During the pandemic, TikTok experienced a meteoric rise in downloads and engagement as people turned towards the short-form, DIY video service for entertainment. 

"TikTok has been able to build and grow a user base and kind of break through aside from just the concept of short-form video having music attached to it," said Nick Cicero, Conviva vice president of strategy. "TikTok introduced a new voice into the social platforms."

And big tech took notice. 

More than just flattery, established platforms are learning that if they want to keep their audiences from trying something new they'll have to add those features. Instagram debuted Remix on Reels last week, a play on TikTok's famous Duets feature that lets users split-screen other clips and react to them. In mid-March, YouTube released YouTube Shorts, its own TikTok competitor. Earlier in November, Snapchat launched Spotlight. Rather than off-the-cuff daily moments, the tab highlights more meme-driven, hijinks-capturing content similar to what people would find on — you guessed it — TikTok. 

With more similar services on the market, there are questions if TikTok can remain king especially as it chases after advertiser dollars. But, while most social media posts rely on massive follower counts to become popular, TikTok's algorithm makes it easier for one-off creations to go viral from anyone. That's something most platforms won't find easy to replicate.

"Fundamentally TikTok is going to be a better place for brands," Cicero said. "The main thing is because it's more public…you combine the open nature and the ability for content to be shared quickly, it offers a really unique way for brands to connect with people that they haven't in the past."

While there may be concerns that people migrate away from TikTok to other services, it may only be a temporary blip rather than a death knell. Another oft-copied app, Snapchat, has also found continued success despite its main features being copied by Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories, YouTube Stories, Pinterest Story Pins, and Twitter Fleets. The company said it is expecting 56 to 60 percent year-over-year revenue growth during its latest earnings report in February. 

Data from Apptopia shows that while Instagram's U.S. session times climbed 13.2 percent year-over-year from March 2020 to March 2021, TikTok's session times also increased 7.4 percent during the same time frame showing both apps could grow at the same time. Another study of more than 20,000 Americans from Piplsay Research showed a little under one-third said they are active on TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts. 

Unlike Snapchat, which has always had a solid core youth base and sought to expand to more users, the pandemic piqued cross-generational interest for TikTok. These users will continue to evolve and grow with the platform rather than be drawn to other spaces, similar to what happened with Snapchat, Cicero pointed out.

And, interest from brands is there, meaning revenue is likely to follow. IPG Mediabrands and TikTok launched the Creator Collective on Tuesday. The new initiative will pair top TikTok creators with brands to help advise on strategy, as well as create quarterly Creator Camps to teach marketers the best way to utilize the platform for upcoming campaigns.

"TikTok gives them the ability to create some really unique content — and it's wide open," Cicero said. 

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