Oracle may be hatching a deal with TikTok, but the frosty reception from U.S. policymakers hasn’t relented. The app is now forced to take drastic measures, including rebuilding code to meet security requirements. 

The U.S. is the eye of the storm for TikTok in its quest to conquer the Western social media landscape. Europe has put up less of a battle, but we shouldn’t understate the significance of TikTok’s interests on the other side of the Atlantic.

TikTok has experienced remarkable growth in Europe over the course of 2020, and the pandemic has been the catalyst. 

Among consumers aged 16-64 in Europe, TikTok monthly usage has grown by 93% between Q3 2019 and Q2 2020. Even more remarkably: 

Some European countries, including Denmark, Ireland and the UK have seen growth upwards of 170%.

This growth is thanks to Gen Z.

In Europe, the TikTok hype hasn’t been felt in all corners of society because the app is geared towards younger generations, specifically Gen Z (16-24 year-olds). 

Although we’ve all heard stories of parents jumping on the TikTok trend, in Europe their engagement hasn’t been substantial or frequent enough to have a material impact on user growth. 

TikTok engagement was fairly low before lockdown among older groups, and although usage growth was in the double digits during lockdown, engagement remains fairly low.

For a large share of Gen Zs, TikTok was already part of their social media portfolio before lockdown. Since then, growth has been in the triple digits, resulting in a very strong user base by the middle of the year. 

This younger skew in the TikTok user base helps to explain why European countries with younger populations like Turkey, Poland, and, to some extent, Romania, post the strongest monthly usage figures overall in the region. 

Frequency of engagement figures are a solid marker of a platform’s relevance to a specific age group, and European Gen Zs distinguish themselves again here.

So far in 2020, the number of Gen Zs in Europe who use TikTok at least daily grew by over 250%.

Some platforms fall short in daily usage despite consistently strong monthly engagement, but TikTok is fast becoming part of Gen Z’s day-to-day lives.

What’s boosting the surge? 

To understand what’s driving TikTok’s growth in Europe beyond the circumstance of lockdown, we need to look at content and user experience. 

Whether you’re an influencer, a journalist, an analyst, or anyone who needs to communicate with an audience, it’s well known that telling a story is one of the most powerful ways of doing this. 

TikTok’s content is highly story-driven, more so than other platforms, and each short video is packed with content. This feeds directly into Gen Z’s desire to kill time and find entertaining content on social media.

This is an audience who are as likely to watch vlogs each month as they are to watch TV on-demand services (around 60% do). 

From an entertainment perspective, user-generated content and conventional TV are on a much more equal footing. The impact of lockdown restrictions allowed TikTok to position itself as a means of sharing experiences and carve out its own unique value proposition in the media and publisher ecosystem.

What challenges is it facing?

Like with TV, TikTok content is aimed to reach incredibly large audiences, and it’s very viral in nature. 

But unlike TV, it’s user-generated rather than professionally curated. This puts it at odds with other platforms which tend to give rise to audience-specific content, meaning it’s operating in a space with few like-for-like competitors. But this is changing. 

Encouraged by backlash from Western policy makers, rival social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are creating their own user features aimed at capturing some of TikTok’s market share. 

Social platforms have a reputation for replication and companies, like Snapchat, have felt the pinch from this. 

But this time there’s a more serious threat to he hero of this story thanks to aggressive moves from the U.S. government, and eager buyers are lining up to acquire TikTok’s regional operations.

What’s the scale of TikTok’s opportunity in Europe?

Europe is a highly important market for TikTok, and the growth figures in monthly engagement speak for themselves. 

While Europe might not have seen growth on the same scale as regions with younger online populations, like Latin America (+93% since Q3 2019 vs. +185%, respectively), its older population can mask the strong engagement seen among younger sections of European society. 

Certain European countries like the UK, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Turkey are emerging as strongholds in the app’s user base. These will be critical for TikTok’s future position as the Chinese app eyes up further growth in the Western world, particularly as it’s found a relatively safe haven away from the hardline stance of U.S. policy makers.

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Written by

Chase Buckle is the Trends Manager at GlobalWebIndex. Chase oversees GlobalWebIndex’s Trends team, who leverage the company’s research studies to unlock the most up-to-date understanding of the modern digital consumer.

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