How To Use Short-Video App, Douyin, For Your China Marketing

First posted: Jun 13, 2018
Last updated: Jan 5, 2022

Douyin (抖音 or Tik Tok) is the short-video app everyone seems to be talking about in the recent months- especially in China. In September 2017, the app celebrated its first birthday and in the first quarter of 2018, it became world’s most downloaded app for iOS (Google Play is blocked in China hence there is no accurate data for Android). In Japan alone, the app has been downloaded more times than Facebook.

It is a child-app of Bytedance – the owner of “Today’s Headlines” and It allows its users to publish 15-second videos that often go viral as memes or online challenges, not only in China but also on Western social media. On YouTube, there are accounts publishing Douyin highlights in video compilations (example here). I often see videos created within the app circulating on Facebook and Twitter. I’d say Vine is the closest thing to Douyin we’ve had in Western countries.

Change of Interest of Chinese Consumers

Douyin is often called the most viral app in China as it’s become one of the people’s favourite ways of killing free time. People watch these short videos everywhere – and when I say “everywhere,” I really mean it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some casualties were reported because of people who ride a bike and watch at the same time (I see it every day). It’s so addictive, Douyin now limits users to watch only 90 minutes in one sitting! Nara - our social marketer - downloaded the app to help me do the research for this post and after only two days I heard: “Please, finish the post already, I want my life back! I can’t stop watching!”

So, how do you use the app’s virability to leverage your brand? There are two main ways: paid and organic marketing. The Douyin ads require you to work with the app itself, usually via verified agencies. For the organic marketing – your imagination is the limit.


Why Is It Worth It To Do Douyin Marketing?

The most important advantage of micro-videos, similar to live-streaming, is the relationship built between the content creators and their audiences. Videos are not only entertaining- they also feel authentic. That’s why many KOLs (influencers) are “born” thanks to Douyin.

Douyin Demographics

The app is mostly a playground for people born in 90s and later. It’s said to be an app for “the creative generations” like Millennials and Zillennials. Of the users, 75% are 18 to 35 years old – they are also the most active video creators and the most engaged audience.

What I often underline is that people born after the 1980s (mostly those based in 1st and 2nd-tier cities) are considered to be “the spending force of China” – generally they are only children and therefore know what they want and they want it right away; they earn enough to afford most of the things they desire. It’s also a huge group of people who help China transform from a country of cheap goods to a country of innovation. So, naturally, most brands want to catch their attention.

Video App Become Popular

Videos have been squeezing other types of communication out of the market for a while now; Douyin-style are now considered to be the most direct form of message. China is no exception. Hence, Douyin seems to be a perfect medium to reach out to potential customers by showing off your brand’s creative power and engaging the users.


Douyin – Paid Marketing

There are three main ways to get a brand’s ad on Douyin. Additionally, one is creating brand-sponsored tools for video-making. For example: Pizza Hut rolled out themed sunglasses stickers (camera filters) that attracted over 1 million users (source in Chinese).


Splash Ads

That’s the full-screen ad displayed before the app itself is opened. It’s usually 3 to 5 seconds long and the max number of ads shown to each user per day is four. It can be a picture, GIF-type micro-advert or video content. It can be only linked to in-app sites, no external links allowed.

A general price is around 850,000 to over one million RMB per day or as high as 50 to 60 RMB/CPM (cost per a thousand impressions) – depending on the chosen option.


Newsfeed Ads

The newsfeed in the Douyin app is basically a never-ending scrolling adventure. Videos auto-play instantly when you scroll past them- no need to press “play”. The ads are displayed on the forth position in the user’s newsfeed. It can be an image or, of course, a 15-60 second video. It may include (but doesn’t have to) a message and an external link.

There are two different ways to count the cost. It’s either CPM or CPC (cost per click). The first one is 20-30 RMB/CPM and is more suitable for bigger brands. The minimum one-time purchase is 1,000 CPM.

The second option is 2-5 RMB per click. It’s less risky as you control the ad budget by yourself.


Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)

Working with influencers is often the best option – they already have a secured group of fans who like interacting with them and are very likely to take part in a challenge. For example: depending on the number of their fans the prices start with 6,000 RMB (10,000 to 30,000 fans) and go up to 100,000 RMB or more (over 200,000 fans) per post.

