The Rise and Rise of Tiktok

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By Derek Mutiso

How Did They Build Such an Entertaining – Some Would Say Addictive Product? 

TikTok, the social media platform designed for creating, editing, and sharing short videos between 15 seconds and three minutes in length, now boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users, making it the fourth-largest social media platform worldwide. With a user base twice the size of Snapchat, TikTok is rapidly approaching the popularity level of Instagram.

DataReportal, an online resource hub that collects information and publishes reports on various topics, revealed in a 2024 paper titled “The time we spend on social media” that TikTok has significantly surged ahead of other social media platforms, with TikTok users spending an average of 34 hours monthly on its Android app. This implies they now spend over an hour daily on TikTok.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the app’s already remarkable expansion. The app witnessed a 45% rise in monthly active users from July 2020 to July 2022 amidst widespread lockdowns that affected billions of people. In 2022, TikTok surpassed longstanding giants like Instagram and Twitter to become the most downloaded app globally, marking a remarkable ascent that has astonished investors and industry analysts as it continues to snowball.

TikTok as we know it today originated from the amalgamation of two Chinese platforms – the lip-sync app and the video platform Douyin.  Short video content initially became popular in 2013, on the Vine platform. The app enabled users to share 6-second-long videos known as vines. 

The Chinese social media site made its debut the following year, enabling lengthier videos (up to one minute, ranging from 15 seconds). With thousands of songs to choose from, users could create delightful lip-synching and dancing videos, which was its initial focus. attracted millions of users in a few years as it became increasingly popular, particularly with American teens. During the summer of 2018, ByteDance integrated all of’s content and user accounts into TikTok. With the incorporation of’s American user base and its popular features, ByteDance significantly expanded its international presence, combining its China-centric product Douyin with the globally-oriented TikTok.

“TikTok has become a source of culture, a reinforcement of culture, and a cauldron where culture is created,” said Emily Dreyfuss, a researcher at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. 

The TikTok algorithm

There are four main goals for TikTok’s algorithm: 

  • User Value: This refers to the value or benefit that individual users derive from using the platform. It could include factors such as enjoyment, entertainment, information, or social interaction that users experience while using the platform.
  • Long-Term User Value: This extends beyond immediate satisfaction to consider the ongoing benefits that users gain from continued use of the platform over an extended period. It encompasses factors such as user loyalty, engagement, and the sustained positive impact on users’ lives or experiences.
  • Creator Value:  This pertains to the value that content creators contribute to the platform. It includes factors such as the quality, creativity, and appeal of the content they produce, as well as their ability to attract and retain an audience.
  • Platform value: This refers to the overall value or success of the platform itself. It encompasses factors such as user growth, revenue generation, market share, brand reputation, and the platform’s ability to attract both users and content creators.

The TikTok algorithm is the mechanism that has enabled TikTok to build such an entertaining — some would say addictive — product. The algorithm determines the videos showcased on users’ “For You” page, it ensures that they are tailored to individual preferences. Essentially, it selects videos deemed appealing to each user. Consequently, the “For You” page is uniquely personalized, ensuring that different users view different content whenever they log onto the app. It delves into specific interests, such as presenting rugby-related content to rugby enthusiasts rather than generic sports content.

The algorithm is also able to adapt and ensure that content recommendations evolve alongside users’ changing preferences and interests. For instance, if someone develops a newfound interest in Turkish cuisine, they may notice an influx of Turkish cuisine-related TikToks. Conversely, as interest wanes, so does the frequency of such content on their “For You” page.

It displays an endless stream of videos and, unlike conventional social media apps it serves more as entertainment than as a connection to friends.

TikTok achieved success where other short video platforms faltered, partly due to its user-friendly creation tools. The algorithm gives you content to build on; like background music to dance to, or memes to act out. Unlike other apps, it eliminates the need to fill silent audio. The algorithm’s adeptness at uncovering users’ inclinations, sometimes even before they realize them, is remarkable.

TikTok has openly outlined the general principles of its recommendation mechanism, stating that it considers factors such as user engagement metrics like likes and comments, along with video attributes such as captions, sounds, and hashtags. Additionally, external analysts have attempted to decipher the workings of its algorithm. A recent investigation by The Wall Street Journal illustrated TikTok’s significant reliance on the duration users spend watching each video to guide them towards additional content that maintains their interest and encourages more scrolling.


