Diving into Douyin: The Chinese Pulse of TikTok

TikTok and Douyin are two short-video social platforms owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Despite operating in different markets, they share a close relationship.

What is Douyin and what are the differences between Douyin vs TikTok? 

The Origin of Douyin (TikTok)

TikTok and Douyin are two short video platforms owned by ByteDance. Despite operating in different markets with different groups of target audiences, considered as separate entities, they share a close relationship.

In 2016, the precursor to Douyin, an app named “Musical.ly” or “Music Short Videos,” was officially launched. Initially, it was a simple short video app where users could upload their music creations and share them with others. It quickly gained popularity and saw a rapid increase in user numbers.

In 2017, Douyin officially went live. It retained the basic functionalities of “Music Short Videos” while introducing more social interaction elements such as likes, comments, and sharing. Douyin became the first APP in China to start doing full-screen, as the time swiping became instinctive. These additions made Douyin more engaging and vibrant.

By 2018, Douyin began expanding into international markets. It first launched Douyin’s overseas edition and later introduced TikTok. TikTok became one of the most beloved apps globally.

In 2019, Douyin started intensifying its support and investment in content creators. It introduced the “Douyin Creator Program” to provide more exposure and incentives to outstanding content creators. Additionally, Douyin launched activities like “Douyin Live” and “Douyin Challenges,” attracting more users and creators.

In 2020, Douyin encountered new development opportunities. Amid the pandemic, Douyin introduced new features like “Douyin Live Commerce,” aiding businesses in online product promotion and sales. These features also provided users with more shopping choices and convenience.

Who Uses Douyin?  Douyin User Statistics

In the era of short videos, the market size of short videos approached nearly 300 billion yuan in 2023, accounting for 94.8% of the entire internet population (Source: Mob Research Institute). Among these, Douyin holds the top position.

According to the latest data from QuestMobile, as of May 2023, Douyin’s monthly active users have exceeded 700 million, with an average monthly usage duration of 36.6 hours per person, and the platform’s traffic continues to grow.

On Douyin, 56.3% of users are male, while 43.3% are female. The majority of users based in mainland China fall into the age group of 25 and above, with a relatively high percentage having attained a bachelor’s degree. Around 55.4% of users reside in third-tier cities or above, and 29.2% are from fourth-tier to fifth-tier cities.

Why is Douyin So Popular?

Analysis can be done from four perspectives:

1. Visual Stimulation’s Directness

Why can videos become viral instantly? This is the era of visual interpretation; most people prefer simple and clear images over long paragraphs. This is related to how our brains absorb information: a major part of human information intake comes from visual stimuli, which is more direct for the brain.

Text, being a carrier of language, involves an additional step of processing and conversion during reading. The efficiency of understanding images is advantageous, and therefore, more direct stimulation through videos (essentially connected images) is far more visually appealing than text.

2. Advantages of Short Videos

Why does the market favor short video content over long ones? Compared to long videos, the advantages of short videos lie in their brief length, making them very “light” in content. As mobile communication infrastructure improves and mobile data costs decrease, the production and viewing costs of short videos are much lower compared to long videos.

New media compared to traditional media is the current trend; with the maturity of smartphones and 5G technology, people can use their fragmented time to access information anytime.

3. Utilization of Fragmented Scene

Looking at scenes, throughout the day, people experience highly fragmented scenarios. Scenarios like work breaks, meals, restroom breaks, commuting, etc., are all based on the logic that short videos are preferable for consumption compared to long ones, simply speaking, it’s all about content preferences.

Short video products understand consumer habits; both software and creative content (attractive content) have auxiliary means to improve the consumer’s product experience, enabling them to stay on the platform for longer periods.

Features like “not displaying online status to friends” in the software or using “large subtitles” and “progress bars” in user-generated content (actual contents) are all aimed at better-serving situations of “video viewing” in muted conditions, for instance.

4. Contemporary Society Values Time Over Content

In the past, when content was scarce, quality content was highly treasured. However, after entering the internet era, what we lack isn’t good content but time. As Aldous Huxley, the author of “Brave New World,” said: People will gradually fall in love with industrial technology that deprives them of their ability to think.

The internet allows us to jump from one link to another, search engines make us inclined to abandon memory, and smartphones are the most significant tool reshaping the human brain after language, books, television, and computers.