How to work with KOLs? Similar to what we talked about before, you can prepare content for the influencer of your choosing, or utilize organic marketing and trust them to know the best way to interact with their fans (recommended). They may post a video challenge that their fans are supposed to copy – works very well as a contest. Or they can post a short video with the product involved – this kind of ad may be more natural.

One of the perks of working with influencers is that they usually post on many platforms and may drive more participants to your challenge from other places, or the other way around – simultaneously promote your brand for consumers that don’t use Douyin.

Note: for more information on working with influencers, check our Guide to Influencing on Douyin


Douyin – Organic Marketing

Chinese brand 溜溜梅 (liuliu mei) rolled out "the most sour challenge in the world" encouraging their followers to show how tough they are.


As I mentioned, Douyin is a birthplace for many Chinese KOLs. Becoming a 网红 (wanghong, an online celebrity) is a motivation for many users to create catchy or viral-worthy content. So, why not try the same ways to promote a brand? For the lucky ones, one video is enough to become viral.

There are some rules to follow if you want to increase your chances:

  • The content must be as interactive as possible.
  • Challenges easy to follow are very welcome – dance moves, movie captions, “relationship goals,” etc.
  • Be funny, or beautiful. Wait- always be beautiful.
  • Make sure there’s a prize to win.
  • Verify the account.
  • Chinese business license is required to verify an account and purchase ads (with the exception of KOL ads).


Examples of Douyin Marketing Campaigns

There are many companies that already worked with Douyin. Most of them are worldwide well-known brands – I am referring to the ones which have invested in in-app adverts. Among the international ones you can find brands like Michael Kors, Pizza Hut, Sprite, Airbnb, Samsung, Adidas, etc..

Some of them did not manage to surprise me very much. The ads they released are just regular ads that could appear anywhere else. They may look amazing but all they say is: “hey, here’s our new lipstick” or “we have discounts for the 618 shopping festival”. These companies are missing opportunities to engage with their target audiences. For example, more engaging advertising could encourage users to try on all the lipstick colors and post a video. You get what I mean, right? Paying for Douyin ads and using it on dry old-fashioned adverts is a waste of potential.

Jingdong-Douyin-Campaign rolled out a Fun Festival in February this year. They started with a splash ad saying: “Bored? Come dance!” and posted a dancing challenge on their account. Users were supposed to copy the moves and add a related hashtag (#无聊?来蹦好玩迪#). Results? Their video got over 130 million views, and over 26,000 users accepted the challenge.

Pizza Hut-Michale Kors- Douyin Campaigns

As mentioned before, a good idea is to roll out brand-related stickers. Apart from Pizza Hut, another good example is Michael Kors who used stickers to promote their catwalk challenge. The brand also worked with influencers to record and promote the original video. It was streamed over 5 million times and over 30,000 people posted a related video.

Airbnb, Vans, Harbin Beer, Chevrolet Campaign on Douyin

Other brands worth-mentioning are Harbin Beer and Chevrolet; both brands used singing challenges to engage and encourage users to post “summer vibe” lip syncs. Vans also executed a notable campaign – having considered Douyin’s user base, they promoted with the “Don’t be afraid of what other people say” video.

One of my favourites is Airbnb who encouraged users to post “Expectations vs. Reality” videos; one of the users recorded pulling up her Barbie-style suitcases with a rope to a dreamy-looking… tree house hotel. Their results are amazing. They not only doubled their brand’s visibility but they also beat their competitors’ ads by 300%.


Douyin vs. Kuaishou – the competitor from the North

As the short videos have become the most popular communication medium, many platforms rolled out their own tool to shoot the videos. For social media, like Weibo or Momo (陌陌), the tools work similar to Insta Story or that thing on Facebook no one seems to use. They are easy to share to the native platform, and that’s probably their biggest advantage.

Taobao already implemented short videos into merchants’ product display page, but now they want to launch a separate app, but no details have revealed yet.

However, platforms that are considered a direct competition to Douyin are mostly Meipai (美拍), Huoshan (火山) and Kuaishou (快手). The first one is mostly used for its beautifying filters. The second, Huoshan, is a friendly short-video app with a decentralized user base. There are no KOLs, it’s just a nice app to kill some time and watch other people.

And then, there’s Kuaishou. There’s even a slogan circulating in the Internet that I don’t even dare to translate but for those of you who know Chinese, here it is: “南抖音北快手,中间夹个火山口。南抖音北快手,智障界的两泰斗”. And for those who don’t, let me explain. It’s all about the stereotypical differences between North and South in China (you can read more here or here or watch a pretty exaggerated but funny video here).

