TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing platform, barely existed in Africa as recently as 2018, but now it is growing rapidly after adopting a strategy of encouraging local content creators and giving them the tools to express themselves.

The youth-friendly app, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, is expanding at the expense of rivals like Instagram by linking up with African influencers, who understand what appeals to local users, particularly Gen Z audiences.

“Instead of serving up videos from only the popular, big-name users on the platform, the individualised feed highlights video content based on the types of videos users like,” TikTok said in a statement to Quartz Africa.

According to the news outlet, TikTok now tops searches for terms like “influencer” in the company’s top three African markets of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, having invested in local staff and developed content creators who really understand the African market.

For example, Nigerian Mc Shem Comedian posted his first TikTok video in May 2019 and now has 2.4 million followers on his TikTok account alone, or more than his following on YouTube and Instagram combined.

Mike Otieno, co-founder of Wowzi Technologies, a Kenyan influencer marketing platform, said localised content like that is an important feature for African users.

“If you want to think of Africa from a community standpoint, it’s very tight-knit, very highly networked,” he said. “Therefore, if people are able to see their friends, people they know, celebrities they know, [and] what they are doing, it becomes a very powerful as a feature.”

Much of TikTok’s ability to help create very localised hashtags that appeal to African content creators is due in part to the app’s powerful algorithm that uses location data and user tastes to recommend content under a tab called “for you”, Quartz Africa reported.

For example, a TikTok user in Kenya could log into the app and gain access to a range of videos from creators in the country and worldwide, so encouraging more visibility and followers.

In addition, TikTok offers a suite of support tools for African content creators, which gives it an edge over Instagram and Facebook, whose third-party tools can take up valuable data and space on devices on the continent.

And provided a TikTok creator has the app, they can use the full range of features that TikTok offers, without having to add third-party apps, Quartz Africa explained.

Sourced from Quartz Africa; additional content by WARC staff