Since its US debut, TikTok has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity. Last October, the website and app combined had 27 million unique visitors. Coronavirus shutdowns plus stay-at-home quarantine measures have further boosted the platform’s meteoric growth. For the app alone, unique visitors spiked more than 30 percent from January to March. TikTok added over 12 million visitors in March, for a total of 52.2 million, according to Comscore. And time spent viewing the platform’s videos is likewise increasing, up nearly 94 percent since last October for an average of 14-plus hours per app visitor in March. To put that in perspective, the typical Instagram user spent approximately five hours on both its app and website in March. During the first quarter of 2020, TikTok had been downloaded over 2 billion times—more than any other app during a single quarter period. So, what’s specifically accounting for this recent boom? We take a look at three main factors.
Like the rest of us, teens and young adults are spending the majority of time at home. School and college shutdowns have led to more spare time spent with screens, and online media has benefitted the most. According to a Kantar Covid-19 Barometer global study, 69 percent of millennials and 72 percent of Gen Z reported additional time viewing online videos from mid-March to mid-April. TikTok emerged as a clear winner in that realm. Usage was up 27 percent among millennials and 33 percent with the Gen Z cohort. Millennials who may have previously dismissed TikTok as a platform for pre-teens have now had ample time to test-drive the app—and it’s winning converts away from Instagram via dedicated enticement efforts on the part of programmers. Influencers are likewise getting pulled into the action thanks to a “Shop Now” button that links advertisers directly to those creators’ videos. Thus far, the technology has generated both increased product views and watch times.
Content Creation and Distribution
The vast majority of TikTok videos are inherently humorous and lighthearted, which for many comes as welcome relief after hours of coronavirus-news binging. What’s more, a new trend shows families banding together to beat the blues by crafting silly or instructional quarantine videos, like using leftover pantry ingredients to cook a wholesome dinner or the #HitEveryBeat challenge posted by New York Times reporter Robert Jimison, at the insistence of his mom. Such family-bonding moments are bridging generational divides, turning a video sharing platform once used almost exclusively by teens into the du jour entertainment choice for mothers, fathers and grandparents. This ups app awareness, driving brand traffic back to TikTok. Further, because the platform doesn’t make it mandatory to create an account or log in to view a video, content can be quickly shared across other websites and apps, such as Twitter or Instagram. In terms of distribution, that’s proving to be a winning model.
In late March, TikTok introduced #HappyAtHome: Live!, a nightly (Monday to Friday) livestreaming series available only on the app. The first week featured inspirational talks, dance classes, makeup tutorials and jam sessions delivered by actors, musicians and celebrity influencers. More recent programs included prom-inspired content and live footage broadcast from a panda sanctuary. Streaming viewership, which is more popular than ever, is a sure way to boost time spent on a social platform. TikTok clearly has its finger on the pulse of what consumers crave in terms of sympathetic coronavirus messaging. Case in point: new “donation stickers” posted on videos and live streams let viewers seamlessly contribute to top Covid-relief charities without leaving the app, and the platform pledged to match the first $10 million in contributions. Even global governments, health agencies and brands are turning to TikTok for help promoting vital hygiene and social-distancing reminders. UK brand Dettol, makers of sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, launched their #HandWashChallenge for users in India, where it garnered 8.7 billion views in just four days.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all of us are spending increased time at home. As consumers hunt for ways to fill those hours with entertaining content, novel activities or challenges the whole family might enjoy, TikTok is perfectly poised to deliver a seemingly limitless supply of original content. The platform’s steady growth could ultimately provide a solid foundation for both short-term success and longer-range advancement.