A look at the TikTok rivals vying for brands' affection
When TikTok came out with its new marketing campaign this week, the company declared, “culture starts here.” There are some rival apps that would beg to differ.
As TikTok, which is owned by Chinese-based ByteDance, fights for its life against President Donald Trump, who is forcing it into sales talks, rivals have emerged to try to capture some of its pop-culture cache. Instagram launched Reels, a TikTok-like feature. Dubsmash has been rumored to have caught the acquisitive eyes of Facebook and Snapchat; Triller has captured the attention of music celebrities like Cardi B and Chance the Rapper. Byte has emerged as a new Vine, the six-second video app that Twitter bought and shuttered but was the inspiration behind TikTok. There are also new apps with Chinese origins like Zynn and Likee.
It's become a hodgepodge of viral challenges and endless memes, enough to confuse any marketer looking to reach the engaged, young audiences in the space. Currently, these budding platforms like Dubsmash, Triller and Byte are not developed as ad platforms like major Silicon Valley tech giants. There are no automated influencer dashboards that connect brands and talent and spit out marketing research about the audience. There are no video commercials in the feeds. And there aren’t self-serve programmatic ad buys, like there are on Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok.
“That’s on their product roadmaps, but it’s not available out the gate,” says Joe Gagliese, CEO of Viral Nation, an influencer marketing agency. “They’re all in this phase, the pre-population content phase. What that means is in order for a social platform to launch correctly, it needs to have enough content in there so people don’t run out.”
Here is what's available for adventurous brands looking for the next hot app.
Dubsmash is a music and video social platform where people (and brands) can upload soundbites and clips. The audio files are key to making Dubsmash a musical place, much like TikTok, which assimilated the lip-syncing app Musical.ly into its platform after it bought the company.
Dubsmash appeals to more diverse audiences, young Black people and people of color, says Charles Etoroma, senior social specialist for retailer Express Inc. Many of the dance trends on TikTok, like the Renegade or the Woah, started on Dubsmash.
“It’s still raw enough where it feels like a real culture not tainted by ads and revenue and all of these things,” he says.
Dubsmash is still small with 800,000 weekly active users, according to the latest figures from App Annie, an app analytics service. TikTok has 53 million weekly active users, according to App Annie. TikTok claims to reach more than 100 million people in the U.S. in total, but that’s not an “active user” count.
Triller comes out a little more polished because it has heavy-hitting backers and has already attracted celebs. Even Trump trolled TikTok by recently opening a Triller account, so it’s being cast as the clear successor app.
“I’m super interested in Triller right now,” says Junior Pence, chief marketing officer, Peace Out Skincare. “I think Triller is a great platform, but it’s mostly music-focused, and I haven’t been really seeing much brand activation around Triller, so it’s relatively new.”
Peace Out Skincare is looking for “skinfluencers,” a niche group of young social media users who are not afraid to show their spots online. They have to highlight their acne, after all. Triller, so far, appeals mostly to big celebrities and already popular video stars with dancing and music.
Triller has 1.1 million weekly active users, according to App Annie. On Thursday, TechCrunch reported that the company was in a bit of a dispute over its own claims that it saw a surge in downloads in recent weeks, amassing more than 250 million downloads. App Annie's data reflects U.S. activity, and it is often hard to quantify the usage rates of these types of apps without official data from the companies. However, App Annie is viewed as a credible analytics platform for these types of calculations.
Triller seems to have the most interest in working with brands at this point in its development. The company joined Warner Music Group and Complex Networks to showcase itself at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s NewFront in June, a clear sign of advertising intent.
Byte is quite literally a successor to Vine. It launched earlier this year and was founded by Dom Hoffman, who helped create Vine. It has become a refuge for TikTok castoffs who want to get in on the ground floor, says Alessandro Bogliari, CEO of The Influencer Marketing Factory, a company that works with thousands of social media creators. Byte has 1.1 million weekly active users, according to App Annie.
“What they do is maybe they go to Byte to find their niche, because there is less competition and they become one of the biggest there,” says Bogliari.
Zynn and Likee are two new Chinese startups that are trying to make waves in the U.S. Brands might want to avoid them because they could just wind up in the same spot as TikTok, with questions about ownership. But that doesn’t mean U.S. consumers aren’t testing them out. Zynn has 600,000 weekly average users, according to App Annie, while Likee has 1.9 million.
Brands will continue looking for the next hot app because those creators are inspiring purchases, says LaVonne Powell, a poet from Miami who is active on social channels under the name HONEYXBUN. If brands want to explore an app in the early stages, the best way is to tap into these creators.
“I’ve been introduced to clothing brands and other things of that nature through the likes of Instagram,” Powell says. “I am a well-known poet from Miami. So my community will always be on the lookout for my newest look or moves. The idea of the ‘influencer’ is to bring a group of new consumers to that brand, in order to, make the said money.”
The market stays the same, but the apps on top can change.