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TikTok Continues to Gain Momentum, But Challenges Remain in Maximizing the App’s Growth



tiktok continues to gain momentum but challenges remain in maximizing the apps growth

Despite various content moderation and data privacy concerns, TikTok continues to gain momentum, with the latest data from app analytics firm SensorTower showing that February 2020 was TikTok’s best performing month, in terms of total app downloads, to date.

SensorTower TikTok chart

As per SensorTower:

“TikTok was downloaded by close to 113 million App Store and Google Play users worldwide in February, making it the app’s best month ever for both installs and revenue according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence estimates.”

SensorTower further notes that TikTok was the most downloaded non-game app worldwide last month, outperforming both WhatsApp and Facebook. TikTok installs are up 96% year-over-year, with the COVID-19 outbreak seemingly fueling increased adoption as people look to keep themselves entertained while reducing their time spent in public.

In total, TikTok is now closing in on 2 billion lifetime installs, which is a huge number, and should represent significant opportunity for brand outreach and engagement. But there is a little more to the upfront data than it may seem – so before you latch onto that 2 billion installs count and pit TikTok against Facebook, it’s worth breaking the figures down to understand exactly what they represent.

First off, app installs are not active users. Various reports on TikTok have seemingly equated the two, but having 2 billion people download and install your app is not the equivalent of getting 2 billion users active and engaged on your platform on a regular basis. If TikTok had 2 billion active users, it would be the second-biggest social platform in the world, and closing fast on Facebook. But it doesn’t.   

The only official number we have on TikTok’s global user base is that the app reached 500 million active users back in 2018, with the majority of them using the Chinese version of the app, called ‘Douyin’. Since then, TikTok has not been forthcoming about its actual user count.

Which makes sense – much of the narrative around TikTok has been pumped up by download counts, which, as noted, are close to reaching 2 billion. If TikTok were to come out and say that it actually has, say, 700 million monthly active users, that would only work to water down those download stats – but realistically, this is probably closer to the truth, while the audience geographic split is also important to understand.

Breaking down the data, based on the estimates and figures that have been made available, TikTok seems to have:

Other nations follow in lower user counts from there, but as you can see, the regional splits are relevant in TikTok’s overall download and usage counts. Yes, TikTok is very popular, but from an advertising and marketing perspective, it may not be comparable, at least in Western markets, to most other platforms in terms of relevant audience reach.

Indeed, in SensorTower’s extended breakdown of TikTok’s revenue information, it notes that:  

“TikTok also saw its highest-ever monthly user spending in February, with the $50.4 million it generated equalling a 784.2% YoY increase. This made it the third highest-grossing non-game app worldwide for the month behind Tinder and YouTube.”

Which is an amazing result, but again, the regional split here is significant. 

“China – where TikTok is known as Douyin – was responsible for the majority of this spending with nearly $46 million, or 91% of all revenue for the month. The U.S. ranked No. 2 with $3 million, while Great Britain came in third, with $216,000.”

So, again, TikTok is driving user interest and action, but possibly not as much as you would expect in your local market, based on the hype and top-line download counts.

That’s not to say that TikTok isn’t growing its audience base in all regions, and becoming a more relevant consideration for marketers. But it is worth noting that, by comparison, the app is not on the same level as even Snapchat (86m North American DAUs) in terms of reach to the US market at this stage, putting it well behind Twitter Facebook, Instagram, and others.

This is the key question for TikTok. Yes, it has momentum and hype, and yes, the download figures are encouraging. But can TikTok make short-form video into a relevant, viable and engaging option? 

Vine, the first short-form video app of this type, eventually buckled because it wasn’t able to monetize effectively – with Vine’s main content offering being only six-seconds in length, at most, that made it increasingly difficult for Vine to implement ads, as users would either skip by them or ignore them in-stream. Eventually, Vine’s inability to monetize effectively left it unable to create a viable revenue funnel for its top creators, who subsequently migrated to YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, where they could post longer-form content, and make real money from ads.

Vine did try to counter this, adding longer-form videos and pre-roll ads in its dying months, but with its top creators moving on, their fans shifted with them.

While Twitter often gets the blame for Vine’s failure, really, it was the inability for the company to effectively monetize that lead to its demise – and Twitter couldn’t do a lot about that.  

Which then leads to TikTok. 

Sure, TikTok has people’s attention, it has users tuning in, and it is growing. But Vine had 200 million active users at peak, and it couldn’t map out a revenue-generation framework. Will TikTok eventually fare any better?

As noted, it’s still not generating significant revenue in the US, and it’s still spending big on promotion. At some stage, it will need to establish a means for its top creators to monetize.

