What Is TikTok? Here’s What You Need To Know

The number one product in the U.S. Apple app store is TikTok, a social media and entertainment platform. Although it is topping charts now, it’s been around for a few years and has gone through app name changes as well as ownership changes. Here is a breakdown of the history of TikTok and what you need to know about this popular app.

History of TikTok

  • Originally Called Musical.ly
  • Bought Out and Rebranded in 2017
  • Dominating Today’s App Store

TikTok originally started out as an app called Musical.ly. It was released in 2014 and marketed to teens as a way to film videos, sing songs, lip sync, and share content with friends. At that time, the most popular new apps were Vine and Snapchat, both of which are centered on creating short homemade video clips to share with friends online. Snapchat is still topping the charts today, but Vine shut down in 2016 despite its short-lived success.


If you’ve been following social media blogs and articles, you won’t be surprised to learn why these apps did so well. Great content is material that users want to engage with for hours and share with their friends. Over the past few years we’ve seen younger audiences moving away from apps like Facebook and Instagram. Part of this migration is due to the lack of engagement. What’s the secret to higher engagement? Video. Vine, Snapchat, and TikTok are apps that have the perfect formula for content engagement. Some may even call it an addiction.


Musical.ly had hard time marketing to everyone. Not everyone dreams of doing lip-sync battles with Jimmy Fallon. So in 2017 a Chinese company ByteDance bought Musical.ly and started changing how the app was marketed. They pushed hard on marketing to teenagers and young adults, and focused less on music and lip-syncing. By 2018 the app was dominated by a Gen Z audience (people born 1997-2015).


Although TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, in China TikTok is a completely different app called Douyin. In 2020 TikTok split ownership with the U.S. when Oracle bought a 12.5% stake in the company. Now in 2021, TikTok is dominating the app store and has a wide range of users of all ages, however, still dominantly Gen Z and Millennials.

What is TikTok?

  • Social Media/Entertainment App
  • Utilizes Videos
  • Follow Content Creators or Friends
  • Create and Share Short Video Clips


TikTok is an app that is primarily a video news feed. When you open the app, a video of 60 seconds or less is selected by an algorithm and starts playing. You can “heart” the video, share it, or swipe up and another video will start playing. Over time the algorithm gets a sense of the type of videos you like and what holds your interest, and it will start showing you more curated content. This format of never-ending video feeds, short clips, and limited short ads keeps the user scrolling and entertained for hours. Most often, the content is viewed by people the user doesn’t know (similar to YouTube). The more you watch these users, the more you get to know them and can choose to follow/subscribe to their content. Simply put, TikTok uses the endless scroll feature from Instagram and Facebook along with video content creation similar to YouTube, and then combines it with the short–clip format that made apps like Snapchat and Vine so popular.

Keep your eyes open for our next blog about why people love TikTok and whether it can be used to promote your business. For now, we want to know when you first heard of TikTok and what’s your opinion on it? Let us know in the comments.

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