TikTok on the Clock:

Charting evolving TikTok usage using Infegy Starscape from the start of the year

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst

TikTok has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last few months. With tension between the United States and China heating up (starting in 2017 but increasing more over the previous few months over issues like Taiwan, Ukraine, and global trade), bipartisan US policymakers announced and passed a nationwide TikTok ban unless ByteDance, its parent company, sells it to a US-owned company.

With the platform's future at stake, we decided to use Infegy Starscape, the newest member of Infegy's social listening product suite, to understand how engagement (likes, shares, and comments) changed on TikTok in the lead-up and aftermath of this potential platform-altering ban.

Understanding TikTok Ban Conversation Size and Sentiment

TikTok Post volume surges around ban-announcement

We'll first examine post volume as a barometer for the fallout before we discuss TikTok's changing engagement. Figure 1 shows the volume around this conversation over the last two years. You'll notice three spikes. The initial spike occurred in March 2023. It reflects the nationwide (and worldwide) attention paid to President Biden's banning of TikTok on Federal government cell phones and computers.

As is typical for a news-related topic, we see post volume declining sharply for the following year until a surge when Congress passed the ban in March 2024. Based on past analysis of similarly breaking topics, we predict that volume will continue to dwindle until TikTok is bought or banned.

Figure 1 - TikTok ban discussion
Figure 1: Conversational post volume about a potential TikTok ban (January 2023 through May 2024); Infegy Social Dataset.

Top Topics relevant to the ban-related conversation

Now that we've looked at the post volume let's look at the underlying conversation that makes up those two large spikes. We've colored our word cloud in Figure 2 by sentiment, with red reflecting negativity and green reflecting more positive underlying conversation. You'll note that almost the entire discussion is deep red—this is especially common within political topics. The United States political discourse is increasingly heated, so we detect elevated anger within the conversation.

Figure 2 - TikTok top topics
Figure 2: Top topics about TikTok-ban conversations (May 2022 through May 2024); Infegy Social Dataset.

Declining engagement metrics

Let's examine how behavior on TikTok has changed since January 1, 2024. We picked this date range because it reflects engagement pre- and post-ban passage. We split post engagement into three categories: likes, comments, and shares. We found that all three have declined throughout the year, suggesting a less engaged overall TikTok audience.

Declining average likes per day

Within our three engagement categories, likes are the lowest-hanging fruit. A user's liking of a particular post doesn't require a great deal of public effort on their part. As a result, we find likes to make up the overwhelming share of engagement on a particular piece of content.

Over the last five months, we found a steep average decline (-4.7 fewer likes per day) with an r^2 of .823, suggesting a strong correlation, meaning the average post on TikTok receives fewer likes (on the whole).

Figure 3 - Average likes per TikTok post
Figure 3: Average likes per TikTok Post (January 2024 through April 2024); Infegy Social Dataset.

Consistent average shares per day

Next, let's look at the average platform-wide shares on TikTok. Shares represent a more public effort from a user's perspective versus a like. While likes on platforms tend to be much more private, shares, on the other hand, allow users to share public affiliation with a particular piece of content.

Figure 4 shows how average shares across TikTok have changed over time. At the beginning of our time frame, you'll notice a steady, albeit less steep, decline in the average number of shares per collected TikTok post. That affirms our argument that average engagement is declining across the platform.

More interestingly, you'll notice a giant spike around March 15. That's the day the news broke that the US House of Representatives was considering a nationwide ban. On that day, we detected a surge of average shares per post, reflecting user fear of a platform-wide ban. However, that elevated average sharing level has declined back to the mean. Based on the pattern across other forms of engagement, we expect average shares per post to continue declining.

Figure 4 - Average shares on TikTok post
Figure 4: Average shares per TikTok Post (January 2024 through April 2024); Infegy Social Dataset.

Declining average comments per day

Let's look at our final form of monitored engagement: comments. Comments tend to be the "highest" effort engagement we analyze at Infegy, barring creating an entirely new post.

We find a similar decline in the average number of comments per post from January through May 2024. We expect this trend to continue as we move deeper into the following year. Unlike the pattern we saw for Shares, this decline was not correlated with ban-related conversions but was a global decline. This trend could be concerning for TikTok creators and agencies, as it's another piece of evidence showing that users aren't reacting as much (on average) to posts on TikTok.

Figure 5 - Average commenters per TikTok post
Figure 5: Average comments per TikTok Post (January 2024 through April 2024); Infegy Social Dataset

Takeaways for your brand

Understanding TikTok engagement from an unbiased, third-party perspective is essential to grasping the platform's evolving dynamics in light of recent legislative actions from Congress. Using Infegy Starscape, we analyzed platform-wide patterns on TikTok and detected significant declines in user engagement from January 2024 through the present. Our findings highlight the importance of your ability to continuously monitor social platforms to ensure you're directing your ad spend and attention to the right platforms.

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