In China, Douyin has moved into eCommerce as a means to add in revenue options, which is how it’s seen such significant revenue growth in that region.

Douyin eCommerce

Will the same work in the US market? 

TikTok is already testing eCommerce tools and external links, in order to provide more revenue generation options for creators, while it’s also got its own influencer marketing marketplace, which it recently opened up to more businesses.  

TikTok Creator Marketplace

Basically, TikTok knows that it needs to move fast and build a real revenue generation pipeline for these popular users – because if it doesn’t, they’ll take their talents elsewhere, and their established audiences with them. Then TikTok will go the same way as Vine.

So while it seems like all the momentum is with TikTok, and massive numbers like ‘a billion downloads’ are regularly thrown around, there’s more to it than the surface figures. And that’s critical to note in terms of brand use, and the future viability of the platform more broadly.

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With outburst, Musk puts X’s survival in the balance



Even after Elon Musk gutted the staff by two-thirds, X, formerly Twitter, still has around 2,000 employees, and incurs substantial fixed costs like data servers and real estate

Even after Elon Musk gutted the staff by two-thirds, X, formerly Twitter, still has around 2,000 employees, and incurs substantial fixed costs like data servers and real estate
– Copyright POOL/AFP/File Leon Neal


Elon Musk’s verbal assault on advertisers who have shunned X (formerly Twitter) threatens to sink the social network further, with the tycoon warning of the platform’s demise, just one year after taking control.

“If somebody’s gonna try to blackmail me with advertising, go fuck yourself,” a visibly furious Musk told an interviewer in New York in front of an audience of the US business elite this week.

Musk was lashing out at the advertisers who had abandoned his platform after Media Matters, a left-wing media watchdog group, warned big companies that their ads were running aside posts by neo-Nazis.

Walmart on Friday was the latest to join the exodus, following the footsteps of IBM, Disney, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Lionsgate and others.

The latest controversy broke earlier this month when Musk declared a tweet exposing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory as the “absolute truth.”

Musk apologized for his tweet, even taking a trip to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but on Wednesday he targeted his anger squarely at advertisers.

“It doesn’t take a social media expert to know that publicly and personally attacking the people in companies that pay X’s bills is not going to be good for business,” said analyst Jasmine Enberg of Insider Intelligence.

“Most advertiser boycotts on social media companies, including X, have been short lived. There’s a potential for this one to be longer,” she added.

Musk said the survival of X could be at stake.

“What this advertising boycott is going to do is kill the company,” Musk said.

“Everybody will know” that advertisers were those responsible, he angrily added.

– Bankruptcy looms? –

Even before the latest bust up, Insider Intelligence was forecasting a 54-percent contraction in ad sales, to $1.9 billion this year.

“The advertising exodus at X could accelerate with Musk not playing nice in the sandbox,” said Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities.

According to data provided to AFP by market data analysis company SensorTower, as many as half of the social network’s top 100 US advertisers in October 2022 have already stopped spending altogether.

But by dropping X, “you are opening yourself up for competitors to step into your territory,” warned Kellis Landrum, co-founder of digital marketing agency True North Social.

Advertisers may also choose to stay for lack of an equivalent alternative.

Meta’s new Threads platform and other upstarts have yet to prove worthy adversaries for the time being, Landrum argued.

Analyst Enberg insisted that “X is not an essential platform for many advertisers, so withdrawing temporarily tends to be a pretty painless decision.”

Privately held, X does not release official figures, but all estimates point to a significant drop in the number of users.

SensorTower puts the annual fall at 45 percent for monthly users at the start of the fourth quarter, compared with the same period last year.

Added to this is the disengagement of dozens of highly followed accounts, including major brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, JPMorgan Bank and Starbucks as well as many celebrities and media personalities that have stopped or reduced usage.

The corporate big names haven’t posted any content for weeks, when they used to be an everyday presence.

None of the dozen or so companies contacted by AFP responded to requests for comments.

In normal conditions, Twitter or X “was always much larger than its ad dollars,” said Enberg.

It was “an important place for brands and companies to connect with consumers and customers,” she said.

Even after Musk gutted the staff by two-thirds, X still has around 2,000 employees, and incurs substantial fixed costs like data servers and real estate.

Another threat is the colossal debt contracted by Musk for his acquisition, but now carried by X, which must meet a payment of over a billion dollars each year.

In his tense interview on Wednesday, Musk hinted that he would not come to the rescue if the coffers run dry, even if he has ample means to do so.

“If the company fails… it will fail because of an advertiser boycott and that will bankrupt the company,” Musk said.

