| by Cara Lui | No comments

Chinese Social App Tik Tok Conquering The World Step By Step

Tik Tok, a viral mobile video app developed by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is gaining enormous popularity all over the globe. Never heard of it? Nevermind. Tons of American teenagers are already obsessed with it. Tik Tok has became the most downloaded iOS app for 5 consecutive quarters now, beating social media giants like Youtube, Facebook and Instagram.

So what exactly is Tik Tok? Tik Tok is the international version of Douyin, a well-known video-themed social application in China. Both apps provide key functions for creating and sharing short videos. Thousands of trending videos produced circulate within and outside the platform, hundreds of songs and dances covered in those videos have since gone viral.

Tik Tok’s speedy growth makes it one of the most successful Chinese apps ever in the overseas market. Even in relatively conservative market like Japan, Tik Tok managed to grab the top position of free app ranking within 3 months. In half a year, 24 out of 100 Japanese high school girls downloaded Tik Tok on their phones. In India, number of downloads soared from 1.3 million in 2017 December to 32 million in 2018 December, indicating its expeditious expansion around the world.

Tik Tok’s vast popularity greatly boosted its revenue. In 2019 Q1, Tik Tok’s total in-app sales tripled, comparing to 2018 Q1, to over 1.8 million USD. According to Measurable AI’s data, the average paying user spend of TikTok is 49.45 USD, higher than the 11.97 USD of Douyin. Also, the Chinese and American markets have contributed the largest proportion of TikTok and Douyin’s income with similar ratios. Their even distribution of income source proved how Tik Tok’s overseas business is slowly catching up with Douyin’s success in the mainland.

The only product you can buy in Tik Tok or Douyin is TikTok Coins. These virtual coins can be used to buy gifts for Tik Tokers you love watching, and Tik Tokers can gain a portion of revenue from these received gifts. From the apps’ in-app sales, we can observe the different consumption habits of users from different regions. Measurable AI shows us that “500 coins” is the most popular item in Tik Tok, contributing 47.5% of total sales, and sells better than the cheaper item “100 Coins”. While in Douyin, the most popular item belongs to “42 Coins”, the cheapest of all, contributing 81.08% of sales. With the above numbers, we may conclude that overseas users tend to spend a larger amount for a more cost-effective price in return. 

However, we should not neglect the effect imposed by Tik Tok’s pricing system. In Douyin, “42 Coins” is the relatively affordable item priced at 0.99 USD, while the other two items, “756 Coins” and “3626 Coins” are priced at 15.99 and 79.99 USD respectively, with quite a gap between the three. As mobile app users tend to avoid spending a large sum at once, the two more expensive items have notably lower sales. Tik Tok did not commit the same mistake. The app set up a 4.99 USD-worth “500 Coins” along with the “100 Coins” priced at 0.99 USD, such that user can choose to spend more, but not too much.

It is undeniable that Tik Tok is an international hit. But among all those Chinese apps striving to set their foot in overseas market, why is Tik Tok the special one, the one which actually makes impact to the globally?

1. Unified System with Localized Content

Different from some other Chinese applications wanting to get into overseas markets, Tik Tok did not carry out structural changes to its functions. Instead, the video platform brought over almost all Douyin’s features and only adjusted the content slightly for its overseas expansion. 

Indeed, reshaping your app to whatever the markets need might help to attract users, and that’s what another Chinese video platform “Kuaishou” did in South Korea. Kuaishou changed from a normal short video platform to a dubbing tool for famous scenes from TV dramas and films for its debut in Korea. However, we should acknowledge that re-developing an app according to each of its markets is extremely pricey, and not really that practical concerning the amount of time and resources required.

That’s why Tik Tok did not take on the path. Instead of re-building an app, Tik Tok kept almost all functions of Douyin, including the main video-taking and editing features. With that foundation, the app adjust the content within according to the market’s particular demands. 

Tik Tok hires staff with experiences living abroad in its target regions, so that they are familiar enough with the culture to know exactly how to modify and make their videos more adapted. For example, Japanese are relatively reserved and love to fit in their social circles. Tik Tok therefore brought in more challenge videos for its Japanese users so that they can invite their friends to join, the difficulty and movement of viral dance steps are also toned down to meet users’ needs. 

