What is Douyin – An Introduction

What is Douyin

If you are asking yourself What is Douyin actually, then don’t worry. The China marketing experts at China Gravy are experienced with this TikTok sibling in the Middle Kingdom. 

We reveal the differences and similarities between the two platforms and take a deep dive into the features like payment and how to create Douyin ads to reach your target audience.

What is Douyin?

With more than 550 million monthly active users (MAU), Douyin (抖音, “shaking sound”) is leading the short-video app universe in China by far. Its main competitors are Kuaishou, Xigua, WeeSee (Weishi), and Huoshan. With 600 million, the daily active user (DAU) number of Douyin is even more impressive.

Douyin is hugely popular among young females (25-30 years old) from third and fourth-tier cities (55%), a trend which is increasing. In comparison, the users from first and second-tier cities account for only around 45%. 

A short history of Douyin

Launched in September 2016, Douyin reached a 100 million user base in its first year of existence. The favorite features of users in China are creating short videos (lip-synch, comedy, viral challenges) and live streaming. 

To date, the app has been downloaded more than 1 billion times. In comparison, TikTok was launched internationally in 2017 and has been downloaded more than 2.6 billion times to date.

Owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, Douyin is often portrayed as the Chinese version and TikTok as the international version of the same short video app. But in reality, they are actually two separate entities. Depending on the app store you use (in China or outside), you will be able to download Douyin or TikTok. Note that in some areas like Hong Kong or Taiwan, neither app is available.

To give you an example

Among Douyin’s most popular accounts is Chen He (陈赫), a Chinese actor. On Douyin, he has more than 50 million fans, while on TikTok only a few unverified accounts show up when searching for his name.

Why does ByteDance separate these platforms so strictly, you may ask? The main reason is to adhere to China’s strictly controlled online environment. By having two separate platforms, ByteDance can allow more user-generated content on TikTok and follow the required restrictions on Douyin.

As you know, most Western social media platforms like Facebook or YouTube are not available in China. This surely is one reason that Chinese social media apps like WeChat and Douyin have emerged and have taken the hearts of Chinese users by storm.

The second reason is that these super-popular Chinese media apps tend to offer far more than just social interaction – from research, shopping, and buying tickets to ride-hailing and payment services – there’s almost nothing that’s technically possible that China’s super apps don’t offer (yet).

Finally, Douyin’s popularity, in particular, can be traced back to many Chinese celebrities using this platform enthusiastically – either for fun or as influencers.

Douyin Website

Douyin Website
Source: douyin.com

Top Menu

  • 搜索: Search Bar
  • 关于抖音: About
  • 开放平台: Open Platform
  • 抖币充值: Douyin Coin → Payment Wallet
  • 创作者服务: Creator Service
  • 发布视频: Publish Video
  • 登录: Login

Left Menu

  • 首页: Home
  • 直播: Live Streaming
  • 娱乐: Entertainment
  • 知识: Knowledge
  • 二次元: Second Element
  • 游戏: Gaming
  • 美食: Food
  • 体育: Sports
  • 时尚: Fashion
  • 音乐: Music

Douyin App

For the app, we’ve chosen the popular luxury business, Prada, to show you the layout.

Source: Douyin app 23 July 2021

First screen

At the top, there is the follow-button (关注) and the private messaging function (私信). Below the company name, the blue checkmark indicates that this is a verified account.

After a short description of the brand (bio), there is a link to the official website (官方网站). 

Below this, 665.3w 获赞 refers to 6.5 million likes. The 0 关注 next to this indicates the number of accounts that Prada follows (zero/none). Next to this, the 48.9w 粉丝 refers to almost half a million fans/followers.

Next, the three current trending hashtags related to Prada are listed. At present, these are #prada2022春夏男装时装秀 (Spring and Summer Men’s Fashion Show) and #p家音乐情书.

Finally, at the bottom of this screen “作品 372” refers to the number of posts that Prada has created since starting their Douyin account.

Second screen

At the top, there is the search bar including the last searches of the respective user. 

In the middle, there are Douyin’s suggestions for searches (猜你想搜), based on the user’s interest and previous searches. Or click 换一换 (change) at the top for new suggestions.

At the bottom, there’s the ranking of the current hot search topics (抖音热榜). At present, these are centered around the Henan/Zhengzhou flooding in July 2021.

Third screen

At the top, there’s 同城 (same city), referring to what other users nearby have posted. Next to this, there’s 关注 (following), the posts of the people you are following. And next to that, there’s 推荐 (recommendation), the feed where Douyin provides content suggestions based on what users may like.