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Walmart says it has stopped advertising on Elon Musk’s X platform



Walmart says it has stopped advertising on Elon Musk's X platform

Walmart said Friday that it is scaling back its advertising on X, the social media company formerly known as Twitter, because “we’ve found some other platforms better for reaching our customers.”

Walmart’s decision has been in the works for a while, according to a person familiar with the move. Yet it comes as X faces an advertiser exodus following billionaire owner Elon Musk’s support for an antisemitic post on the platform. 

The retailer spends about $2.7 billion on advertising each year, according to MarketingDive. In an email to CBS MoneyWatch, X’s head of operations, Joe Benarroch, said Walmart still has a large presence on X. He added that the company stopped advertising on X in October, “so this is not a recent pausing.”

“Walmart has a wonderful community of more than a million people on X, and with a half a billion people on X, every year the platform experiences 15 billion impressions about the holidays alone with more than 50% of X users doing most or all of their shopping online,” Benarroch said.

Musk struck a defiant pose earlier this week at the New York Times’ Dealbook Summit, where he cursed out advertisers that had distanced themselves from X, telling them to “go f— yourself.” He also complained that companies are trying to “blackmail me with advertising” by cutting off their spending with the platform, and cautioned that the loss of big advertisers could “kill” X.

“And the whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company,” Musk added.

Elon Musk faces backlash from lawmakers, companies over endorsement of antisemitic X post


Dozens of advertisers — including players such as Apple, Coca Cola and Disney — have bailed on X since Musk tweeted that a post on the platform that claimed Jews fomented hatred against White people, echoing antisemitic stereotypes, was “the actual truth.”

Advertisers generally shy away from placing their brands and marketing messages next to controversial material, for fear that their image with consumers could get tarnished by incendiary content. 

The loss of major advertisers could deprive X of up to $75 million in revenue, according to a New York Times report

Musk said Wednesday his support of the antisemitic post was “one of the most foolish” he’d ever posted on X. 

“I am quite sorry,” he said, adding “I should in retrospect not have replied to that particular post.”

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US Judge Blocks Montana’s Effort to Ban TikTok



U.S. Judge Blocks Montana’s Effort to Ban TikTok in the State

TikTok has won another reprieve in the U.S., with a district judge blocking Montana’s effort to ban the app for all users in the state.

Back in May, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation to ban TikTok outright from operating in the state, in order to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China. There’s no definitive evidence that TikTok is, or has participated in such, but Gianforte opted to move to a full ban, going further than the government device bans issued in other regions.

As explained by Gianforte at the time:

The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented. Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”

In response, a collection of TikTok users challenged the proposed ban, arguing that it violated their first amendment rights, which led to this latest court challenge, and District Court Judge Donald Molloy’s decision to stop Montana’s ban effort.

Montana’s TikTok ban had been set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

In issuing a preliminary injunction to stop Montana from imposing a full ban on the app, Molloy said that Montana’s legislation does indeed violate the Constitution and “oversteps state power.”

Molloy’s judgment is primarily centered on the fact that Montana has essentially sought to exercise foreign policy authority in enacting a TikTok ban, which is only enforceable by federal authorities. Molloy also noted that there was apervasive undertone of anti-Chinese sentiment” within Montana’s proposed legislation.

TikTok has welcomed the ruling, issuing a brief statement in response:

Montana attorney general, meanwhile, has said that it’s considering next steps to advance its proposed TikTok ban.

The news is a win for TikTok, though the Biden Administration is still weighing a full TikTok ban in the U.S., which may still happen, even though the process has been delayed by legal and legislative challenges.

As I’ve noted previously, my sense here would be that TikTok won’t be banned in the U.S. unless there’s a significant shift in U.S.-China relations, and that relationship is always somewhat tense, and volatile to a degree.

If the U.S. government has new reason to be concerned, it may well move to ban the app. But doing so would be a significant step, and would prompt further response from the C.C.P.

Which is why I suspect that the U.S. government won’t act, unless it feels that it has to. And right now, there’s no clear impetus to implement a ban, and stop a Chinese-owned company from operating in the region, purely because of its origin.

Which is the real crux of the issue here. A TikTok ban is not just banning a social media company, it’s blocking cross-border commerce, because the company is owned by China, which will remain the logic unless clear evidence arises that TikTok has been used as a vector for gathering information on U.S. citizens.

Banning a Chinese-owned app because it is Chinese-owned is a statement, beyond concerns about a social app, and the U.S. is right to tread carefully in considering how such a move might impact other industries.

So right now, TikTok is not going to be banned, in Montana, or anywhere else in the U.S. But that could still change, very quickly.

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