Teens’ attention can be fickle, as Snapchat recently learned all too well. As if the beleaguered social app didn’t already have enough woes, it’s now facing a major challenger from China.
Owned by Beijing-based tech company and world’s most valuable startup ByteDance, short video app TikTok recently surpassed Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube in total downloads in the iOS App Store. It’s currently ranking ahead of all of them, coming in third overall behind two game apps.
TikTok shot up in popularity globally after it absorbed lip-syncing app Musical.ly, which was popular with teens and acquired by ByteDance in November 2017. The app has teens and tweens addicted through its combination of music, Snapchat-esque filters, and a format that provides easy access to “challenges” that follow along the lines of Instagram and YouTube’s viral dance crazes like the Kiki Challenge.
The app is a clone of its wildly successful China version, called Douyin, which has already found ways to monetize in its home market that were featured in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Luxury China. Fashion and beauty brands including Chanel, Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Estée Lauder, and NARS have promoted themselves on Douyin through official accounts, sponsored challenges, branded filters, or influencer promotions. Douyin videos can also link directly to e-commerce on Taobao or Tmall, allowing brands to turn engagement into purchases.
While ByteDance may be posing a challenge to Snapchat, Chinese tech giant Tencent is taking a page from the Snap playbook to go after ByteDance in the China market. After buying a stake in Snap Inc last year, Tencent recently launched its own version of smartglasses similar to Snapchat Spectacles. Designed to accompany Tencent’s own short video platform Weishi, the company is hoping the glasses will help challenge Douyin’s lead on Chinese app stores.
It’s unclear how the move will play out after Snapchat lost $40 million on its Spectacles last year in the U.S. market, but Snap is doubling down on its plan to make the glasses a real thing with a new version in a more minimal style. For companies in both the US and China markets, it comes down to whether young mobile users are convinced that they have the “cool factor”—or get bored and move onto the next hot new app, which competitors like Facebook are working on right now.