Chinese company ByteDance Ltd. launched TikTok for the iOS and Android mobile operating systems in 2017. It was positioned as the international version of the Chinese social media platform Douyin. It became further available worldwide after it merged with another Chinese social media platform Musical.ly in 2018.
The platform saw rapid user growth beginning in 2020 with over 2 billion downloads recorded in October of the same year. It was also labeled as one of the fastest-growing brands of 2020 to 2021 because of its sheer global popularity which has made it one of the major competitors of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Situational Analysis of TikTok: A Look Into Its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
Understanding TikTok from a business perspective requires a situational analysis using the SWOT Framework to look at its specific internal situations and the external factors that can make or break its further success in the future.
Note that TikTok is a social media platform or a mobile-based social networking app similar to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others. However, what sets it apart from the rest is that it is primarily a dedicated short-form video hosting service similar to YouTube and the now-defunct Vine targeting content creators.
The following are the strengths of TikTok:
• Appeal of User-Created Short-Form Videos: What makes TikTok appealing is the advantages of short-form videos. These videos have higher retention and engagement rates than long-form videos and even short-form to long-form written content. They also require less time to create while forcing content creators to deliver their intended messages as short and as concise as possible.
• Large Pool of Content Creators and Consumers: The platform has more than 1.5 billion users. The United States has the largest user base while countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico have sizeable user bases. Its entire user base represents a large pool of engaged content creators and content consumers that can be monetized for delivering digital advertisements or paid promotional content.
• Effective Platform for Social Media Marketing: It has been one of the ideal platforms for individuals to become social media influencers or extend their online presence outside other social media platforms. Professionals have also used it to promote their personal brands while businesses have maximized the benefits of short-form videos and capitalized on trends to create and maintain brand awareness.
• Demonstrated Technologies and Capabilities: TikTok develops and implements a range of technologies to make its platform engaging and interactive. Its “For You” page uses machine learning algorithms to deliver content based on the interests of a particular user. It also uses augmented reality in its video-creation process and media codecs to optimize the uploading and streaming of videos.
Several shortcomings and limitations have underscored the internal problems of the platform. These problems have resulted in criticisms from its user base and concerned members of the general community and have stemmed from issues concerning the digital behavior of its users, the impact of published content, and data and privacy rights.
The following are the weaknesses of TikTok:
• Content Moderation Processes and Policies: The platform has been used as a medium for spreading malinformation and disinformation. So-called troll farms have penetrated the social networking app. It has been used as a venue for disseminating political propaganda, smear campaigns against a public figure, damning conspiracy theories, and health-related misinformation, among others. The platform has failed to provide prompt content moderation actions against these users and content.
• Inadequate Response Time to User Concerns: Poor response time is another major criticism of TikTok. It is slow to address the different concerns of its user base. These concerns range from privacy issues to content-related issues. Other social networking platforms also have the same problem. This frustrates individual users and those whose livelihoods or businesses depend on social media marketing.
• Considerable Level of Usage Difficulty: It is not as straightforward as Twitter nor as intuitive as the feeds of Facebook and Instagram. The entire user interface might be familiar but creating and posting content require having a certain degree of technical know-how and creativity. Late adopters of social media can have a hard time navigating its user interface and appreciating its overall value.
• Issues About Social Media Addiction Tendencies: TikTok has faced backlash from parents and concerned groups because of its addictive nature. The appeal of short-form videos has left some of its users glued to the platform for more than 50 to 80 minutes a day. Others have raised concerns over the impact of these videos on the attention span of vulnerable users such as children and teenagers.
Social media or the more specific social networking platforms have become an integral part of modern-day communication. Advancements in web 3.0, the metaverse and its applications, and blockchain technologies are also opening newer possibilities for newer and novel applications aimed at expanding and evolving further digital communications.
The following are the opportunities for TikTok:
• Expansion to Electronic Commerce: The platform has also expanded into electronic commerce with the introduction of TikTok Shop. It allows brands, merchants, and individual online sellers to display and sell their products directly to the platform. This move capitalizes on its user base and it has the potential to compete against established electronic commerce giants such as Amazon and Alibaba.
• Tech Improvements and Novel Technologies: Emerging trends in digital communication and the specific realm of the internet and social media can be integrated into the platform to either make it an innovator or keep it current or relevant. It can also develop and deploy technologies that appeal to certain internet users such as comprehensive tools for live streaming and music sharing.
• Future Developments in Digital Marketing: The platform can also take advantage of emerging trends and upcoming developments in digital marketing. These include the further expansion of influencer marketing, deeper penetration of social media marketing, and novel use cases for the internet to include web 3.0 and metaverse technologies, as well as the application of blockchain technology.
• Improving Its Branding and Public Image: It can work on improving its brand image through initiatives that address the concerns of some of its users, as well as critical stakeholder groups. The platform has been launching programs and policies aimed at addressing some of its weaknesses. It can further improve its image through value-adding initiatives such as corporate social responsibility.
Several factors and situations are creating uncertainties about the future of the short-form video hosting platform while also thwarting its realization of its fullest potential. Some groups have expressed concerns over its influence. Numerous government bodies have worried about how it handles and uses user data and information.
The following are the threats to TikTok:
Government Regulations and Scrutiny: The platform is banned in several countries including Iran and India. Other groups have recommended their respective governments to ban the platform. There have been several instances when it was temporarily banned in countries such as Indonesia. These bans and attempts at banning stem from concerns about its handling of user data and information.
Quality of Content and Information: A growing user base creates problems as regards content moderation. Remember that the platform has been used as a medium to disseminate malinformation and disinformation. Moderating its billions of users can be expensive but failure to do so can discourage other users from the platform while also opening itself to risks related to government regulation.
Intensification of Competition and Rivalry: TikTok is not the pioneer in hosting and capitalizing on short-form videos. However, based on its growth, it popularized the content format. The competition has intensified since 2021. Other companies have launched similar platforms. Facebook and Instagram have Reels. YouTube also has a dedicated section in its platform for short videos.
Evolution in Trends and User Preferences: The appeal of short-form videos might be a short-lived trend considering that newer trends tend to emerge each year that have the potential to disrupt the manner in which people use the internet. The platform needs to remain relevant by ensuring that it can recognize emerging and future trends both to keep its existing user base and continue its user growth.