Cover image for Douyin

Douyin was famously developed by AI company Bytedance in under 200 days. The Bytedance team itself consists of thousands of engineers and machine learning experts. The success of Douyin (and its international counterpart Tok Tok) is a clear testament to Bytedance’s dedication to providing ultra-personalized user experiences.

Following its 2016 launch, Douyin garnered over 100 million users in less than a year. By stark contrast to other video platforms in China, Douyin has an uncharacteristically high proportion of male users (roughly 52% overall).

Central to the steep uptake of Douyin was its short-form video format, capped at 15 seconds or less. When a video ends, another automatically plays on a continuous roll. This creates an extremely fast-paced, fragmented, ‘frictionless’ and addictive user experience. The videos are similar to Vines – which became extremely popular in the west in the mid 2010s.

Douyin User Demographics September 2019
Source: iResearch (2019), Compiled by Business of Apps

How to Leverage Douyin in China

The average Douyin user has been conditioned to paying attention for very short periods of time. This creates an intuitive challenge for brands: how to retain people’s attention for long enough to achieve true engagement? To understand this, we need to first understand the various ways people actually use the platform.

Top Douyin Content Publishers

KOLs and Celebrities

The first, most important thing to understand about Douyin, is that branded content only accounts for a very small proportion of videos consumed (see graph right).

We recommend leveraging stars and KOLs as much as possible. KOLs provide your campaigns with the best chaces of nurturing organic user-generated content (UGC). This is intuitively a natural precursor to achieving campaign ‘virality’. We’ll explore this in greater detail in ‘Challenges (Topics)’ below.

Given the short-form nature of the content, many businesses engage with dozens, if not hundreds of KOLs for any given campaign. In our experience, KOLs with smaller followings tend to yield higher ROI, as they’re generally more involved and responsive to their follower base.

AR Video Filters

Content creators are provided a large selection of frequently updated music tracks, video and audio effect generators, as well as augmented reality filters and stickers. These allow the author to produce a variety of different effects: from making the videos comical, to exciting, to scary, or simply to make the author more attractive.



It may come as a surprise to many that Vlogging – a staple media format that has thrived in the west for almost a decade – is still fledgling in China. However, that is starting to change. However, since 2018, vlogging has been gaining strong momentum, and China’s millennials are driving most of the growth.

In 2019, Douyin raised video time limits from 15 seconds to one minute to support the growing demand. Simultaneously, they launched a ‘One Billion VLOG Views’ program outlining a series of two-week wave campaigns each with its own unique hashtag.

The first campaign #VLOGTravel, intuitively encouraged Douyin users to vlog about their travel experiences. The top 60 contributors (judged by views) were each awarded ‘vlogger’ accreditations as well as traffic-boosting packages. These packages guaranteed exposure (views) of 1M-2.5M users each – combining to a total of over one billion collectively.

Challenges (Topics)

In recent years, Douyin has been responsible for countless trends and viral videos that have blown up in China. Challenges have been the key behind this. Most of these involve fashion, dancing, comedy, sports, lip-syncing and/or pranking friends and family.

Any user can create a challenge surrounding a certain topic in three easy steps:

  • Post the key guidelines of the challenge on the dedicated challenge page. This may or may not include a prize (i.e. based on the top rated / most viewed video)
  • Post a video based on the guidelines
  • Post a hash-tag to be featured on the challenge page

Walkthechat have provided some great examples of successful Douyin marketing campaigns incorporating a variety of challenges.


Since the inception of Douyin, advertising has almost been taboo for the Bytedance team. Their emphasis on creating an engaging and above all entertaining user experience lies at the very core of the platform’s value proposition. As such, up until quite recently, they have actively sought to avoid over-commercialisation. For example, Bytedance’s AI-powered quality-control algorithms have been known for removing overly ‘salesey’ videos.

That said, Douyin does support a variety of on platform advertising options. These include:

  1. Open (loading) screen ads
  2. 15-second Feed adverts
  3. Brand-personalised sticker/filter packs
  4. KOL Advertising (As discussed above)


Commercially speaking, videos have been proven to be amongst the most engaging forms of media/content. This is leading many to speculate that Douyin’s business model may, in time, prove more engaging than the current leaders in China’s social-eCommerce space (i.e. WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu). It’s no wonder that tension is beginning to arise between Bytedance and some of China’s other leading tech giants.

For the past several years, Douyin has supported direct linkages to Tmall/Taobao product pages. However, a recent announcement made in late August suggests that Douyin intends to limit their reliance on third-party eCommerce platforms and instead build up their own eCommerce operations. According to the announcement, as of October 9th, Douyin will:

  • no longer support livestream links to Tmall/Taobao.
  • only support video links to Tmall/Taobao links for a fee.
  • not support linkages to other eCommmerce platforms (i.e. JD, Pinduoduo).

This has been coming for several years now. In late 2018, Douyin followed WeChat’s lead and began to support on-platform mini-programs. This allows any user who has posted more than 10 videos to open up their own eCommerce store on the Douyin platform.

Douyin Mini Programs


Like all leading platforms in China’s eCommerce and video space, Douyin also supports livestreaming. However, there are a few key factors you need to consider before diving in.

The first is the cost, which is roughly ¥5000 (roughly $1000AUD) per livestream. This is noticably higher than Taobao Live at roughly ¥2000.

The second is the audience. You need to be weary that almost 70% of Douyin users are from T2 or lower cities, where there is generally less discretionary income. As a general rule, Douyin livestreams are only effective for products less than roughly ¥150.

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