What China can teach us about the future of TikTok and video research

It’s no secret that today’s young people prefer to seek out video app recommendations on text-based search engines. Even Google executives know this. SVP Prabhakar Raghavan recently said that according to the company’s internal studies, 40% of young people, when looking for a place for lunch, go to TikTok or Instagram via Google Maps or Search first.

The concept of video search is a core feature that social media companies are starting to understand they need to understand … and fast. Why the urgency? The answer is simple: those who master video search will unlock a compelling wedge in in-app commerce and be able to monetize their users’ intent. If a social business were to figure out how to keep their customers’ shares within their app, they could expand their business into commerce and payments, consumer wallets, and other highly profitable features. At the very least, eliminating friction with buying would make ads on the platform more valuable, as it would expand the ability to buy with one click.

Most social media companies are keenly aware of this. Snap, Instagram, and others have been experimenting with video searching for years and have been trying to build native commerce in their apps. Instagram, for example, before recently announcing that it was scaling down its shopping features, introduced ideas like location and hashtag stories, allowing users to search for stories based on location and interest tags. But none of these companies have a proven internal roadmap for expansion like TikTok.

What Pinterest was for images, TikTok is becoming for short format videos. Thanks to its infamous algorithm, the Bytedance-owned video platform now has over a billion global monthly active users, and children and teens reportedly spend an average of 91 minutes watching TikTok per day (versus an average of 56 minutes per day. day on YouTube). The creators of TikTok also publish a seemingly endless amount of content every day, so when it starts to become a search destination, the potential is huge. Imagine if every user-generated video content (UGC) had a location tag that could redirect to a voucher or other deal. Merchants would benefit, because they would suddenly receive a vast number of new, free and seemingly less biased UGC “ads” every day for their products / offers, courtesy of their customers. This in turn would encourage merchants, shops, restaurants, and more to become more TikTok-enabled and / or work with location-tagged influencers. In short, TikTok UGC could become a hyper-local, hyper-personalized form of lead generation for commerce.

What Pinterest was for images, TikTok is becoming for short format videos. Click to tweet

And unlike Snap, Instagram, and other social media giants, TikTok has the advantage of seeing how Douyin, its sister app under Bytedance, performed. Searching on Douyin, which has 600 million daily active users, has been traditional and popular behavior for years. So, if we look to the Beijing-based company for clues, what should we expect next?

On Douyin, which for years has been monetizing the search for videos in shortened format, the videos are often tagged with the names of shops and other places and by tapping on these links, users take to in-app pages where they can take advantage of great discount coupons or reservations. special. Interestingly, years ago, app users could go as far as booking a restaurant or booking a hotel directly within the app. Today, the main call to action is to direct users to purchase discount coupons that can be used immediately; this allows users to save 10-20% off the retail price (and sometimes up to 40%!).


In the example below, you can see how Douyin users in Shanghai can use the app to find a nearby restaurant, the same way a person in New York could use Yelp to find a local restaurant in Manhattan. But on Douyin, after the user finds a restaurant that catches her attention, the user can pre-pay for the meal with a 20% discount, all within the app. The behavior is so common that you will sometimes catch users in restaurants looking for a bargain right before they pay the bill.


In addition to restaurants, short videos are also used to help Douyin users discover hotels or to buy discounted tickets to nearby attractions such as amusement parks. For example, Douyin users can click on the location of a specific hotel, see reviews, available rates, and essentially all public information about the hotel, then purchase a hotel discount coupon directly in the app.

Places and attractions

When it comes to sights and attractions, Douyin videos can be used to boost ticket sales. In the example below, users who watch video clips of the Shanghai Disney fireworks can easily switch to the purchase of prepaid Disney coupons with a 20% discount. These discounts are so effective that when Universal Studios opened in Beijing in September 2021, they heavily relied on Douyin to boost sales. The Western equivalent would be if a celebrity posted a video of their son having a conversation with a Disney character at Disneyland, and that video became the lead generation for purchasing prepaid Disneyland ticket credit at a 20% discount.

City guides

As Douyin increasingly becomes a discovery platform for local businesses, users have begun to rely on Douyin city guides to plan, or frankly, just dream of traveling. For example, if you go to the Shanghai City Guide, it’s easy to put together a list of must-see restaurants or family-friendly activities. Plus, not only is it easy to bookmark places you want to save, but you can also browse other public bookmarks curated by creators and influencers, then sort the bookmarks by location or distance. This type of bookmark detection is a completely different use case than how we use Google Maps or Yelp today. Our location-based Western platforms use a manual search-based process that works primarily for high-intent discovery. Conversely, thanks to the algorithms and user behavior on Douyin, the app can send new posts to a user they never thought they would search. The short video effectively allows the continuous discovery of the best places around you, and get better with each step as the platform understands you and your interests better.

How the offline world fits

If Douyin’s research vision is realized in the West, we will also see an evolution in user-generated video content from merchants. With the take-off of short video search in China, we have actively witnessed the change in behavior of shops, restaurants and other merchants, as suppliers would adapt their product and service offerings to be more suitable for videos and ” adaptable to Douyin “(” TikTok-able “is the new” Instagram-able “). For example, restaurants have built beautiful entrances designed to allow customers to recover as they walk and serve dishes and desserts with active flourishes like frozen flowers and filled with smoke meant to be crushed, or live alpacas greeting guests at the door. Waiters have even started asking patrons, before serving certain dishes, if they want to take out their smartphone camera before putting food on the table.

For all of the above examples, Douyin is able to earn incremental revenue through commissions. More importantly, they use these integrations as a ramp to access their wallet, Douyin Pay, which unlocks even more in-app payment options.

Right now, in the West, people are organically making countless hours of video content, but there is no way for video viewers to learn more and take action, to find that the experience they are watching falls within their range. in their neighborhood and available to book right away if they wish. We expect TikTok to be the first consumer platform in existence in the West to do so, which will make the platform even more sticky in the process.

What is not certain, however, is whether TikTok will copy the path of its Chinese sister app Douyin or, if so, how strictly its membership will be. But if there’s any clue as to where the search on TikTok might be headed, we’re ready for a big round of video trading.

Additional reporting of Avery Segal.


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