TikTok Doubles Down on U.S. with Hire of Veteran YouTube Exec

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February 7, 2019

By Alex Heath

TikTok, the Chinese-owned company that has quickly become one of the hottest apps in North America, has hired a veteran YouTube executive to oversee its U.S. operations.

Vanessa Pappas, who was YouTube’s Global Head of Creative Insights, is now the video sharing app’s first-ever General Manager for the U.S., the company confirmed to Cheddar.

“We're thrilled to welcome Vanessa Pappas to TikTok US as General Manager,” a TikTok spokesperson exclusively told Cheddar. “Her experience and proven success in connecting global audiences through video make her a wonderful leader to guide TikTok's continued product, team, and community growth.”

Pappas worked at YouTube for more than seven years, overseeing the video platform’s growth teams and specifically working on growth tactics for influencers and celebrities. She recently relocated from New York City to Los Angeles, where TikTok’s U.S. headquarters is based.

For TikTok, the hiring of Pappas represents an increased focus on growing the app’s presence in the United States. The app recently started testing ads and has been heavily spending on marketing in recent months, an approach that’s blanketed competitors like Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat with ads promoting the app.

Pappas’s experience from YouTube, where she led the early development of the platform's guidelines on how people can grow their viewership, will be valuable at TikTik. YouTube is now, of course, widely popular with influencers, having created a sizable group of homegrown celebrities with millions of followers.

Capitalizing on meme culture

For those who haven’t yet tried TikTok, the app is like a mash-up of the now-defunct Vine and Facebook’s News Feed. Users upload 15-to-60-second-long videos that can be set to music clips. The app presents videos in a scrolling feed that automatically learns what you like based on your viewing habits. In-app “challenges” are common, in which a skit is performed with a specific hashtag that is then replicated by thousands of other users.

The lighthearted and youthful nature of TikTok has quickly put it at the center of American meme culture for teenagers. Physical stunts, absurdist humor, and lip-syncing videos abound in YouTube compilations of TikTok videos with millions of views.

TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, relaunched TikTok in August 2018 after acquiring the lip-syncing app Musical.ly for roughly $1 billion the year prior. ByteDance took Musical.ly’s users and moved them over to TikTok, which also operates as a separate app called Douyin in China. The two apps combined have more than 500 million monthly users, ByteDance said last summer.

Despite existing in the U.S. for barely six months, TikTok has generated significant buzz and consistently remained near the top of Apple and Google’s most-downloaded app charts. In the past 30 days, there have been 7.5 million downloads of TikTok in the United States alone, according to app research firm Apptopia. For comparison, Snapchat had 4.7 million U.S. downloads in the past 30 days, the firm estimates.

Much of TikTok’s early success can be attributed to its use of celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Cardi B to promote the app, along with aggressive digital ad spending. In recent months, ByteDance has become one of Facebook’s top ad spenders, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company has also bought more traditional billboard ads, ran a pricey TV ad right after the New Years Eve ball drop in New York City’s Time Square, and recently sponsored the creation of colorful murals in Atlanta during the Super Bowl.

The explosive popularity of TikTok has helped propel owner ByteDance to an eye-popping valuation of $75 billion, making it the most valuable private company in the world ahead of Uber. ByteDance operates a portfolio of apps with hundreds of millions of users in China, but TikTok represents its first breakout hit in the Western market. Hundreds of employees already work out of TikTok’s Los Angeles headquarters, and the company currently has dozens of open job listings.

Perhaps the greatest sign that TikTok has become a threat to U.S. social companies is the November 2018 release of Lasso by Facebook, an app that looks strikingly similar to TikTok. And just this week, Snapchat added TikTok to its list of competitors in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.