TikTok Report 2021
Top 50 TikTok accounts analysed by
Table of contents
TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social networks of our time. Owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, the app has gained hundreds of millions of users since its worldwide release in 2018.
In September 2020, Forbes reported that one in six Americans had become weekly users of TikTok, a 75% increase from the start of the year. And its growth hasn’t stopped since.
Unsurprisingly, TikTok’s road to dominance has been paved with controversies. Most notably, in the summer of 2020, the Trump administration attempted to ban the app in the US – only for the ban to be revoked by the Biden Administration less than a year later. Of course, this did nothing to diminish the app’s popularity: if anything, it added to it.
As with all social media networks, TikTok is starting to pique the interest of advertisers. The app is undoubtedly becoming an increasingly lucrative marketing channel as more and more people download it. However, brand accounts are only just starting to take root on the platform, and marketers haven’t quite figured out how to leverage its enormous potential.
As of February 2021, Guinness World Records was the most-followed brand on TikTok with 11.3 million followers, followed by Red Bull with 5.2 million followers. At the same time, the most-followed individual – Charli D'Amelio – has amassed well over 100 million followers.
This goes to show that brands have a lot to learn from Gen Z – the young digital audience that dominates TikTok. Out of the top 50 TikTok accounts, most belong to teenagers and young adults who seem to have a natural talent for creating viral videos.
This begs the question: what do the best-performing TikTok accounts have in common? Can we pinpoint some of the formulas that the top creators use? And what does it take for brands to get TikTok marketing right?
To find out, we analyzed data from the top 50 TikTok accounts. Here’s what we found.
We analyzed 32,855 videos published during the time period between January 1st, 2020 and September 30th, 2021.
- All accounts were weighted equally, first aggregating results per account, then taking the overall average.
- Engagement refers to the sum of likes, comments, and shares.
- Engagement rate was calculated by dividing the number of engagements by the number of views and multiplying it by 100.
Disclaimer: Our findings reflect how the top 50 creators use TikTok but they cannot be extrapolated to all TikTok users. It’s important to keep in mind that, while getting to know the behavior of the top 50 accounts may be helpful for your own TikTok strategy, simply replicating it won’t necessarily lead to success. The content itself carries a lot of weight.
Moreover, our analyses of engagement and views per video show correlation, not causation.
For example, when we say “videos with shorter descriptions had higher engagement and views per video”, it doesn’t mean that the videos had higher engagement and views because their descriptions were shorter. Other factors could have played a role.
And now, let’s get into the results of our analysis of the top 50 TikTok accounts.
Publishing time and frequency
Videos published from Thursday to Sunday got the most engagement and views
Let’s start with one of the most obvious questions. When is the best time to post a TikTok video?
Our analysis showed that creators are just as active on the platform on Saturdays as they are on Tuesdays.
The number of videos shared across the top 50 accounts per day was consistent throughout the week.
However, we did notice that engagement per video and views per video slightly increased in the second half of the week, particularly from Thursday to Sunday.
This may be because the followers of the top 50 creators spend more time on the platform as the weekend approaches.
Posting frequency decreased and engagement increased between March 2020 and March 2021
We were curious to see whether the accounts we analyzed were able to keep up their publishing velocity over time.
Interestingly, we found that posting frequency decreased to 0.8 over the course of a year, from March 2020 to March 2021.
In other words, the top 50 accounts posted fewer and fewer videos per day.
At the same time, the engagement rate per video increased from 13.9% in March 2020 to 15.3% in March 2021.
This shows that the accounts we analyzed got increasingly better at creating engaging content that compelled their audiences to interact with them.
Videos got the most views in the first few days after publishing but showed steady growth over time
But how long do TikTok videos continue to get views after publishing? To answer this question, we looked at a random sample of videos published by Charli D'Amelio (currently the #1 most-followed TikTok account) since December 2020.
What we found is that video views skyrocketed in the first 5 days after publishing. They slowed down afterwards, but never became completely stagnant. In fact, they continued racking up views long past the day they were published.
This is because TikTok’s feed is not primarily time-based. Old videos can show up on users’ ‘Home’ and ‘Discover’ pages weeks or months after they were posted. As a result, TikTok video content is a long-term traffic generator – an important factor for brands to keep in mind.
Video and music length
Most videos were 15 seconds long
When TikTok was first launched, videos were limited to a mere 15 seconds. Later, this was extended to 60 seconds (by stringing four 15-minute videos together) for videos recorded natively in-app. Recently, the company has rolled out a new 3-minute limit to all users.
Despite the company’s efforts to give TikTokers more creative freedom by allowing longer videos to be shared on the platform, our analysis showed that most videos conformed to the original limit and were 15 seconds long.
9-second-long videos got the most views and engagement per video
However, this doesn’t mean that 15 seconds is the ideal length for a TikTok video. In fact, the sweet spot was 9 seconds: these were the videos that got the most views and engagement per video.
According to our analysis, views and engagement per video gradually decreased as the length of the video increased.
Most of the music used was 15 seconds long, followed by 30 and 60 seconds
Next, we looked at the relationship between video length and music length.
