Amid ongoing talks about a TikTok ban in the US, and potentially other regions, the timing of this is particularly interesting. Today, data.ai has released its latest app performance report, which shows that TikTok surpassed Instagram as the most downloaded app in Q1 2023.
If you wanted to understand the scope of the impacts that a TikTok ban could have, this is it, with TikTok leading in both downloads and consumer spend in the first three months of the year, while you’ll note, also, that TikTok editing app CapCut is also rising, beating both Snapchat and Messenger in total downloads in the period.
Which is no real surprise. TikTok has become the go-to entertainment source for many people, and amid a broader shift away from social sharing – i.e. people posting their own thoughts and updates – entertainment has become the key purpose of social media apps, with users spending hours a day scrolling through an endless stream of short video clips.
That wasn’t possible in the past, due to network connectivity limitations and related costs. But now, most people can watch video content on the go, at relatively low rates, which has shifted the dynamic even further towards video being the primary media that users engage with.
And as noted, people just aren’t posting on social media like they once did.
This is reflected in internal data from Meta, which The Wall Street Journal published back in January, which showed that while Meta usage rose in Q4 2022, creation and engagement declined, with fewer people posting to both Facebook and Instagram than they have in the past.
This is the shift to entertainment over social – and indeed, TikTok refers to itself as ‘an entertainment app’, not a social network.
That’s increasingly becoming a more apt descriptor – and while every other social network tries to catch up, and boost their own engagement stats by providing more sticky, compulsive usage experiences, TikTok’s algorithmic and content approaches stand out, with the focus being on the best content from all users, as opposed to restricting your inputs to your smaller, curated networks.
The very construction of the app in this respect gives it a huge advantage. Meta’s gradually closing the gap, as is YouTube, with their copycat functionalities. But TikTok remains the leader in the social entertainment race. Its algorithm is simply too good, too adaptive, and far more compulsive than other platforms at this stage.
That, of course, could be all for naught if the app gets banned, and it does feel like we’re moving towards the next stage, where some level of action will be taken against TikTok and its Chinese ownership. But the stats here underline the popularity of the app, and the opportunities of apps focused on entertainment over social connection.
Maintaining the balance, then, of facilitating engagement with creators in order to keep them uploading, while also keeping users coming back, poses a challenge. But the charts here show that TikTok is leading the way – which is why its owners are doing everything they can to maintain connection with users around the world.
The potential losses as a result of TikTok bans would be huge. With this in mind, I do expect that, somehow, a workable compromise will be found, and TikTok will remain in operation for users for the long haul. But we may be in for some short-term disruption – the scope of which is laid out in these listings.