5. Douyin algorithm

ByteDance’s algorithm for Douyin, is said to gauge user interests through what they click, comment on, “like” or « dislike”. It is probably one of the most advanced in the world. Every time users interact with the app, data are collected to understand the interests of the users to propose more qualified content adapted to users’ interests.

Therefore, short videos naturally emerge and become popular. If long videos represent active consumption, then short videos represent passive consumption. Active consumption involves the choice of what to consume beforehand, whereas passive consumption is random and carefree.

How does Douyin work?

Douyin is quite user-friendly and offers various functionalities:

Home: It consists of search, marketing tools (such as Douyin pay or custom stickers or banner ads), followed accounts, recommended videos (video feed), and the live streaming section.

Nearby: This feature supports location-based switching for related local video feeds.

Video Creation Page: This page allows users to shoot videos, select music, edit content, and publish it.

Messages: This section contains interactions (such as receiving messages from e-commerce customer service), recommended accounts to follow, and message lists.

Search bar: The search feature allows any users to find the content related to what they are looking for.

Profile Page: It includes the user’s central area, basic information, profile editing, contacts, and a section for “Moments” (posts that can be set as public, private, or with a time limit), along with the display of the user’s videos on their profile.

Douyin E-commerce Introduction and Analysis

As early as 2018, Douyin, with its vast user base, ventured into e-commerce, facilitating sales for third-party platforms like Taobao. In 2019, Douyin started constructing its own ‘Douyin Little Shops.’ By 2020, Douyin officially established its e-commerce department, challenging traditional shelf-based e-commerce.

In November of the same year, Douyin launched its first platform-level e-commerce event, the ‘Douyin Wonderful Goods Festival.’ During this event, which garnered over 10 billion live stream views, the total transaction volume surpassed 8 billion RMB measured by payment calculations.

By May 2022, Douyin placed the ‘Shopping Mall’ on its homepage and has recently launched the Douyin Supermarket service.

It took Alibaba 10 years, JD.com 13 years, and Pinduoduo nearly 5 years to achieve a GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume) of over one trillion RMB. Douyin, on the other hand, accomplished this milestone within just over two years of the establishment of its e-commerce department.

The trend of ‘short video e-commerce guidance’ has rapidly emerged across major platforms in the last five years as a prominent solution.

Among the three mainstream live e-commerce platforms (Diantao, Kuaishou, and Douyin), the types of anchors can be divided into three categories: influencers, brand-focused, and manufacturer-focused. Each mode has its own core advantages, and the profit model is also influenced by the core advantages of the platform:

  • Influencers (or key opinion leaders) rely on “commission + slot fees” for profit.
  • Brands rely on “daily sales + repeat purchases” for profit.
  • Manufacturers rely on “daily sales + distribution” for profit.

Currently, among the three major live e-commerce platforms, Diantao has the largest performance volume, Douyin has the most DAU (Daily Active Users), and Kuaishou has the highest penetration rate in the sinking market. Each has its strengths. Additionally, users have different initial perceptions of these platforms. Users perceive Diantao as a shopping platform, while their primary perception of Kuaishou and Douyin is as content platforms.

The difference in perception directly determines user behavior when opening the app.

Douyin boasts the highest quality content. Users don’t show a significant preference for super top-tier anchors when shopping compared to other platforms. Users have the flexibility to choose between brand live streams or influencer-led product promotions. Brands leverage Douyin to increase exposure, and build brand image, eventually directing traffic to brand live streams, and reinforcing repeat purchases. Therefore, Douyin’s core advantage lies in content quality.

The Rules and Mechanisms of the Douyin Platform

Currently, Douyin’s main revenue streams consist of three components: advertising, live streaming rewards sharing, and e-commerce commissions. Among these, advertising contributes the vast majority of the revenue. Due to its high-quality content, Douyin is more popular in second-tier cities and above. Higher penetration rates in these cities imply a stronger ability to acquire “high-income, high-purchasing-power” users.

Simultaneously, due to differences in user demographics, Douyin is more capable of attracting brand advertising investment. The interaction among content quality, user demographics, and brand tone forms a positive dynamic.

