By: John Stier & Allie Wassum
TikTok says it’s here to stay and we agree.
Despite how it’s been reported, TikTok wasn’t an overnight success. Its roots grew as Music.ly, and then, alongside a major rebranding, TikTok spent billions to amass the user base it has today. In an almost unprecedented way, TikTok advertised on social networks, on billboards and even during the Superbowl.
What got TikTok its 35M+ daily users was its mega ad spend. What kept users around and what will keep users around are TikTok’s unique sharing functionality, its algorithm and its unique relationship with music. Three things Instagram hasn’t replicated and won’t anytime soon.
TikTok’s Special Sauce:
- Sharing on TikTok is open. Whereas most social platforms keep sharing closed, placing the emphasis on sharing content exclusively on the platform on which it was created, TikTok was never precious about where you share your content. It smartly places a TikTok logo in the right corner of every video and makes sharing via SMS, Twitter, Snapchat, FB, IG, IG Stories, saving a video, etc. all seamless. It seems counterintuitive but doing this has contributed to TikTok’s growth and popularity.
- TikTok’s algorithm starts with the what, not the who.TikTok’s content serving model is based less on who you follow and more on what you like. This is important, because unless Instagram/Facebook completely overhaul their algorithms, they will never be able to achieve TikTok’s addictive succewss. No Reels product is going to change the fact that I follow who I follow. Unless, of course, Instagram changes its own Explore page to be more like the TikTok For You page (which it hasn’t), there’s no replicating the means of discovery TikTok has facilitated. It’s this discovery that’s also led to the democratization of virality. Going TikTok viral is open to any and everyone. Why? Because your existing followership isn’t more important than the content itself.
- Audio Discovery & Attribution Because of its roots as music.ly, TikTok’s platform depends on music and audio. Artists have been discovered on TikTok (see #2) and the entire music industry has changed because of TikTok. Anyone can upload their own audio track and it can then be used by someone else, with attribution back to the originator.
If we use these three factors as lenses on the new competitors launched alongside the potential ban on TikTok, it’s easy to see why TikTok has staying power:
- Reels: Instagram’s TikTok clone that launched Wednesday morning, can be found hidden on IG’s explore page. Reels functions almost identically to TikTok, but it is missing all 3 items that make up TikTok’s secret sauce:
- ❌ Shareability – At launch, Reels doesn’t allow users to share videos on other platforms.
- ❌ Algorithm – Reels also only shows you the videos of people you currently follow & is hidden on the Explore page.
- ❌ Music Integration – Finally, Reels has a music integration, but it doesn’t allow users to upload their own audio to be dubbed or reused by the rest of the platform.
Reels does provide an opportunity for brands to lean into the TikTok aesthetic and mentality without the burden of standing up a new platform. It also provides a way for creators to diversify their following. But without the secret sauce, it doesn’t pose a threat to TikTok’s survival.
- Triller: When news of the potential TikTok originally ban broke, Triller shot to the top of the Apple App store. Triller is similar to TikTok in that it is a video sharing app, but it caters more to the celebrity than the everyday person. Celebrities & record labels alike have used Triller for quite some time, but it lacks a wide user base as well as the comedic relief inherent in TikTok.
- ❌ Shareability – Triller allows users to share content with a link on other platforms, but it forces viewers to view content inside the app. Not seamless.
- ✅ Algorithm – Triller’s algorithm does surface content based on the content itself and not on who created it, however it’s not as great/addictive as TikTok’s.
- ✅ Music Integration – Triller allows users to choose from licensed music on Spotify or Apple and it allows users to upload their own audio, but this isn’t a common user behavior (yet).
- Byte: Byte is the second try for Vine co-creator Dom Hoffman and, as such, is focused mostly on comedy and content curation, lacking the musical aspect of TikTok as well as its intelligent content-serving algorithm. Byte also lacks a strong user base with only 2.5M U.S. downloads so far. We wouldn’t put our money on this being the next home for TikTok creators.
- ❌ Shareability – Byte’s still in development, so currently you can only share content within the app itself.
- ✅ Algorithm – Content on Byte is served to you based on what you’ve interacted with thus far and so it has a similar feel to TikTok’s. Though again, it definitely isn’t as addictive.
- ❌ Music Integration – Byte’s allows users to upload music but it doesn’t have an official library of tracks as do the others.
- Dubsmash: This German app is focused first and foremost on music, dancing and lip-syncing to your favorite songs. Like Byte, it lacks entertainment options outside of the music angle however Dubsmash does have 41.5M downloads in the U.S. Despite accomplishing two of our lenses, it’s been around for a while and just doesn’t have the same cache as TikTok.
- ❌ Shareability – Dubsmash sounds can be shared publicly in the app, but the videos (called “my dubs”) are not publicly viewable unless they’re downloaded and reuploaded, without any Dubsmash branding.
- ✅ Algorithm – Content on Dubsmash is served based on both the content you like and people you follow.
- ✅ Music Integration – Dubsmash has a library of music and allows users to upload their own sounds, it is very core to the experience.