Douyin launched in September 2016 and grew to over 100 million users within a year, becoming the #2 ranked app in Apple’s Chinese app store and #1 in the video and photo category. Its main users are young females from 1st and 2nd tier cities – a demographic that many brands are eager to reach with Douyin marketing strategies. And as with other social media platforms, one of the best ways for brands to gain attention is by partnering with Douyin influencers.
But many of Douyin’s “influencers” presents an unusual problem.
As the platform appeared, a new crop of influencers emerged with it. While some of them were early adopters with a strong track record of high-quality content and large engagement on Douyin and other social media networks, many people joined the app, grew massive followings overnight, and now claim to be Douyin influencers.
Anyone who understands influencer marketing knows that a large following does not necessarily make someone an “influencer”, especially when that following was amassed so quickly. A more accurate title would be “overnight sensation”.
This rate of follower growth seems highly suspicious, especially in a country where social networks are known for using fake bot traffic to stimulate activity. While Douyin’s explosive growth makes organic growth a possibility here, it remains suspect.
While PARKLU is excited about this new social platform – we are actively encouraging companies to try it – we want to shed some light on potential problems and prevent brands from going in blind.
Douyin Marketing: beware of fake influencers and bot traffic
We’ve heard time and time again about fake followers on Weibo and other Chinese apps. Honestly, no Chinese app is without bot operated accounts.
PARKLU technology tracks influencer accounts’ historical engagement activity and follower growth. Normally, on other social networks like Weibo, large spikes in growth (like what we’re seeing on Douyin) indicate fake followers and bot traffic.
Taobao shop selling Douyin fake followers and engagement
While some users may be purchasing followers from bot vendors, it is also likely that Douyin itself is actively managing bot accounts. **Just to be clear, we don’t have evidence that Douyin is using bots**, but this is a common practice on many Chinese platforms. Bots boost daily active users and monthly active users, stimulate ad spend and make platforms look healthier than they are. Bots can also be used to stimulate organic activity by psychologically tricking real users into believing a post is interesting to others and or bot traffic can be used to break platform algorithms to increase organic reach.
Black market vendors on WeChat offering Douyin bot traffic services
Most live streaming apps will send bots to new users to make activity and momentum appear in their stream. This encourages them to continue streaming.
We draw these conclusions about Douyin in part based on our experience with other platforms. However, it is new and experiencing rapid growth, so assessing the situation for certain is impossible at the moment.
An “overnight sensation” can’t have a trusting, dedicated following
Even if these huge audiences are all real users, the pace of growth has created a questionable scenario for brands. As we mentioned, a large following does not mean that someone is an influencer.
A true influencer is someone who has provided value and built-up a relationship with their audience over a period of time.
Many Douyin influencers have gone from no followers to hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, in a matter of days. Even the world’s best content won’t allow an influencer to develop a trusting relationship with fans so quickly.
When brands are considering Douyin marketing, they need to look beyond the follower numbers and find influencers who have created exceptional content over months and years. One of the best ways to do this is by looking at influencers’ accounts on other social media networks.
An added difficulty with Douyin marketing
The app does not show account creation dates or when videos were posted. This makes it difficult to distinguish between users who have grown their accounts steadily and those who dumped tonnes of content to make their accounts seem older.
To reiterate: We are not trying to discredit Douyin’s success or dissuade people from using it. We even believe that brands should be experimenting with the app.
Rather, we want to help brands make more informed decisions so as to avoid fake influencers. In this case, brands must rely on historical data, content analysis, and growth patterns when selecting Douyin influencers.