An illustration of the Douyin/TikTok symbol for an article about the Chinese app's benefits. (Illustration by Julie Chow, University of California, Berkeley)

Douyin Is the Captivating Chinese Counterpart to TikTok

Social media influencers and members of the public alike are benefitting from the way in which this Beijing-based app allows for dissipating and receiving information.
May 26, 2021
9 mins read

From direct text messages and phone video conferences to social media apps, the development of web technology is constantly changing the way people communicate in China. As the speed of the internet becomes faster and more readily available, convenient products that enhance people’s lives continue to emerge in the market, one after another.

One of the fastest-growing companies, which I am sure many of you recognize, is TikTok. However, what you might not know is that TikTok has a Chinese counterpart known as Douyin, which could be translated as “a shaking sound.” The name of the app conveys its vivid energy and creativity. Similar to TikTok in terms of its sweeping global impact, Douyin has become one of the most sought-after “lifestyles” in China that defines the current era. Let’s examine the intricacy of the app and the reasons why it’s growing into the No. 1 video-sharing social networking service in China.

Douyin’s Fast & Friendly Services

I believe for most of you who may have used TikTok, you are likely to agree that the experience is genuinely immersive. Douyin, which is owned by the same company as TikTok, has no differences in this regard. Your eyesight is occupied by video content that is specifically prepared for you based on your viewing history and habits. With the app’s content fully covering the screen, audiences are able to engage in the stories Douyin users convey through their videos.

The abbreviated length of the videos on Douyin makes them highly digestible, which fosters a sense of competition among both the public and social media influencers. No matter who you are, you can create your own story in video format with total room for innovation and flexibility. Compared to Weibo (Chinese Twitter) and Youku (Chinese YouTube), Douyin contains little to no barriers that might prevent content creators from taking their first shot at becoming famous, which then also invites a wide range of participants to the app.

Douyin’s lack of barriers is similar to the concept of “friction” in psychology, or the mental effort we need to take to start and finish something. The larger the friction is, the less inclined we would be to do something. As for content creators, the convenience of making a new video and uploading it to Douyin produces less friction and thus leads to more frequent posting.

This principle also works in the same way to engage and retain other users: a frictionless “swipe” to enjoy another new short video in an immersive manner positively reinforces this behavior until its marginal utility starts to decline after a certain amount of consumption. It is conducive to forming a stable habit and consequently elongates the time spent by the users on the app.

Because of its relatively low barrier to entry, Douyin not only creates more possibilities for people to share their lives with others in a vivid and engaging way, but it also expands access to a broad circle of people. On Douyin, someone can be exposed to numerous facets of society beyond what a typical social media or video platform normally provides. For example, you can be connected with someone from a rural area in China who has to work hard to raise several children, musicians who share their daily practices through creative short videos or even junior high school teachers who devote themselves to cultivating the next generation of talent.

Without Douyin’s widely accepted short-video format, these stories may not be as easily filmed or presented, let alone exist at all. The fast-paced nature of the app also facilitates more creative content making. With the pressure of producing a long and — more importantly — delicate enough video minimized, a creator just needs to concentrate on how to maximize the watchability and creativity of a one-minute piece of content. It further lowers the barrier to entry by ensuring that users don’t need a sophisticated editing or filming team to produce a high-quality and competitive video.

The Commercial Side

The capacity and purpose of Douyin have ample room for expansion because of its large user base and versatile functionality and design. Douyin offers several ways for content creators to monetize their work. For example, a content creator can open his or her online store on Douyin where they can sell their own merchandise or even the products of other brands. In the latter case, a content creator may receive 10% to 35% of the commission fee based on the revenue he or she helps to generate.

The app also acting as a store creates tremendous incentives for the video supply side and leads to a robust vibe of content creating on the app. Many celebrities even joined the platform to enhance their interactions with their fans and grasp another huge chance to monetize their popularity.

Other Opportunities

Don’t let the commercial aspects of Douyin scare you away, though! I do think Douyin also generates lots of content that is conducive for more practical purposes. For example, many teachers bring their classes to the platform and offer free lessons periodically. I also came across some venture capitalists and professionals from other mainstream industries who share their insights into the growth of the economy and their respective businesses in their videos.

Douyin is an accessible way for viewers to approach the people and industries they are interested in learning from and create bonds with them. For instance, I was curious about job opportunities in the Middle East and was able to learn a lot about life in that area as an East Asian person from several Douyin content providers. I even connected with a few of them and had the chance to further investigate.

Drawbacks to Douyin

Though Douyin bridges the distance between people from different backgrounds and unites society as a whole more creatively and efficiently, it, like many other social media and video platforms, also has some downsides. The temporary satisfaction people can derive from using the app may pose more “friction” to executing other daily responsibilities and enhance the possibility of procrastination. Watching someone who seemingly only lives a decent life on the platform may lead to a non-adaptive comparison in the subconscious mind that produces anxiety and decreases one’s level of happiness.

In the end, the growth of applications like Douyin can change the world by speeding up communication between people but it may also come with costs that hamper healthy growth. Therefore, to safely maximize the benefits of technology, we may need to think critically and focus on adhering to the long-term goals we set for ourselves.

Benjamin Chen, Columbia University

Writer Profile

Xiaobin (Benjamin) Chen

Columbia University
Economics and Psychology

Benjamin Chen is an economics and psychology student at Columbia University. He is always motivated to innovate and change the world for the better. He is driven and guided by values, principles and love.

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