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How Does Tik Tok Outperform Tencent’s Super App WeChat and Become One of China’s Most Popular Apps? (Part 1)

Tik Tok is a product about “loveliness”.

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How Does Tik Tok Outperform Tencent’s Super App WeChat and Become One of China’s Most Popular Apps? (Part 1)

Tik Tok (抖音) may be young compared with many of its short video peers on the market, but the fact that it achieved such strong growth momentum in less than two years has made it the center of attention.

Launched by Bytedance in September 2016, Tik Tok has outperformed Tencent’s super app WeChat and has become the most downloaded free app in iOS Apple Store in China. Its DAU, in February 2018, has reached 32.5 million and the number peaked at 62 million during Chinese Spring Festival, according to a report by data service Jiguang.

Outside China, Tik Tok also went viral quickly, especially in Japan and Thailand, becoming the most downloaded free app in the two respective local iOS App Stores last November. In a bid to fuel the app’s global expansion, Bytedance acquired lip-syncing app musical.ly last year and merged it with Tik Tok. According to App Annie, Tik Tok is the #7 most downloaded app across the world.

How did Tik Tok get where it is today? What is the nature of this product and its underlying concept and values? Find the answers in the first public address of ZHANG Nan, Tik Tok’s General Manager.

This is the Part 1 of a 2-Part series. Link to the Part 2.


Tik Tok: All about “Loveliness”

Media circles have given much attention to Tik Tok and published numerous articles about it lately. I see overpraising in some and misunderstanding in others. Either way, I believe it suggests that our product is loved and closely watched by many. Tik Tok had some achievements last year, but is far from being a success. We tend to believe that the reason for Tik Tok’s popularity is that it’s a product about “loveliness.”

First, Tik Tok meshes with the consumption upgrade trend.

Tik Tok.

Tik Tok is in fact a product born out of the consumption upgrade trend. I think people recognize Tik Tok because they have come to a stage where they need a product that can introduce them to the “loveliness” of things.

When we first started incubating the project, before we had any ideas what the product should look like, our team downloaded the 100-plus Chinese and foreign short video apps then on the market and spent days studying their features.

All had their strong points, but for us, they were not “lovely” enough. “Loveliness” can be an all-encompassing word. In our view, it can be used to describe not only appearances, but all people and things that can make us feel happy.

There is in fact a lot a short piece of video can carry, but the choices offered by the mainstream short video products then were fairly narrow. They failed to do a good job at educating users.

China has seen fast growth in mobile internet penetration these years. Young users in first-tier and second-tier cities, who have all their basic needs attended to and have broad horizons, are leading the consumption upgrade trend. They can tell the good from the bad and have a thirst for quality stuff.

So we figured that we may have a chance if our product can let users see the “loveliness” of short videos.

Second, we enriched user experience with a full-screen feature, music, filters, and easier shooting options.

Users using Tik Tok.

After exploring over 100 short video apps, we decided that we could make a difference in four areas.

First, we play all videos in full screen.

This may be what impresses first-time users the most about our app.

Videos we shoot with the pre-installed camera apps of our phones are all presented in full screen. The thing is, videos deliver a stronger visual impact and a more immersive watching experience when played in full screen than in other modes.

If shooting and playing videos in full screen are the default mode of our phones, isn’t it natural for a short video app designed for phones to play videos in full screen too? That’s in fact the best way of presenting videos on mobile.

But high resolution means higher CDN cost for the company. Yet in retrospect, it was all worth it. It has allowed us to win the favour of the demanding young users with superior experience.

Second, we use music to enhance the “loveliness.”

For Tik Tok, music is not a differentiating factor, but a basic element. It’s like a filter that allows short videos to deliver stronger impact.

Music itself is expressive. When a video is played alongside the right music, “loveliness” comes naturally. Many young people in China’s big cities listen to music even while they walk. Music is part of their life. They have high requirements on music as well as on life.

It thus becomes Tik Tok’s primary mission to meet users’ needs for music and ensure that the music meshes with users’ videos.

Well-chosen background music can spark inspiration.

Third, we offer premium filters with diverse special effects.

Unlike foreign users, Chinese people have a thing for special effects and filters. That’s why we see so many filter-featured camera apps on the list of top iOS apps in China for 2016.

After all, is there really a youngster who doesn’t want to look prettier? We therefore invested heavily to optimize Tik Tok’s editing features and filters, which have proved to be another crucial factor for Tik Tok’s popularity.

At last, we offer a better shooting experience.

The age of smartphones has been around for some time, but short video softwares have failed to keep up with regards to shooting experience.

Given this, we did a lot to enhance the experience. For example, Tik Tok invented a moveable “hold-to-shoot” button that allows users to shoot anywhere and everywhere they want. When shooting in public, one may need to move his or her phone around, which could lead to shaky videos, but even under such a circumstance, Tik Tok is able to deliver superior video quality. As you see, we pay attention to the slightest detail that may make a difference in user experience.

We also rolled out an airbag phone holder designed specially for shooting videos on Tik Tok. The “hold-to-shoot” button moves automatically with your hand during the shooting process, which significantly reduces the insecurity users feel when shooting.

This is the Part 1 of a 2-Part series. Link to the Part 2

Writer: GAO Xiaoqian