Content creators on Douyin are expected to be beautiful.

So, Kuaishou content is much more natural, I’d even say rough. People shoot their videos of themselves eating or doing martial arts, probably not even caring about the background, somewhere in a village or something. They show more of their real life, while the videos on Douyin are usually carefully planned, more refined, and “elegant”. I’d even say: more professional. The app is generally used more among people living in the bigger cities. Douyin also has a unique style that can be recognized even if the app’s watermark is wiped out. The videos are much more creative and vibrant, users make the best use of all the provided tools, stickers, background music, features, etc.

As Nara summed it up: Kuaishou is more about people “eating garlic”, and Douyin – about people “drinking coffee and being pretty”.


Click here for A Thorough Guide to Influencing on Douyin - For Individuals and Businesses (2020)




Hi, I have a question - The company I work for would like to create a douyin account. We were wondering if we can create a regular account as appose to an official one, where we can post our related short videos. Is it possible even though we are a company? Is there a legal issue to consider here?


To open an official account you need a Chinese business license.
To open a regular account, you need a Chinese phone number. It's not illegal, but verified accounts are more trusted. With the regular account, no one can guarantee to your viewers you truly are who you say you are ;-)

Some industries are not allowed: healthcare, law, finance, for example.


Our company posts regularly on 抖音 from a regular account. Lately we've been considering buying news feed ads. Do you think having a regular account, as opposed to an official one, could influence our eligibility for advertising?


Hi Aviv,

In theory, verified accounts have a higher click-through-rate than the regular ones. But as long as you're creative and able to catch users' attention, it may not affect the results. You mentioned you post regularly - it builds up your credibility.

However, regular accounts have some limitations. First, you need to be more careful with the content you promote, also when it comes to the number of ads released; verified accounts do not face the problem.

And one more thing: it's good to have a verified account for one simple reason. This way you make sure users do not end up following a copycat account. And the users know you really are who you are ;-)

Thanks for your reply Wiktoria.

We are not a Chinese company and therefore cannot provide a Chinese ICP license to get verified.

I see that I need to get to 10,000 followers to become an official account and verified? Is that true. What benefits would that have? What would be your suggestions of platforms etc to how to then take some of that membership and add my own subscription based service separate from Douyin? Similar way to how personal training online business can be, thanks. I’m a foreigner living in China so many of the relevant apps I don’t know about so well. Thanks.

Hi Andy,

Generally, verified account gives you more control over your account, followers and data. It's like switching your personal account to a merchant one. There are also some other features enabled, such as longer videos and adding a website link to the account. Also, verified account show up higher on Douyin's result page when people search for content.

And yes, you need 10k followers to verify a personal account.

I'm not sure what you mean with the other question. If it's about how to drive your Douyin followers to other social media accounts - just add links to your Douyin account.

[Update 03.2020: To add other social accounts to Douyin, you can only add relevant ID to bio labelling them as "WB" for Weibo, and "VX" or heart emoji for WeChat.]

Thanks. What services are available for foreigners vs Chinese people when verified? I saw that Chinese people can link to Taobao etc but foreigners cannot.

I’m trying to work out how best to capitalise from the following I’m building on Douyin for use outside of the app eg being able to add all to a private wechat group etc. Thanks.

[Update 03.2020] It's only possible to link external links and a "Merchant Window" (商品橱窗) to verified accounts- foreigners cannot verify their accounts.

In general, WeChat groups have limitations - you can't add more than 500 people, and QR codes only work up to 100 members.
Another way is to do a live-streaming on Douyin, and directly sell goods. Not sure if it's what you need though.

Hey Wiktoria

What a great article!

I just have some follow up questions related to the article, and would be super happy if you could answer these :)

First of all you write that KOLs with about 10 000 - 30 000 followers can earn about 6000 RMB per post. Is the rate actually this high?

Also, from reading in this comment section you write that in order to open an official account you need Chinese ICP license. My friend and i have an account with about 30 000 followers at the moment and we are really eager to open an official/verified account. What would we have to do in order to open an official/verified account given that both of us are foreigners? And how can we get a Chinese ICP license? :)

Would really appreciate if you took time to answer these questions!