With the unified foundation and localized content, Tik Tok can save the re-design cost and reuse topics that have already trended somewhere else by promoting them again in new markets, ensuring a certain extent of popularity. At the same time, the regional team can make sure that the video contents are welcomed in the new market. 

Repackaging trending themes from Douyin for Tik Tok is also a way of cultural output. Chinese culture, such as Mandarin pop songs and traditional costumes, is widely spread to every corner in the world through Tik Tok’s viral videos. With its increasing impact, Tik Tok could become a powerful weapon for China’s soft power.

2. Strategic Acquisition of Musical.ly

Unlike most Chinese apps, Tik Tok does not only aim at the Southeastern Asia. The ambitious title try to take over the European and American market as well. Now that almost half of its income is from the US, it is safe to say that Tik Tok has gained significant recognition in America, thanks to its acquisition of Musical.ly.

Musical.ly has similar functions to Tik Tok, both being a platform for users to make and share short videos. However, Musical.ly has a heavier focus on music, most users create their one-of-a-kind music videos by lip-synching to songs or doing dance covers of pop music. Before Tik Tok has even entered the overseas market, Musical.ly has already accumulated more than 240 million users. Similar with Tik Tok, a high proportion of the app’s users belongs to the younger generation, hence the network already well-established by Musical.ly can be fully utilised when the app was merged with Tik Tok by Byte Dance.

The merge of Tik Tok and Musical.ly was conducted by Byte Dance in 2018 August, completely combining the two apps into one. Through the merge, the Musical.ly app was updated to Tik Tok directly so that all existing users of the music video app were transferred to Tik Tok. The combination of those two not only increased the number of users, but also promoted the lesser known Tik Tok with the reputation of Musical.ly in the Western market. 

3. Easy to Use Editing Tools Linked Up with Other Social Media

Also, Tik Tok is not just another social media. In fact, it is also a user-friendly video editing tool. Users can insert background music, add in filters, or change the speed of videos by just one button, no additional software or equipment needed. This convenient video-editing feature allows users to share the finished video to other social network platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The low technical requirement attracts a significant number of teenager users to use the app as a side-tool for managing other social media accounts.

This also brings incredible promotional effect for Tik Tok. All videos produced in the app would include a Tik Tok logo at the corner, when the videos get shared to some bigger social media, they serve as free advertisement for Tik Tok. Hence, through other social media, Tik Tok managed to reach a much broader user base and slowly “seduce” them into its own community.

4. Targeting the Right Market

The theme of Tik Tok also matches perfectly to the current trend. Nowadays, our time is more fragmented than ever. Waiting for buses, queuing up for food… We are very used to swiping our time through these short time segments on our phones. Even though these short periods of time are dispersed, Tik Tok makes full use of them with its signature 15-second videos. 

Since the video length is shorter than that of Youtube, viewers are able to watch more without feeling tired. The short length and auto-play function also lead users into an inextricable loop where they watch one after one videos without realizing. Tik Tok videos give users instant excitement and can even hold users to stay for a longer period of time than Youtube.

In the overseas market, number of such short video applications are limited. Vine used to be one of the major competitors, but has stopped operating since Twitter’s acquisition and modification. Tik Tok therefore rises to satisfy the market demand for this new-style social media. 


The reason why Tik Tok and Douyin are so popular in both China and the world, is definitely not pure luck. With the above four beneficial conditions, including the constant improvement of the app itself and the accurate strategies adopted according to the latest market trend, Tik Tok sets its foot firmly into the international market and gains a huge number of users. Would this become the textbook for Chinese apps’ expansion into overseas markets? Let’s see!

About MAI Insights

Measurable AI is your data powerhouse that provides accurate, real-time and actionable consumer insights. By scanning and identifying over 20 Billion actual online spender’s email receipts, Measurable AI transforms them into valuable consumer insights, which updates daily right after the purchases happen. 

Cara Lui is a blog-writer specializing in analytical industry trends and new discoveries of Mobile Apps with the assistance of the MAI Insights’ real-time online consumer data panel.

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