As with other social platforms, TikTok has faced controversy due to concerns about potential risks to sensitive user data. TikTok has faced even more scrutiny because of its alleged ties to the Chinese government. Lawmakers in various countries, including the United States, Europe, and Canada, have raised security concerns and initiated efforts to restrict access to the platform. The White House has directed federal agencies to remove the app from government devices, and there have been congressional hearings regarding TikTok’s relationship with China and data handling practices. 

Some countries and government bodies have banned TikTok from official devices. The Biden administration has supported legislation aimed at prompting ByteDance to sell TikTok and has been engaged in discussions with TikTok regarding national security concerns and user data handling. Despite TikTok’s denial of allegations and efforts to address concerns, controversies persist, with ongoing investigations and legislative actions.

Western lawmakers and regulators are becoming more concerned that TikTok and its parent firm, ByteDance, would provide the Chinese government access to private user data, such as location data. They have cited legal provisions that permit the Chinese government to covertly get information for intelligence-gathering purposes from Chinese persons and businesses. Additionally, they are concerned that China can spread false information through TikTok’s content-recommendation algorithm. This is a worry that has intensified in the US during the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

In March 2024, local dailies reported that The Kenyan government plans to restrict the usage of TikTok among government officials to safeguard sensitive data and national security. While there’s currently no official policy in Kenya regarding social media use by public officials, discussions within the NSC may lead to restrictions. The outcome of these deliberations will shape the government’s stance on TikTok usage by officials and specific age groups. The government has also engaged with TikTok regarding privacy concerns and compliance with data protection laws

Some American social media experts view TikTok as a potential threat, but others argue that concerns about surveillance or censorship by the platform are exaggerated. Samm Sacks, a cybersecurity policy fellow at New America, believes that focusing solely on TikTok overlooks larger issues surrounding data privacy and security. Sacks suggests that even if TikTok were American-owned, foreign entities could still access its data through the open data broker market. Therefore, he asserts that worrying about TikTok’s impact on national security may be unfounded and depends on one’s analysis of the U.S.-China relationship and the future of technology and culture.

How Your Business Can Win Over the TikTok Algorithm

Small and big businesses alike can gain from TikTok’s popularity. To effectively work with the TikTok algorithm, prioritizing engagement is key, especially for new brands on the platform. Here are some strategies to enhance your performance on TikTok:

  • Utilize relevant hashtags to categorize your content and increase visibility. Incorporate trending hashtags for broader reach and inspiration for content creation.
  • Capitalize on TikTok trends, including popular audio, hashtags, effects, and video formats, to align with current viral content and broaden your audience reach.
  • Capture viewers’ attention within the first few seconds of your video to increase completion rates and maintain viewer interest.
  • Focus on creating shorter, engaging videos rather than longer ones to maximize viewer retention and engagement.
  • Post content when your audience is most active to boost engagement and visibility, utilizing TikTok analytics to identify optimal posting times.
  • Craft keyword-rich captions to provide context for your content and improve searchability within TikTok’s algorithm.
  • Leverage TikTok analytics to track performance metrics and optimize your content strategy based on audience preferences and engagement patterns.
  • Optimize your content for search to enhance discoverability, including descriptive titles and captions that align with relevant keywords.
  • Collaborate with TikTok influencers to reach new audiences and amplify your brand’s presence through branded challenges, tutorials, and other partnership opportunities.

There are no strangers to controversy in the world of large enterprises, more so when it comes to social media platforms. With more than 4.5 million social media users worldwide, these companies deal with huge amounts of personal data every day. Handling this amount of information, and doing it perfectly is a tall order. Governments play their part in trying to control what gets used but at the end of the day, it falls to us, the users, to be careful with what we share on social media. 

TikTok can work wonders for your brand identity; if you know how to use it effectively. There are numerous success stories of companies that have been able to go viral on the app, and with a little effort, you too can join their ranks.  

The Author is a Business Writer and Project Coordinator Omeriye Foundation.

Email; [email protected]


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