Will TikTok Really Takeover, or Do Social Media Conglomerates Have an Unbeatable Stronghold?
Is Facebook’s time on top of social media Olympus over?
As of the 3rd quarter of 2019, until today, TikTok is the number one most downloaded app in the US (and the world) with a userbase of 500 million users worldwide. This makes it the fastest growing social media app of them all, breaking the 2-year post-launch record of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and even FB Messenger.
TikTok was launched in 2017 by ByteDance, a Chinese tech giant with one of the most valuable startups in the world, which already had a similar app inside China called Douyin. The same year ByteDance bought the American lip-syncing app Musical.ly, which is later absorbed into TikTok.
While there's no question that usage of the app is growing, TikTok has thus far been reluctant to release full breakdowns of its usage stats, though last month TikTok VP Blake Chandlee indicated to an audience at an Advertising Week event that the app does have more than 500 million users.
Well, let’s just say – not quite! Let’s not forget that Facebook is one of the biggest and richest companies in the world, and has already proved that it’s not ready to go anywhere with its purchase of Instagram itself.
TikTok, with all its recent popularity, it might not be the platform to take over the US for the following reasons:
Its format has already been copied by Instagram
TikTok is a video ONLY social media network, which, despite its booming popularity among younger audiences, still remains limited in functionality compared to Instagram and the latter. IG has already mostly copied Tiktok with its stories and IG TV. In fact, Facebook and even WhatsApp have stories now. The Instagram platform is one mere platform improvement from replicating TikTok entirely.
There have been others
It's not like Facebook has just been sitting there this whole time uncontested. There have been several other platforms worldwide who have been considered as Instagram’s/Facebook’s competition and even downfall, and yet, they’re both still here. Twitter started around the same time as Facebook and at some point was considered to be a significant competitor, but now it’s nothing more than a news/politics media channel. Snapchat had a very similar trajectory to today’s TikTok’s period of exponential growth, with many marketers ringing the alarm of Instagram’s downfall by its hands. However, that growth has stopped, and Instagram has implemented many of Snap’s features, meaning the bubble has burst. The Russian platform, VKontakte, created by famous programmer Pavel Durov, has taken away a huge market share from Facebook at some point in the past, and now lays in waste because of Russian government intervention and Instagram growth.
It’s owned by a Chinese company
Let’s not forget that TikTok is a Chinese company and has to abide by Chinese law. It might come as a surprise to you, but the communist party has quite a different view (compared to the USA) to users’ privacy. At any point, the Chinese government can request data from any Chinese company on any user, and the company has to obey. Otherwise, comrades who own the company will have a very unpleasant conversation with Chinese police, which, compared to this Cambridge Analytica scandal, will seem like a piece of cake. TikTok’s userbase in the United States is so young that most users probably don’t have a good understanding of Chinese privacy laws, but as their userbase grows to crowds who do, this is likely to become a hot topic as it relates to using the app.
The problems with TikTok being a Chinese company don’t just end with privacy issues. With ever-escalating tensions between the US and China – you know, the trade war we’re very active in now – TikTok might just end up on the wrong side of the deal. The US government could just as easily block TikTok as Chinese social media, just like Facebook is blocked in China. With privacy concerns as a hot topic among US-based social media now, it could easily be in the best interests of the public to decide it wants to legally protect our personal data from being exposed through TikTok to the Chinese government.
80% Chinese user base
But that's not very clear -TikTok’s actual userbase is incredibly unclear. In July of last year, TikTok reported that it had 500 million users "globally", though that figure included users of Douyin, the version of TikTok which operates within China. Douyin claimed in November 2018 to have 400 million actives in China alone, which means that TikTok could have around 100 million users, or maybe a lot more. Or not. No one's really sure, yet this poses a question: is TikTok really a global platform if 80% of users are on Chinese intranet?
What is clear is that social media users around the world are quick to join new platforms if there are added benefits of doing so. Whether its additional features or to avoid privacy concerns, we’ve all seen how quickly a new social media platform can grow simply because of poor alternatives. That said, it seems that the marriage of Facebook and Instagram has solidified a clear leader that would require a lot more privacy protection and features than both combined in order to dethrone the conglomerate. There is simply no way it’s going to be a Chinese government-controlled video maker.