TikTok is arguably the most beloved app among China’s youth right now. Originally launched in September 2016, TikTok, known as Douyin in China, saw its daily active users more than double between December 2017 and March 2018, jumping from 17.4 million to 45.6 million according to eMarketer. In Q1 of 2018, it was the most downloaded iOS app worldwide for non-game apps.

TikTok now claims to have more than 200 million daily active users (DAU) and more than 400 million monthly active users (MAU). Also, TikTok users are primarily female (60.7%), and 66.7% of users are between the ages of 18 and 24. For this reason, short videos have become a major focus for marketers and media agencies over the past year.

Since the end of 2016, short videos – which typically last for about 15 seconds to a few minutes – are one of the fastest-growing mobile app categories in China. In 2017, according to eMarketer 22% of survey respondents said live streaming and short videos was one of the leading social media marketing tactics they used. In 2018, 62% of respondents said they used these marketing tactics, a jump of 40%!

What exactly is TikTok?

TikTok’s concept is simple: Users can produce a short video of themselves lip-syncing or dancing to their favorite songs and share it on the app. Users can also apply filters and other creative features to the video. Traditionally, music is an optional feature for user-generated video, however, on TikTok music is at the core of the creative process. It sets the theme and acts as a script or template for how the 15-second story is composed.


Mimicry is the biggest driver for general users to create content. Video templates and concepts developed by hired creators or power users lower the barrier for content creation. Users can learn concepts from browsing their feed, which is an endless stream of 15-second videos with mainly young people eating or making food, passionately lip-syncing, dancing comically, making art, or holding cute animals. Overall, most of the content is funny videos. Based on a user study of TikTok and Kwai by Tencent Market Insight, 82.3% of users indicated they go to the app to see funny videos, 56% to see talent, and 54.1% are interested in daily life.

In essence, TikTok is a social network that combines funny and interesting short clips in an immersive full-screen interface with powerful AI that creates a sticky user experience. The content delivery is by a recommendation system, based on a mix of manual curation and machine learning.

Developing a TikTok marketing strategy

Every day marketers are hit with news about China’s two largest social media channels: Weibo and WeChat. Because these Chinese social apps are the most popular, brands that want to promote themselves in China often feel they have to pour all their marketing resources into these platforms. But with the numbers touted on TikTok, savvy marketers obviously want to make a play and be the first to explore the possibilities of creating a TikTok marketing strategy.

It’s no surprise then that marketers are focusing their attention on short video apps as the ideal storytelling medium to convey their message, whether it is through endorsements from key opinion leaders (KOLs) or via advertising.

In terms of ads that might be most effective on short video platforms, a March 2018 survey by Tencent found that both male and female short video app users are most tolerant towards ads that feature creative and interesting content, while this same demographic is least interested in ads that feature “traditional” celebrities.

TikTok influencers

As TikTok has increased in popularity so has the cost of working with TikTok influencers. Although very popular, the app has often been at the center of heated debate among marketers; most TikTok marketing discussion revolves around ROI, branding suitability, and ever-changing user demographics. Nevertheless, China’s huge population means that there’s always scope to connect with a niche audience because of the most popular apps’ massive userbases.

TikTok is certainly on the list of Chinese social media apps marketers should be looking to leverage in 2019, purely because it’s likely to remain extremely popular. However, there is a need to be aware that user growth could start to plateau with a suggestion that user fatigue for the short video format may start to set in.

The predominantly young and upscale audience makes TikTok an interesting platform for brands who are curious to tap into China’s Gen Z shopper set. The predominantly female audience of TikTok is another appeal of the app for advertisers, eager to reach out to young and affluent female consumers.

  • Have you used TikTok for marketing in China?
  • If not, what are some of the concerns you have with implementing a TikTok marketing strategy?

Please let us know in the comments.