Douyin’s traffic distribution mechanism can be summarized as a “funnel model.” After successful content publication, the platform allocates basic traffic to it. When core indicators (completion rate, interaction rate, conversion rate, dwell time, etc.) surpass certain thresholds, the content enters a larger pool of traffic. If it surpasses the thresholds of the next level, it continues to progress, and so forth.

Content creators can also purchase traffic from the platform to boost content dissemination. However, the ultimate reach of content still depends on its inherent quality. In other words, good content quality can save a significant amount of marketing budget.

Douyin prioritizes content quality (70%) over social relationships (30%). This is why, while scrolling through Douyin, we see more content recommended by the platform compared to content from friends we’ve followed.

Content on Douyin has an exposure period of up to 90 days, and exceptionally successful works can extend this exposure period. This is why, while using Douyin, we often come across content from a certain content creator that was posted several months ago.

Douyin emphasizes content quality, leaning towards a ‘media’ dissemination attribute. As a comparison, Kuaishou prioritizes the frequency of creator submissions, leaning towards a ‘community’ dissemination attribute.

Analysis of Douyin’s E-commerce Business

Starting from Q3 of 2020, Douyin gradually began restricting external links, completing all transactions within its system. Douyin users also increasingly use (or attempt) the live streaming function.

We define ‘order conversion’ as the ultimate goal and deduce the entire process of live streaming sales backward from the outcome to the starting point:

As widely known, to achieve order conversion, the preceding step is always viewing the shopping cart or adding items to it. Viewing the shopping cart is the step before placing an order, and the shopping cart can be divided into ‘viewing in the live stream room’ and ‘short video product preview in the cart.’ Based on user behavior patterns, ‘viewing in the live stream room’ can further be categorized into ‘actively viewing in the live stream room’ and ‘clicking on product (explanatory) pop-ups.’

Inside the live stream room, whether through pop-up clicks or active viewing, the prerequisite is that users first enter the live stream room. Assuming the proportion of users entering the live stream room is fixed, the crucial factor determining the number of people entering the live stream room is the ‘ability to acquire traffic.’ Within the established ratio, the more traffic (exposure) acquired, the greater the number of people entering the live stream room.

Traffic can be divided into ‘organic traffic’ and ‘acquired traffic.’ Organic traffic depends on content quality; when the content quality is high, it receives platform recommendations, reaching a wider audience.

Users who actively enter live stream rooms through organic traffic can discover broadcasters through features like ‘local, follow, and live broadcasting plaza.’ Acquired traffic is primarily displayed through ‘live stream screen recommendations’ and ‘short video recommendations (flashing light prompts).’

Once a certain number of users enter the live stream room, whether they’re interested in the products or the broadcaster’s persona, the potential for conversion exists. At this point, the sales ability of the broadcaster becomes crucial.

Among current live streaming platforms, four types of products stand out: clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, and food & beverages. These share a common trait of higher profit margins, covering expenses such as traffic acquisition and team operations. Particularly, clothing sales performance is most prominent.

Comparing brand live streaming performance: Brands perform better on Douyin than on the entire internet. On Douyin, brand live streaming is more like a private domain showcase, allowing better presentation and explanation of their products.

If you have further questions about Douyin, for more solutions to your business on the platform, and in China. Please don’t hesitate to reach us.

Douyin Q&A

What does Douyin mean?

Douyin is the Chinese character written as “抖音”, read as dǒu yīn in pinyin, meaning “shaking sound” in a literal way.

Is Douyin and TikTok the same?

Douyin and TikTok are both from ByteDance, with a different attention of the users from various the market. Douyin, the Chinese version focuses Chinese market, while TikTok, the international version focuses on markets outside China.

Are you able to use Douyin outside China?

Yes, Douyin imposes no restrictions and can be used in any country. You can upload videos, but live streaming from overseas locations is not permitted.

How to download Douyin?

You can download Douyin from any App Store on Android such as the Google Play Store and on Apple Store. In China, Douyin is one of the most downloaded apps and is highlighted by any Chinese App Store

Can Western companies create official Douyin business accounts?

To be able to get the blue checkmark and pass the verification process, you need to use a domestic business license. Therefore to do so, you will need to fill out a verification form.

If you have further questions about Douyin, for more solutions to your business on the platform, and in China. Please don’t hesitate to reach us.

Jil Yang
Project Manager @ DFC Studio

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