo, and Charlie Puth.
Charli D’Amelio Tops the TikTok Charts
While Musical.ly influencer Ariel Martin held the number one spot two years ago with 22.9 million fans, as of 2022, Charli D’Amelio reigns as TikTok’s biggest star with 150.3 million fans and 11.3 billion hearts. The popularity of TikTok continues to soar, extending beyond its initial teenage demographic and appealing to a broader audience.
TikTok’s acquisition of Musical.ly was a strategic move that allowed the fusion of Eastern and Western elements, propelling TikTok to its current global dominance.
TikTok is no longer just a lip-syncing channel for teenagers. Its diverse content and engaged fanbase make it a platform that brands and individuals cannot overlook.