As our culture becomes increasingly digital, social media has played an important role in changing the way we interact with one another, for pleasure and for work. One platform in particular is forever shifting the face of business in America – TikTok.
What many still consider to be a hub of silly videos and viral dance challenges has become perhaps the most powerful cultural hub of influence on the planet – TikTok, a social media platform owned by parent company ByteDance.
In just a few short years, TikTok has driven major changes in the business world, from new features on competing social platforms to new forms of corporate advertising. As the 2020s progress, let’s break down just how significant these changes are and will be in the years to come.
TikTok’s Rise to Number One
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has been valued as the most valuable startup in the world at only 10 years old. Released in September 2016, its viral short-form video platform TikTok has now been downloaded over 3 billion times across the world, boasting 1.9 billion monthly active users last year in over 150 countries. TikTok’s employee base now exceeds 110,000, and in 2021, it generated more than $58 billion in revenue. Impressively, the app took only five years to hit 1 billion active users – a feat accomplished by both Facebook and Instagram eight years after launch.
In the United States alone, roughly 80 million people are regular users of the app, despite political controversy over ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government and potential data mining of American citizens by a foreign adversary. It doesn’t seem that the prosperity of the app is slowing down any time soon in America or elsewhere though, with experts projecting further growth this year and beyond.
So, with TikTok’s influence on the rise, what does that mean for its most popular stars?
TikTok Stars vs. Fortune 500 CEOs
A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that select TikTok stars thrust into fame by the global craze over the app are now out-earning many of America’s top chief executives of our most successful companies.
Perhaps the world’s most well-known TikTok influencer, Charli D’Amelio, raked in a total of $17.9 million in 2021. The 17-year-old (born in 2004, if you can believe it) got her start in 2019 by posting videos of herself dancing and has amassed a following of nearly 140 million followers. How does she make that kind of money, you may ask? Through product promotion on TikTok, monetization of her videos, and a clothing line.
Charli’s stardom was successful in creating opportunities for her family, too, with older sister Dixie D’Amelio amassing a following of over 50 million people on TikTok and making $10 million as the second-highest paid TikTok star (behind her sister) in 2021.
The world’s most well-known TikTok influencer, Charli D’Amelio, raked in a total of $17.9 million in 2021.
The sisters now star in a new reality tv show, The D’Amelio Show, about their family released on Hulu late last year, and have launched brand partnerships with Dunkin Donuts, FitOn, Invisalign, Hollister, Morphe cosmetics, Takis, and more.
Comparing Charli’s 2021 income alone to many of the nation’s top CEOs is a shock to anyone – her nearly $18 million annual income sits above that of “Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Darren Woods ($15.6 million in 2020), Starbucks Corp.’s Kevin Johnson ($14.7 million), Delta Air Lines Inc.’s Ed Bastian ($13.1 million) and McDonald’s Corp.’s Chris Kempczinski ($10.8 million),” per the Wall Street Journal.
It seems the D’Amelio sisters and other TikTok stars like Addison Rae are setting a new standard for success for Gen Zers – their almost unfathomable level of success suggests ditching the Executive MBA program for posting selfie videos in your bathroom.
Changing the Face of Advertising
As consumer excitement heats up on TikTok, so does the other end of the business world – advertising. As most TikTok users immediately scroll right through a paid advertisement or promotional video, companies have had to get creative in the marketing department with how to capture the attention of Gen Z – a generation with the shortest attention span ever at eight seconds long (coming in behind Millennials at 12 seconds).
Language-learning app Duolingo has seen explosive success on TikTok, embracing an edgy, meme-focused approach to content creation that has captured the hearts (and, though unlikely, attention) of the next generation.
Utilizing the mascot costume for their green owl logo, the company has pushed the envelope and gone against the grain of traditional advertising standards, amassing a following of more than 3 million people on their TikTok account as a result. At the direction of 23-year-old social media manager Zaria Parvez, Duo the owl has been seen twerking on conference tables in the office, proposing to music star Dua Lipa, and trolling competitor Google Translate millions upon millions of times.
Gen Z is the generation with the shortest attention span ever at eight seconds long.
Prior to September 2021, the account had only about 50,000 followers and now has become one of the most recognizable and imitated accounts on the app. Why? Largely thanks to the creative team’s ability to play into current TikTok trends and avoid seeming too corporate or promotional. In lieu of promoting their own products (as is traditional for corporate advertising), Duolingo instead has successfully created a culture and loyal following in the digital space.
Business Insider says it’s too soon to see if Duolingo’s massive TikTok success is tangibly impacting app downloads to learn a language or business profit margins, but one thing is clear – they’re reaching TikTok users in a way other businesses have yet to figure out.
The Impact on Other Social Media
The sharp rise of TikTok’s success has even been enough to change the function of existing social media giants too, from YouTube to Instagram.
As attention spans get shorter with each generation and short-form content begins to reign king, other platforms have been forced to compete with TikTok’s easy-to-use, constantly evolving interface.
TikTok pushed Instagram and YouTube to create their own short-form content features.
Global success Instagram, now owned by Facebook parent company Meta, launched TikTok competitor “Reels” on their previously photo-centered platform in 50 countries in August 2020. TikTok’s CEO responded in a blog post, saying, “At TikTok we welcome competition… To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on.” Today, Reels have become perhaps the easiest way to increase engagement on an Instagram account and gain new followers, and Instagram has even begun paying select creators to post Reels regularly on their profiles through “Bonuses.” Reels can also be shared on Facebook under the Meta umbrella, and have become the rising star of content creation opportunities within the Meta family.
In March of last year, video-content-king YouTube launched their version of TikTok videos called “Shorts,” 15-second videos experts say have a boost in the algorithm to help creators grow their following. While Shorts aren’t quite as collaborative and lack many of the key aspects tied to virality for TikTok videos, it’s clear even the most successful video platform on Earth is feeling the pressure to push short-form content thanks to the new kid on the block.
Even amid controversy over political ties and mental health for underage users of the app, TikTok has clearly emerged as the global leader in social media and content creation in the 2020s. Short-form video content is sure to drive the future of business and marketing, from influencers to advertising.
Already, TikTok has perhaps forever changed the face of business, and as time progresses, we’re anxious to see what impact digital culture will have on the marketplace.
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