First it was Vine, then Yik Yak, then HQ Trivia: Mobile apps that shot up in downloads and took the digital world by storm. Almost just as suddenly, they all fell from public favor and off the top charts.
TikTok, the latest app to skyrocket in popularity, recently unseated Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the top free app in Apple’s App Store. As of Nov. 6, the app ranked first among photo and video apps in daily iPhone downloads in the U.S., according to industry research firm App Annie, a global provider of mobile data and insights.
TikTok users create and post short videos, occasionally with artistic filters and always set to music. Videos can earn hundreds of thousands of likes, garner followers for the poster and land on public feeds. It’s something like a mix of Vine, Snapchat and Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app that sold to TikTok’s parent company last year and merged with TikTok this summer. It’s the sort of gamified social app that hooks younger demographics, at least at first.
Most users are quick to call the app addictive.
Any app, once it hits the top charts, needs a unique value proposition to keep downloads up, App Annie’s Sydow said. Incumbents like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have become so habitual that newer apps have a hard time breaking into users’ routines.
Vine, which was owned by Twitter, landed in the top 10 social networking apps by daily iPhone downloads on the same day it launched in 2013 and stayed there for 468 days before it was eventually removed from the app store after Twitter shut the service down, according to data from App Annie.
HQ Trivia first broke into the top 10 gaming apps about three months after the app launched on iOS in 2017. It fluctuated in and out of the top 10, but largely remained in the top 20 games for another three months. As of Nov. 6, it sat at No. 244.
TikTok, which launched in its current version in August, is starting out with a good head start. Its merger with Musical.ly under parent-company Bytedance meant all former Musical.ly accounts were automatically rolled over to TikTok.
And it doesn’t seem too concerned with keeping users in the app. TikTok makes downloading a shareable version of any video, complete with a TikTok watermark, as easy as tapping an icon. Users can export and email mp4 files, post clips to other social media sites or text hyperlinks to friends. No sign in or user account needed. TikTok even has a paid Discover channel on rival Snapchat.
Another sign of TikTok’s success: Earlier this month, Facebook launched an app called Lasso that’s almost a direct clone of TiKTok. Facebook has a long history of releasing copy-cat apps when a new social media trend emerges, a sign of validation for startups trying to break through Facebook’s grip on social media.
But wait. Vine and Musical.ly were fun while they lasted, but their respective stars fle to YouTube monetization, Instagram sponsorships, and brand deals when it comes to making a living. Plus, those platforms rely on building an audience with disposable income. Ads weren’t enough to save Vine, and Tik Tok doesn’t seem to have ad space yet. “Musers” who have built successful brands, like Loren Gray, the LaBrant family, and Baby Ariel all have some combination of merchandise lines, fledgling music careers, and, most importantly, a YouTube channel.
Of course it’s possible, and seemingly easy, to become a profitable social media influencer. But it takes more than 15 seconds of fame. The question is, can Tik Tok hold anyone’s attention that long?
Check out my related post: Have you tried Warby Parker?