how and why the app became No. 1 worldwide

TikTok is the first non-Facebook app to record over 3 billion downloads. A challenge for an app that is less than 5 years old.

To dethrone Facebook, TikTok did it. Who would have believed, in 2016, barely five years ago, that a small music app from China would manage to get past the American juggernaut. However, it is done since TikTok became in 2020 the most downloaded application in the world. But the story behind the app is fraught with pitfalls. And the success of the world’s No. 1 app could quickly have turned sour. We explain why.

2016. Direction Zhongguancun, a district in the northwest of the Chinese capital Beijing. It is here that the company ByteDance established its headquarters when it was created in 2012. After a first app that had some success around jokes and even, the founder of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, decided to launch a new app in September 2016, first called Soul then very quickly renamed Douyin. This is aimed directly at millennials and makes it very easy to create short videos. Developed in just 200 days, Douyin reaches the 100 million users in less than one year and over 1 billion videos are watched every day.

2017: from Douyin to TikTok via

Aware that, despite an extremely large Chinese market, the success of its application relied on international development, Zhang Yiming very quickly decided, in September 2017, to decline Douyin in English. TikTok was born. But to allow him to experience rapid success, the Chinese entrepreneur decides to afford a American app founded in 2014 and with very similar functionalities: Amount of the transaction carried out on November 9, 2017? $ 1 billion to quickly penetrate the US market (and facilitate entry into other world markets).

Just like with Douyin, users could create short lip-sync (lip-sync or playback) videos of popular songs and interact with the community via trending music and hashtags. From August 2018, TikTok and merge to keep only one application, TikTok.

February 2019: the first billion downloads for TikTok

First perceived as an application for young teens in need of choreography on the music of the moment, TikTok has widened its groove thanks to the very strong virality of its “challenges”. The popularity of eventually spread beyond US borders and the new TikTok app has spread all over the world. In February 2019, the site Sensor Tower indicates that the app has exceeded the billion downloads. If Europe is starting to take an interest in this fun app, it is above all thanks to india that the success of TikTok is built: 40% of downloads made in 2018 came from this country-continent.

In only three years of existence, this new social network has therefore succeeded in carving out croupiers for Facebook and its ecosystem (Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger). According to the barometer established by App Annie, TikTok already occupied in 2018-2019 fourth place in the ranking in terms of downloads worldwide, combining data from Apple and Android. It’s not without reason that the competition, starting with Instagram and Snapchat, have shamelessly copied TikTok’s most popular features in an attempt to stem the app’s meteoric rise.

India and the United States headlong against TikTok in 2020

The enormous success of TikTok is brutally called into question from 2019. Temporarily that year and then definitively from June 2020, Indian state decides to ban TikTok. More than 200 applications are concerned by this turn of the screw of the government which estimates that it endangers “the sovereignty and the integrity of India, the defense of the country, the security of the State and the public order”. TikTok, in particular, is accused of promoting pornography and disseminating inappropriate content.

At the same time, in the United States, the administration of Donald trump is also starting to take an interest in the TikTok case from January 2020. What if the application was a Trojan horse sent by China to spy on the rest of the world, like the accusations against the equipment manufacturer Huawei electronics and smartphones? In question : the app was accused of siphoning private data of its users and store them in China. In August 2020, the Republican President signs a resolution which states that the app will be banned unless it is sold by ByteDance in a 45 days. In the end, with legal recourse, the threat was never applied and, shortly after coming to power, Joe Biden had the measures taken by his predecessor overturned.

2020-2021: the irresistible rise of TikTok

November 2020 marks a new turning point for the social network: an influencer reaches for the first time the 100 million followers. This is the American Charli D’Amelio. It is even ahead of the official TikTok account on its own platform! Registered since May 2019, Charli D’Amelio – from Connecticut – multiplies dance videos and quickly meets success. She is truly propelled to the rank of star in October 2019, when she publishes on her account the cover of a dance performed to the music of rapper K Camp, Lottery (Renegade). Since, #Renegade hashtag has 2.7 billion views and Charli has passed the 122 million follower mark. Each of its videos is viewed between 20 and 40 million times on average.

The success of the platform is attracting more and more famous content creators and influencers. For example, the American illusionist Zack King, which was first successful on YouTube, is now very present on TikTok and also takes the stake with its 63 million followers. His video where he stages himself in the skin of Harry Potter is one of the most viewed videos on TikTok.

2021, the year of TikTok

TikTok’s success has not been denied since the start of the year. The application recorded the strongest growth and is most downloaded (if we exclude games) for the first half of 2021, as we can see in the latest Sensor Tower report. In the first six months of the year, the app was downloaded and installed for the first time no less than 383 million times. Sensor Tower estimates that this generated some $ 919.2 million (€ 784.64 million) in revenue over this period.

Even if progress is starting to slow (in the first half of 2020, TikTok had been downloaded 619 million times), the application is nonetheless the first, outside the Facebook ecosystem, to accumulate 3 billion downloads worldwide. Only four apps have succeeded in this feat: WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram.

And now, how do you stay on top of the wave?

Above all, over time TikTok has emerged from its initial pattern (viral videos on music) to open up to new themes and new users, older than the young teens who made it successful in its early days. Today, TikTok counts 1 billion active users every month. It is estimated that 32.5% of them are between 10 and 19 years old but that almost half of users are over 34 years old (source: Comscore). The average time spent is 52 minutes per day.

Functioning as a tap to short and viral videos, the addictive aspect of TikTok is undeniable. And its users have made evolve themes. Today we find on the platform many videos of tips around cooking recipes, clever DIY solutions, comedians, football stars or even cute kittens. Even our President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, favors this communication channel to speak to young people. With “only” 2.5 million followers, he is still a small thumb, but it is the intention that counts.