In 2013, Vine was the hottest video app among teenagers. 

But with the explosive popularity of video came increased competition from emerging platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

The downfall of Vine, considered the predecessor to TikTok, was attributed to its failure to adequately keep their young user base loyal.

Its cultural impact far oustripped its strategic or financial benefits to parent-company Twitter, and the mobile app was eventually shut down in 2016.

Around the same time, Chinese technology company ByteDance launched a short-video media app, Douyin (抖音; meaning ‘shaking sound’), followed by an international version named TikTok.

These apps have grown immensely popular since then, being downloaded more times than Instagram or Facebook in 2018. 

Knowing the TikTok audience

While Chinese users continue to be the driving force for Douyin and TikTok revenue, this year marks the beginning of their rise to becoming an international social media phenomenon. 

One of the major reasons for this is TikTok’s uniqueness. ByteDance deals in AI development such as machine learning and original algorithms, which includes big data analysis to understand user behavior and preferences. 

Distilling these tools into the TikTok product, ByteDance has successfully enhanced users’ stickiness and enriched the lives of audiences through the use of short but engaging videos. 

Our latest data on TikTok members around the world allows us to see exactly who they are, what they’re doing online, and what they want from brands. Armed with this audience profiling, brands looking to get in on this wildly popular trend can hit the ground running. 

No longer just for kids

ByteDance took Douyin overseas as ‘TikTok’ in 2017, and cleverly merged it with in 2018 for $1bn, giving it a headstart in the U.S. market.

But it’s important to note that Douyin and TikTok are actually separate entities, using different systems and at very different stages of development.

Currently, 57% of Douyin and TikTok’s joint user base come from China, so the influence of our Chinese sample on demographic data cannot be overstated. 

TikTok around the world

For example, whereas more than 60% of TikTok members fall into the 25-44 age bracket in China, outside of China, 43% of TikTok-ers are 16-24 years old. 

While TikTok tends to be synonymous with teenagers, there seems to be a growing indication that the TikTok user base has expanded beyond just teens. 

In countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, membership among 25-34 year-olds is actually higher than among 16-24s. The demographic shift is reminiscent of Facebook and Instagram. 

Generally, younger consumers are the first to embrace new technologies and services, but eventually the critical mass will start pouring in.

As the average age of TikTok members gradually increases, it will present an interesting problem for ByteDance, who will want to maintain its impressive growth without driving away their youngest and most desirable engagers.

Seeking status and validation 

52% of TikTok users can be categorized as status seekers, 1.3 times the global average. 

They agree that they:

  • Strive to achieve more in life, 
  • Tend to buy premium versions of products 
  • Are brand conscious
  • Like to be respected by their peers. 

Anything that can enhance TikTok users online reputation or status is likely to be evaluated positively – members are over 1.5 times the global average to say this quality would motivate them to promote their favorite brand online. 

And they are not afraid of voicing their opinions. A third say sharing their opinion is a main reason for using the internet, and two-thirds have posted a review of a product or service in the past month. 

TikTok member's most distinctive attitudes

TikTok members are not only aware of brands and willing to buy brands they see advertised, they can also be heavily influenced by the community’s voice around them. 

Community at its heart

Given that nearly half of users say they are easily swayed by other people’s opinions, and 3 in 10 say that lots of ‘likes’ or good comments on social media are a purchase driver, third-party validation is a crucial part of the TikTok experience. 

There are things to be learned from the fall of its predecessor here. Vine’s biggest failure was its poor treatment of the creator community. By not giving them a way to generate revenue, they left influencers and high-profile celebrities with little choice but to venture off to Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. 

TikTok members are 1.35 times the global average to say meeting new people and making new connections is an important reason for them using the internet. 

The rich and frequently updated content of TikTok will be a vital element for user experience, so keeping this creative community happy and expressive is essential. 

Encouraging peer support, collaboration, and a friendly and supportive platform ethic should be high on TikTok’s agenda. 

Short but sweet

As noted by Jing Daily, Douyin is undergoing a transformation in an effort to keep interests piqued and momentum going in China. 

This includes an increase in celebrities posting comedy content, vertical-specific content that focuses on niche interests and provides tips and how-to instructions, and finally a laser focus on short-form storytelling.

One could argue that all three changes will be well received internationally on TikTok, but short-form videos might be the defining social media trend of this decade.

Arguably, it’s even the next goldmine for advertisers in the current mobile internet era. Short videos present marketers with the opportunity to be less intrusive, so short-form ads should be seen as a spur for creative ingenuity and an effective way to tease and expand a campaign’s core message.

Short-form user-generated content has radically changed how we consume entertainment, and TikTok plays into a lot of these current trends in terms of meeting consumers’ need for self-expression and creativity. 

For consumers who are craving either the creative space or the social connection TikTok offers, brands should be wary of heavy-handed intrusions. 

This is especially the case now that TikTok has released a new feature that lets users shop for products inside the app. 

Experimentation, creativity and fun should be at the heart of any TikTok campaign, so as not to stand out for the wrong reasons. 

Staying ahead of the game

Given TikTok celebrated its first birthday this month, its ascension is particularly striking. 

But the company faces tangible risks in the near future, especially in sustaining user interest outside of its core Asia-Pacific markets, which will require it to create novel content and features. 

On top of this, TikTok has to manage its regulators around the world. ByteDance has already had run-ins with the U.S. government, and the trade wars between the U.S. and China will only exaggerate these tensions. 

TikTok’s international staying power is as of yet unknown. As novelty fades, taking on the social media titans to carve out its own lasting presence will be a monumental challenge. 

And as the platform matures, user-viewing habits and preferences will continue to change. 

What worked for brands a year ago may not work today. Continuing to understand this young, community-driven audience as they evolve will be key in knowing how to approach them.

Discover the latest gaming insights in our 2019 report

Written by

Duncan is a Senior Analyst and Writer at GWI. Duncan produces a wide range of assets including reports, infographics and dashboards, along with our Chart of the Week series. Moving to GWI after completing a degree in psychology, Duncan specializes in online consumer behavior and motivations.

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