TikTok is quickly becoming one of the most popular (and most intriguing) social media apps in the world. However, it has yet to enter the sphere of awareness for many Americans. The video-sharing platform has become an internet sensation since it’s launch in 2016, garnering attention from tech giants the likes of Google and Facebook.

This is how it works: users on TikTok film videos of themselves acting out comedy sketches, lip-syncing their favorite songs, pranking their friends or family, etc. The videos can be up to a minute long and users can choose from a large database of different songs, video effects, or sound bites. TikTok is a platform where collaboration is incentivized — you can “duet” with other creators by replying to their video, which creates a split-screen collaboration interface.

But where did TikTok come from, and how did it get started? Let’s take a look at the origins of social media’s fastest-growing platform.

How TikTok Got Started

Though TikTok has grown to become one of the most popular short-form video sharing apps, it wasn’t always the world-renowned platform it is today. Back in 2016 when the app first launched, it was a modest, fairly unknown Chinese project called Douyin. Its declared mission is “to inspire creativity and create joy” as “the leading destination for short-form mobile video.” The app was eventually rebranded into TikTok for U.S. users. Part of the reason behind the rebrand was though the two apps (Douyin and TikTok) are the same, they run on separate servers due to censorship laws in China.

After reaching the U.S. in 2017, the app began building momentum and expanding its userbase. However, it didn’t gain a large-scale following until the successful merger with Musical.ly.

tiktok features graphic

TikTok absorbed fellow video-sharing app Musical.ly in August of 2018. This took the modestly popular platform and skyrocketed it into mainstream popularity, where it has enjoyed exponential growth for more than a year now. In February of last year, TikTok—in conjunction with its Chinese equivalent Douyin—achieved its biggest milestone to date by reaching one billion global downloads. Roughly 80 million of those downloads were in the U.S. alone.

TikTok is currently based in Los Angeles, where they have their headquarters. But the company also has several other offices around the globe, with locations in New York, Paris, London, Dubai, Berlin, Seoul, Tokyo, and Singapore.

Why is TikTok So Popular?

On the surface, TikTok doesn’t appear to be all that much different than the endless list of other video-focused social apps. In fact, it shares many of the same downfalls of the other apps, such as privacy issues, online trolls, bullying, etc. However, those negative elements are simply a reflection of the current social media landscape as a whole, so it’s an unavoidable byproduct of growing a popular social media app. But thanks to an algorithm that stimulates its users to binge-watch, and a diverse selection of audio and visual effects, TikTok has created a platform that offers vast possibilities to its creators. And they are seemingly just getting started.

The irony of TikTok is that for a brand with a simple mission — to encourage users to sing, dance, act, showcase their talents, etc. — it’s actually a lot of work to become good at TikTok. The app requires a surprising amount of practice to learn and master. Many of its most popular videos are quite laborious to produce, but it’s also what’s made huge stars of its most skilled users.

person standing against bokeh backdrop with hand holding phone displaying tiktok logo is in focus

What all this means is that TikTok isn’t just the latest app you need to pretend to have heard of to impress Gen Z — it’s one of the most important companies on the planet, and it’s at the forefront of the possible future of social media.

What Does The Future Hold For TikTok?

TikTok is experiencing exponential growth and an equally notable rise in popularity. But that doesn’t mean the platform is absent of its own set of risks and vulnerabilities. Growing concerns surrounding data privacy have thrust TikTok into the national spotlight in recent months. Back in November 2019, the New York Times reported that the U.S. government was opening a national security investigation into ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, regarding its acquisition of Musical.ly.

The investigation is a result of senators from both parties raising concerns about the social media platform in a letter to the director of national intelligence. The senator’s worries centered around Chinese law that could potentially force TikTok to hand over data on U.S. users to the Chinese government, as well as potentially censor videos that criticize China.

TikTok publicly stated that it stores its data on U.S. servers and has backups in Singapore, which means that data from U.S. users are not subject to Chinese law. The company also stated that it doesn’t remove content based on sensitivities or criticisms related to China.

Regardless of these obstacles, TikTok is still growing in popularity by the day, and industries like influencer marketing are beginning to take notice. The powerful combination of popular content mixed with endless marketability has TikTok in the crosshairs of marketers far and wide. While mainstays like Instagram are certainly not going to lose prominence anytime soon, apps like TikTok represent a legitimate contender in mainstream popularity.

Final Thoughts

Speaking of TikTok’s skyrocketing popularity, it’s not just the U.S. where TikTok is experiencing rapid market growth. Countries like India and the UK are also jumping on the TikTok bandwagon and joining the app in droves. Back in November 2019, TikTok achieved another huge milestone by hitting 1.5 billion downloads worldwide.

The sky is the limit for TikTok, and fans from every corner of the globe are helping to grow the brand by the second. With brands focusing more and more on appealing to Millenials and Gen-Z markets, apps like TikTok can look like a gold mine. You can not understate the cultural phenomenon that has been created by TikTok, and its ascent is by no means a fluke. Fans, creators, and marketers alike will all be watching closely as the platform evolves and becomes even more heavily woven into the fabric of mainstream social media.

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