What is TikTok?: Localization Done Right at a Global Scale

What is TikTok?: Localization Done Right at a Global Scale

November 14, 2019

By Ofer Tirosh

TikTok is taking the world by storm. Perhaps you know a lot of your friends that either watch TikTok videos or TikTokers themselves. You can find TikTok videos uploaded across nearly all social media and content creation platforms from Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. It’s now within the league of the social media giants as a truly global platform. 

That being said, TikTok’s rapid success story is because of its remarkable localization strategy and that’s worth looking into. I’ve been providing localization services to businesses of all sizes from diverse industries to help them understand their target foreign markets and to help them succeed. But within a span of a few years, I’ve seen more and more clients from the app industry. 

I’ve seen first hand the amount of heart and soul that app developers have poured to turn their app into reality. But marketing it was another stage and I’ve been glad to have been a part of many of my past client’s success stories. With that in mind, I can absolutely sympathize with TikTok’s founders and developers and their drive to turn their creation into a success. To say they least, their localization strategy was spot on and it got them to where it is today.  

What exactly Is TikTok? 

Millennials and Gen Z people would be asking if you've been living under a rock if you asked them this. To save you from the possible shame, TikTok is a content creation and sharing app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. TikTok is known as Douyin in mainland China but it shows different content to comply with China’s censorship policies. It’s now the most downloaded app in Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. 

Users create short, usually 15 second videos and spice them up with diverse effects, filters, music, animation, and many more cool editing features. Many people can notice that TikTok borrows content creation concepts from other apps such as  Vine, Musical.ly, SnapChat, Instagram etc. In fact, Musical.ly was onced owned by ByteDance and they’ve rebranded it as TikTok. 

TikTok’s founders and developers took familiar content creation concepts and molded it into one ‘greatest hits’ mashup. The app filled in the gap that other content creation and sharing couldn’t provide and went on from there. 

But what makes TikTok unique is that they promote content that doesn’t rely on textual and oral communication. Although the app does rely on hashtags, that’s pretty much it. In comparison, Facebook and Twitter run on both text-based and visual content. In fact, social media might be changing how we speak because of trendy expressions and memes that pop up every now and then. If you want to know more about how social media is how our languages are evolving, click here: Is Social Media Increasing the Pace at Which Languages Change?

That being said, trendy expressions and memes go as fast as they come. If TikTok did rely on text-based content, the app wouldn’t be as successful as it is now. A lot of content creators routinely have to rely on translation services to translate their content. Not with TikTok. TikTok’s success could only be possible to universally comprehensible visual content. Dancing, singing, humor, and just plain fun is a universal language that everyone can understand and ‘speak’.  

What is Localization and How was it Instrumental to TikTok’s Global Success? 

Generally speaking, localization is the process of adapting content for it to resonate well with the target audience. Easier said than done to say the least. A quick Google search on your target audience or market actually won’t cut it. That’s why it’s best done through a localization service and and coordinating with the right localization experts.

One of the usual ways to localize content is to have it translated. But as you know, TikTok’s content didn’t need any of that and perhaps the only translation the app needed was its user interface. But to make the app a success, its founders and developers needed a strong localization strategy and making it resonate well for each of its target audience. Simply put, TikTok went global by going local. For more insights on getting the best localization services, kindly read this article: How to Find the Right Localization Service 

A. Collaborating With Local Influencers To Jumpstart their Reach

TikTok’s founders and developers knew what they were getting into and knew how hard it was for a uniquely Chinese app to be successful globally. They first decided to collaborate with famous Musical.ly influencers and asked them to use the TikTok brand. Tapping into influencers gave app direct access to the influencer’s local viewership. 

B. Understanding Each Country’s Unique Norms and Trends

One of TikTok’s greatest achievements is succeeding in the Japanese market. Japan is a tough market to crack for outside companies but TikTok managed to do it. Their first tiny office in Shibuya, Japan gave them the opportunity to understand Japan in greater detail and tap into the right people. They understood Japan’s unique campus and found that Japanese students was the audience they needed to appeal to. 

They also took note of the Japanese’s interest in all things kawaii (cute). Familiar with Hello Kitty and Gudetama? TikTok’s vast selection of visual-enhancing filters means that Japanese TikTokers can create their ideal cute image by the touch of a button. 

C. Promoting Localized TikTok Contests and Challenges

Ever noticed how some TikTok videos are uniquely Chinese, Japanese, to the point that only they could have thought of something like those? This is intentional as users frequently promote fresh and unique local TikTok contests and challenges through hashtags. Local TikTok communities are constantly on the lookout for the latest hashtags and trendy challenges. 

TikTok’s Success Sparks A New Era in the Chinese Mobile App Industry: Final Takeaway

It wasn’t long ago that many Chinese app developers and tech companies would constantly look for new inspiration from their global counterparts. But now, things have changed. TikTok’s rapid international success means that global companies are also learning from TikTok- a complete reversal to the norm a decade ago. Because of TikTok, Chinese app developers now have greater confidence in succeeding in the global market. 

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