TikTok is a video sharing social media platform. It currently enables only short-form vertical videos (mostly between 15 and 60 seconds) and uses advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize users’ feeds to make the app more engaging. The overwhelming majority of videos created and showcased on TikTok are light-hearted in nature. They include lip-syncs, makeovers, stunts, pranks, dance routines as well as formats typical for TikTok – duets (original video and its spin-off presented side by side) and challenges (various tasks performed by users often to the same music background, e.g., #unmakeupchallenge showing people removing their make-up). Harvard Business Review called it “scrappy, goofy, fast-moving content”1 and The New York Times described TikTok in the following way: “It can be hard to watch. It can be charming. It can be very, very funny. It is frequently, in the language widely applied outside the platform, from people on other platforms, extremely ‘cringe’.”2
TikTok belongs to the Chinese company, ByteDance. In 2016, ByteDance launched TikTok’s predecessor, Douyin, for the Chinese market only (a censored version, compliant with Chinese law) and a year later introduced an international version of the product named TikTok. Interestingly, most of TikTok’s early growth was generated by poorer residents from rural areas and small towns in China and India,3 where entertainment options for young people are limited. Although TikTok was growing organically in Asia, it didn’t have a significant presence in the US, where ByteDance saw a huge market opportunity. The company decided to expand its footprint in the US in a non-organic way and acquired another Chinese business, Musical.ly, a social platform with a huge following on the American market, mostly known for its lip-sync functionalities. Musical.ly was absorbed and rebranded to TikTok in 2018.
TikTok’s business model relies on a few sources of revenue: adverts, sponsored content, sponsored hashtags, shoppable content, in-app purchases (e.g., emojis or virtual coins people can buy for their favourite creators and influencers) and others.
According to various business analysts, what differentiates TikTok on the product level from other video-driven apps for young people is its application of AI. Other social media platforms (e.g., Instagram or Facebook) use AI only to a certain degree to help people make more personalized feeds and place a much stronger emphasis on users’ explicit declarations, using cues such as what content people engage with, recognized through their likes and comments, or what accounts they follow. TikTok, on the other hand, to personalize users’ feeds, utilizes primarily AI, which analyses people’s unconscious reactions to what they see. In particular, it takes into account which videos people watch the longest4 and decodes various elements of those videos (e.g., faces, music, objects in the background) to learn more about a person’s preferences. According to Bloomberg, “within a day, the app can get to know you so well it feels like it’s reading your mind”5.
Along with its AI-driven product offering, another aspect differentiating TikTok from other social networks is its growth model. Most of the biggest social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc.) have grown organically without external acquisitions and with limited marketing support. TikTok’s strategy has been different. It not only bought Musical.ly and was thus able to gain significant presence in the US almost overnight but has also invested billions of dollars (some estimates say ca. $3 million a day6) in advertising on other social networks. Additionally, the company hired a number of influencers to create content prior to the launch in the US.7
In consumer-facing communication TikTok describes itself as “the leading destination for short-form mobile video”8 and defines its mission in a simple way as “inspiring creativity and bringing joy”9. In communication targeting a wider range of stakeholders, TikTok’s founder, Zhang Yiming, uses heavily technology-driven messaging and sees his company’s role as being to “combine the power of AI with the growth of mobile internet to revolutionize the way people consume and receive information.”10
“Make your day”
1. “TikTok Sparks Good: @countrylathersoapworks With Jessie Whittington” (2023)
2. “Make Your Day Super Bowl” (2020)
3. “Make Your Day” (2019)
4. “#ImaDoMe” (2018)
5. “Gummy Bear Adele Concert” (2018)
6. “Drop Dead Gorgeous Compilation” (2018)
TikTok is the leading destination for short-form mobile video. Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.”11
1. Most important TikTok statistics
M. Iqbal, “TikTok Revenue And Usage Statistics (2020)”, Business Of Apps, Jan 2023,
2. Harvard Business Review’s profile of TikTok
R. Fannin, “The Strategy Behind TikTok’s Global Rise”, Harvard Business Review, Sep 2019,
3. Bloomberg’s analysis of TikTok
D. Ramli, S. Banjo, “The Kids Use TikTok Now Because Data-Mined Videos Are So Much Fun”, Bloomberg, Apr 2019,
https://www.tiktok.com/, https://www.bytedance.com/, https://www.facebook.com/tiktokukofficial/, https://www.facebook.com/tiktokaustraliaofficial/, https://www.facebook.com/TikTokEspanol/, https://twitter.com/tiktok_us, https://twitter.com/tiktok_uk?lang=en, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TikTok, https://www.instagram.com/tiktok/?hl=en, https://www.pinterest.co.uk/tiktok/, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChPd_WHrv3O-XAXXHLixs7g, https://www.linkedin.com/company/tiktok