Best Regards


Douyin has gotten more popular now. With 30,000 followers you can expect to earn approx. 2,000 CNY per post, maybe more. The more followers, shares and interaction you get, the higher the price. I understand you want to position your account as a KOL?

The account can be verified using a Chinese business license or a Chinese ID. For personal verification you need at least one published video, at least 10,000 followers and the account must be linked to a phone number.

My wife and I started posted videos on Douyin.
I know one key is to be creative and interesting, but I"m curious about promoting/advertising our videos to gain more followers.

We have done it once so far, like 100 rmb for 12 hours, something like that.
Do you think this is a viable way to start, and/or are there other ways to start building up followers?

Feeling confused.

Hi Jim,

It's more challenging to grow follower base for new Douyin accounts now, even for foreigners, as compared to a few months ago. Videos posted by new users are not displayed to a broader audience. I guess Douyin updated their algorithms as they want users to use DOU+ to promote their accounts. You said you spent 100 CNY already, so I assume you've already tried DOU+.

Here are some things that may help, especially if done at the same time as DOU+ promotion:

1. Publish videos regularly - try building up content for a few weeks or even months, posting on a set schedule; two to three times a week.
2. Interact with other users, comment on their videos, reply to comments on popular accounts. Using English is fine, you stand out more.
3. Try interacting with less popular accounts.
4. Post videos related to trending videos - but with a tweak, don't shoot them exactly the same way.
5. Speak more in your videos - English is fine, as long as you speak a bit slower, best if you add subtitles.

Contact me at [email protected] if you want to share some of your insights, or discuss it further. Thanks!


Hope you are well!

I have a business license registered in China and a wechat mini program. I am not yet an user of Douyin but would like to increase traffic to my wechat mini program.

Since I have a business license, do I also need 10,000 followers + Chinese ICP license before I am verified? Or can I get verified with only the business license?

Thank you!


Hi Owain! Nice to hear from you!

You only need a Chinese business license to verify the account on Douyin, so you're good to go. However, driving users from Douyin to your WeChat mini-program may be challenging as these two companies keep blocking each other. Right now, you're no longer able to set up a Douyin account with your WeChat ID anymore; and you are not allowed to share any WeChat-related information on Douyin. All you can do is add: "VX: ..." to your account's bio. Remember not to use the word "WeChat" in your videos either- while speaking or in writing.

An alternative would be an account on Kuaishou- it is a competitor of Douyin that cooperates with Tencent (WeChat). It is slightly different from Douyin though.

Also, please, mind that building Douyin following organically is more tricky now than it was a year ago. You may want to consider promoting your videos through DOU+.

I'd like to hear more about your mini-program and the plan for the short-video platforms! If you're OK with sharing, please, contact me on info(at)


I have a personal account with 15 000 followers for now and more than 10 videos. I am foreigner, but have HK ID and both Chinese/HK numbers.
Is there anyways to verificate my account?

Hi Ainur,

I double checked. You need a Mainland ID to verify your account; overseas passports or IDs are not accepted. The IDs issued in Hong Kong and Macau are not accepted either.


Hi! So I downloaded the douyin app I think and like idk how to change the language to English. Is there a way to change it?

Hi Malinee,

Douyin is only available with a Chinese interface.

Great article Wiki. Over the past year several months, different friends have suggested I get in on douyin. One stated that I have a knack for tell stories (wechat texts). I’m interested but I’m not a techie. I have 2 young sons people have suggested I include, I teach English in a small town (amongst other things), love to get out and around China and neighboring countries. Can you give me a spark? Where to start? Appreciate your time.

Hello JR,

You do not need to be tech-savvy to get popular on Douyin. Although some of the content there is filmed by professionals, amateurs can get just as popular. No one gets it right at the beginning. It will probably take you a bit of time to figure out who your audience is, how to shoot the videos in an efficient way, and what is it that catches more attention.

If there's something in particular that you excel at, try to prepare some scripts around it and shoot a few videos. There's an app called 剪映 that you can use to edit your videos. It's pretty easy to use once you get used to it.

It's good to add subtitles to your videos. I also suggest you just go out there, interact with other users, leave comments on their videos, shoot video responses to their video (make sure to tag them), follow the trending topics to see what topics to choose for your videos. Make some fun out of it, especially if your children are engaged. Maybe teach your children some Chinese words to reach out to your audience in China :-)

Have you seen my video? It should help you a bit with where to search for certain things in the app:

Good luck!

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