Three years ago, ByteDance was one of the world’s largest technology unicorns and a household name in China’s new media and entertainment sector.
But like its bigger arch-rivals, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT), and the stereotype of successful Chinese technology companies, it fell short of becoming a dominant market leader in international markets.
But since then, all changed in November 2017 when ByteDance acquired U.S. market-leading short-form video platform Musical.ly and eventually merged it with its own wildly-popular equivalent, TikTok (also known as Douyin in China).
With the newly merged social platform and a consolidated user-base of uniquely young social media users from both Western and Eastern Hemispheres, TikTok catapulted ByteDance to become a dominant force in the global technology industry and laid the centerpiece for expansion into adjacent sectors, such as gaming, financial technology and e-commerce to challenge the incumbents at BAT. Most recently, TikTok surpassed two billion downloads to become the fastest-growing social media platform in history and hired Disney’s head of streaming, Kevin Mayer, to bring it to greater heights.
What makes TikTok so special, especially among younger users, like those part of Generation Z? TikTok is a social platform that lets users create and share entertaining 15-second videos, such as lip-syncs, feature skits and dance competitions. Over 60% of TikTok users are comprised of Generation Z, which refers to users born after 1996. Generation Z is one of the most diverse generations yet, with high levels of education, digital nativism, social and cultural awareness and a high propensity to be more expressive.
Just as millennials fueled the rise of earlier social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, Generation Z is fueling the rise of TikTok, and understanding the relationship between people and platforms is very telling of what to expect of this rising generation.
Fluid And Micro-Identities
McKinsey & Company research shows that one of the defining characteristics of Generation Z is an expression of individual truth. Across different socioeconomic backgrounds, members of this generation value individual identities, reject stereotypes and practice identity expressions with pragmatism. They are more open to changes and fluidity, while also willing to connect with people of different groups on similar causes and interests.
It is unsurprising then that Generation Z fuels the growth of personalized products and personal brands. This changes how industries typically view their consumers through socioeconomic categories, forcing them to find creative ways to tap into the unique disposition that Generation Z has. Meanwhile, TikTok thrives with its widely diverse content and an algorithm that delivers personalized selections.
Content-Rich Video Consumption
Whether it’s for casual entertainment or formal education, Generation Z often prefers to consume content in rich video formats. While it’s believed that young, digital-savvy audiences don’t like being marketed to, this is not actually the case.
Rather, Generation Z consists of online natives who are familiar with digital tactics and are simply drawn to fresh takes on advertising, such as authentic videos.
This is what makes TikTok videos and even ads so appealing: TikTok videos are typically characterized as raw, high-energy and deeply engaging because TikTok provides advanced, yet simple-to-use tools for users or businesses to embed music and visual effects on videos.
Unsurprisingly, given TikTok’s take on dynamic content that contrasts with Instagram’s more polished feed, TikTok’s expressive Gen Z users tend to have significantly higher engagement rates compared to users on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Social Awareness And Voice Of Expression
The success of ByteDance’s TikTok can arguably be attributed to several factors, but one that is particularly undeniable is its thoughtful product design that facilitates and empowers self-expression, which could be the secret sauce to winning over Generation Z.
Broadly speaking, millennials seem to prefer to consume content while Generation Z prefers to create content. We can draw similar parallels on other social media platforms. Facebook and Instagram both emphasize vertical feeds for millennials to seamlessly consume content, whereas Snapchat emphasizes its camera viewfinder and visual effects for Gen Z’s creative self-expression.
TikTok also offers the antithesis to what some millennials believe social media has turned into: A source of stress and insecurity for many people. Generation Z dominated TikTok and turned it into a place where raw authenticity is celebrated.
In full acknowledgment of the influence and growing market potential that Generation Z brings, TikTok has shown a commitment to maintaining and strengthening the ecosystem’s allure to its target stakeholders, including users, brands and agencies by continuously experimenting with new social features, commerce capabilities, creator support and content enrichment.
The rise of TikTok is not merely the story of the ongoing success of a technology company, but more importantly, the ushering in of the next generation of socially aware and digitally discerning users who diverge in habits and inclinations from preceding generations. Both phenomena are forces to be reckoned with, and intimately understanding both the people and the platform is crucial to foreshadowing the driving forces of future emerging trends.