In general, music length showed the same pattern as video length, with most of the music used lasting 15 seconds or less.
However, there were a considerable number of music snippets that were 30 and 60 minutes long.
Video dimensions didn’t impact engagement and views
When it comes to video formatting, the first question that comes to mind is what dimensions a TikTok video should be.
In our analysis of the top 50 TikTok accounts, we found that most videos were vertical (which is the orientation that allows for easy viewing on a smartphone) and 720p (1280 x 720 px) in dimensions.
However, video dimensions did not significantly impact the engagement and views a video received.
Video description length
Most videos had no description
TikTokers have the option to add a text-based description to each video they share. Currently, descriptions are limited to 150 characters in length (including hashtags).
However, creators don’t always feel the need to pair their videos with text. In fact, most of the videos we analyzed had no description at all.
Videos with shorter descriptions had higher engagement and views per video
When it comes to TikTok video descriptions, less is more. On average, the shorter the description, the more engagement and views the video received.
Note: Longer descriptions are clipped when viewing a TikTok video on a smartphone. Users need to tap the ‘See more’ button to see the entire description.
Most videos didn’t use hashtags
One of the most common uses of TikTok video descriptions is to populate them with hashtags.
Using relevant and trending hashtags can help enhance a post’s visibility, which in turn increases likes and followers.
In spite of this, most videos in our analysis did not have any hashtags in the description. This makes sense, as most videos didn’t have a description at all.
Furthermore, using hashtags doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on a video’s views and engagement.
Videos with 0 hashtags had roughly the same engagement per video as videos with 7 hashtags.
And, videos with no hashtags actually had more views per video than videos with 1 or more hashtags.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not worth adding hashtags to video descriptions. Hashtags can still help videos reach more users.
Branded Hashtag Challenges
13.3% of videos were a part of Branded Hashtag Challenges
Branded Hashtag Challenges are an effective way to turn TikTok users into brand ambassadors by engaging them to create content for brands. They allow brands to share videos using a sponsored hashtag, which TikTokers can respond to with their own videos.
Branded Hashtag Challenges provide an opportunity to drive brand awareness through UGC (User Generated Content). TikTok provides multiple ways to promote Branded Hashtag Challenges, helping more users discover and participate in them.
Thanks to their co-creative nature, Branded Hashtag Challenges have the potential to engage users more effectively than other advertising formats. And they’re making waves across the platform.
Out of the 32,855 videos we analyzed, 3,699 (13.3%) were entries to Branded Hashtag Challenges. That’s more than 1 out of 10 videos!
Entries of Branded Hashtag Challenges had more engagement and views per video than regular videos
Our analysis showed that taking part in Branded Hashtag Challenges is indeed worthwhile.
Videos that were a part of Branded Hashtag Challenges had more engagement and views per video than regular videos.
Only 0.3% of videos contained branded content
Next, we looked at branded content, a broader category that encompasses Branded Hashtag Challenges and other videos that contain product placement or promotional messaging.
Videos that contain branded content are usually marked by hashtags like #Ad or #BrandPartner (where ‘Brand’ is the name of the company sponsoring the video and being promoted).
We found that only a small fraction – 0.3% – of the videos we analyzed could be categorized as branded content.
However, nearly half of the top 50 creators experimented with branded content at some point during the 15-month period. Out of the 50 profiles we analyzed, 20 published at least one video that contained branded content.
Videos with branded content had more views but lower engagement than regular videos
While branded content on TikTok is clearly in its infancy, brands shouldn’t abandon the idea. There may yet be opportunities in collaborating with TikTok influencers.
According to our analysis, videos with branded content received more views but had lower engagement than regular videos.
Note: Due to the fact that there’s no public data available about paid ads, we weren’t able to determine whether these had any impact on the performance of branded content posts.
Examples of videos with branded content
To illustrate what branded content looks like on TikTok, here are a few examples:
Good vibes only 🤙 @420doggface208 @mickfleetwood @tomhayes603♬ original sound - TikTok
It’s difficult to attribute success on TikTok to quantifiable factors such as video length or the use of hashtags. While our analysis shows some correlation between these factors and increased engagement/views, achieving virality on TikTok ultimately comes down to the creators’ ability to connect with their audience. Not to mention the whims of the unknowable TikTok algorithm.
It’s also difficult to infer what brands can learn from the top 50 TikTok accounts. TikTok videos are inherently spontaneous and personal, and this effect can be hard for brands to replicate. Optimizing your videos based on the findings of our analysis may help to increase their performance. However, it’s unlikely that it will make a big difference on its own.
Furthermore, our analysis is based on public data, which is limited. The owners of TikTok accounts have access to more in-depth private stats that allow them to analyze the performance of their videos.
Finally, what we can say for sure is that branded content, and more specifically Branded Hashtag Challenges, presents opportunities for brands to increase their reach on the platform. Measuring the impact of these activities remains a challenge, and for now, working with TikTok influencers will continue to provide murky results.
*Due to the fact that Kristin Hancher’s TikTok account was blocked for promoting her OnlyFans account in January 2021, our analysis effectively covered 49 accounts. Kristin Hancher has recently reopened her TikTok account but is no longer among the top 50 creators.