What is TikTok and how does it work?

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What is TikTok?

If you live with teenagers, you have most likely seen (or rather, caught) them lip-syncing their favorite songs into their smartphone (or maybe even yours) via a video-sharing social app. That app is most likely TikTok.

A few years ago, the most popular app for lip-sync-crazy teens used to be Vine but that’s long dead now. Next, it was musical.ly until that too was acquired by ByteDance, a tech company based in Beijing, which already owned a similar video-sharing social media app, TikTok, which had launched in China in 2016. At Creamy Animation we understand that as a video marketing agency you need stay up to date with new and emerging trends.

Both apps had grown extremely popular in the respective parts of the globe they operated in. TikTok app had 500 million monthly active users in Asia and musical.ly had 100 million in Europe and the Americas.

TikTok App

TikTok — the social media giant

Upon acquiring musical.ly, ByteDance merged the two apps under the TikTok brand that is now the reigning king of short videos. In October 2018, it was the Apple store’s most-downloaded photo and video app in the world. And thanks to China’s stringent internet regulations, TikTok maintains a separate app for the Chinese market, known as Duyin, which has amassed over 300 million active monthly users.

Available for both iOS and Android, TikTok is basically a social network that allows users to create, share and watch 15-second TikTok videos, on any topic – usually to the soundtrack of their favourite music hits. You can create TikTok animation videos to promote a product of communicate your message to a wider audience.

It has grown really popular with Gen Z users and just like YouTube and Instagram, TikTok has spawned its own community of social media celebrities, with “Musers” (as the users call themselves) like Baby ArielJacob Sartorius, and Loren Gray, gathering million-strong followings of fans world-over.

Dancing Videos

How does TikTok work?

On the original musical.ly app, users could create and share lip-sync music videos of any length. On the original TikTok app, users could create and share short videos but without music. The merged app takes the best of both worlds to allow for a much broader scope for video creation including content such as dancing, magic tricks, silly pranks, lip-sync comedy, etc.

The new TikTok offers a wide selection of sounds and song snippets, special effects, filters, stickers, plus other video editing tools to make great, engaging content. Users can create and upload their own 15-second videos and can also upload longer videos that were created on their phones not in the app.

Users can also browse and react to other users’ content.

TikTok Video Sharing App Propularity

TikTok has grown remarkably popular since its launch, amassing over 500 million monthly active users, with the U.S. topping the user country list at over 80 million downloads. This is mostly because the TikTop app has made video creation and video-sharing so easy and so much fun.

Users can record any mundane thing from their daily lives and upload instantly in an entertaining format using sounds and song snippets. Both making and watching videos take little time and effort thanks to the short format. Business can leverage this platform and create branded videos that will help build visibility without mentioning their production.

Furthermore, the videos start playing one after the other as soon as you open the app without even selecting one. This makes it very easy for users to keep watching random videos on the app for hours. However, TikTok has also added a feature that alerts you once you spend over two hours on the app – very important today as a healthy balance between digital and offline life is getting more attention.

Tik Tok has also grown incredibly popular because of how well it has borrowed and combined features from other social media apps that were/are popular with young people, making it very intuitive to use for Gen Z users as well as anyone who has spent time anywhere else in the social media world:

  • just like musical.ly, TikTok users can create and share lip-sync videos to popular music;

  • just like the now-defunct Vine, TikTok videos are strictly kept short and shareable;

  • just like Snapchat, users can enhance their TikTok videos using filters;

  • just like Twitter “threads”, users can string clips together to make stories up to 60 seconds long;

  • just like Facebook “likes” TikTok users can show love to posts they enjoy through “hearts”;

  • just like YouTube, Tik Tok allows users to interact through comments, and;

  • just like Instagram Stories (and most mobile-native apps), TikTok videos are vertical;

TikTok has also capitalized on the “challenges” trend which really took off with the wild success of the #InMyFeelingsChallenge, a viral dance craze sparked by the hit Drake song. The word “challenge” has come to mean a video format (often centered on a song) that fans create countless renditions of, under a chosen hashtag. TikTok usually has a handful of these challenges trending on its app at any given time.

The app also regularly leverages celebrities and influencers to attract attention to its platform and generate viral content on it. TikTok has promoted itself to local audiences using paid partnerships with local celebrities including TV personalities such as Jimmy Fallon in the U.S. and Kinoshita Yukina in Japan, as well as social media celebrities like Kaykai Salaider in Thailand and Aashika Bhatia in India.

Another important factor that has propelled TikTok’s popularity is its strong focus on localized content. Despite its global reach it runs local contests and uses localized hashtags to capitalize on local trends. This makes it very useful for social media marketing which heavily relies on targeting specific audiences

Video Sharing Platform

TikTok for Video Marketing

Despite the fact that TikTok offers no space for conventional display ads (unlike most other social media platforms), its meteoric rise in user numbers and engagement levels has forced many brands to see its potential as a marketing channel and get creative with it for their social media marketing campaigns.

Brands are using hashtags, in more or less the same way they do on other social media platforms, to promote their TikTok video marketing campaigns. Fun, clever, and engaging challenges and contests are a great way to get users to create their own brand-related video marketing content and generate a buzz.

Brands are also collaborating directly with TikTok social media influencers to create tailored video marketing content. Once again, this is in more or less the same way as on other video-sharing social media platforms (like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube), just within the 15-second limit on TikTok.



TikTok is one of the social media marketing channels to watch as we enter the next decade. Its heavily localized content is a great way for brands to reach specific audiences. Furthermore, TikTok’s huge Gen Z user base means that it’s an important avenue for brand to reach the next generation of consumers as they start coming of age.

Music labels in particular have been quick to recognize that they gain a lot when popular TikTok challenges and contests boost sales and streams of songs and music videos. Find out more about our explainer video services.