Below this, there is the current video/post.

At the bottom, there’s 首页 (home) at the left, and 朋友 (friends) next to that. In the middle, you can create a new video with the + symbol. On the right, you will then find 消息 (messages) and 我 (me), the individual profile information.

Next, let’s take a look at the history of Douyin, the popular video platform that allows users to create and share short video content.

Douyin vs. TikTok

While the apps have many similarities, there are far more differences. Let’s look at these aspects in more detail.

Both platforms are owned by ByteDance and center around communities that create and share short videos or do live streaming. The interface on both apps is largely the same – on the home screen you will typically find branded recommendations/ads.

In addition, both platforms have recently added an in-video-search-function. Users can search someone’s face to find more videos as well as products and buy them directly.


Douyin’s user base is slightly older, while still young, compared to TikTok. Therefore, Douyin also offers micro-vlogs, lifestyle content, business advice, and videos from local authorities.


While Douyin is only available in mainland China and the respective app stores, TikTok is only available internationally, e.g. in the Google and Apple app stores. This means, even with a VPN, you can’t download and install TikTok in mainland China and vice versa, because a Chinese phone number is required for this.

While both platforms focus on using tags and trends, their actual hashtags and trends differ due to the location and culture. Every video becomes a story, and users (individuals and brands) try to emulate the trending videos to gain visibility, reach, and engagement.

Common trends on Douyin include language learning videos (English), food, pets, and funny/entertaining videos as well as business-oriented clips. In comparison, common trends on TikTok are centered around dancing and music, possibly due to the slightly younger audience on TikTok.


It may surprise you, but the video app Douyin has, in fact, far more features than just to upload, like, comment, share short videos, and livestream.

  • Payment: launched in January 2021, similar to AliPay or WeChat Pay. Users can buy products from native stores or live-streaming.
  • Store: Douyin was the first platform to offer a direct buying option on Taobao/Tmall in their videos or natively. E commerce promotion is becoming increasingly popular.
  • Tickets & Booking: You can actually book hotel stays or take tours of restaurants.
  • Long Videos: although it is a video platform for 15-second clips, Douyin also offers full-length movies.
  • Official Account: brands can list their previous sponsored hashtag challenges and their rank on the Douyin top account list, as well as a link to the brand’s official site. 

Now that you know the main differences and similarities between Douyin and TikTok, let’s look at how to run ads in a bit more detail.

How to Run Douyin Ads

First, you will need an official Douyin account. While it is technically possible to download the app and register an official account from outside of China (details below), it’s difficult. An easier way is to contact a China marketing expert like China Gravy and let them take this worry off your shoulders.

After the registration, you can choose from different promotion options

  1. Splash Ads: full-screen ads displayed before the app itself is opened, lasting 3-5 seconds. These ads can be photos or videos, but embedded external links are not allowed.
  2. Newsfeed Ads: video auto-plays when users scroll past them (image or 15-60 second videos), that can include external links, e.g. product purchase options.
  3. Targeted ads in posts
    1. AI-based distribution of your ad. Pros: most affordable option, wide reach. Cons: less control over the distribution of your ad.
    2. Distribution based on criteria like age, gender, location or interests. Pro: specifically target your ad. Cons: more costly, and you need to know your target audience very well.
    3. Distribution based on blog followers: Pro: specifically target your ad. Cons: more costly, and you need to know your target audience very well.
  4. Advertising via Bytedance: Pros: appear on all their apps. Cons: costly 
  5. Collaborating with influencers: KOLs, KOCs, and Wanghong promote your products in everyday life situations. Pros: authentic and “organic” promotion of your brand. Cons: not the least expensive option, finding the right influencer for your brand can be challenging.
  6. Create trending stickers and hashtag challenges: Pros: cost-effective. Cons: the reception is difficult to predict.

And this is what the Douyin ads account looks like, similar to other ads accounts, where you can set the ad group, campaigns, keywords, and creative content.

Douyin ad account
Source: Douyin ad account

Advertising Advantages in Comparison to other Platforms

Douyin ads are more cost-effective compared to PPC search ads on Baidu. In addition, these ads are beneficial for lead generation in China as well as e commerce conversion.

Finally, Douyin is the top KOL platform to engage with a young and ready-to-buy audience. Based on our own experience, a combination of Douyin and Baidu PPC ads works best.

Download Douyin & Register an Official Account Outside of China

In the past, there was the possibility to download an .apk file for Douyin to use for Android phones. The updated Chinese privacy law doesn’t allow this option anymore. While some sites still provide .apk files, the mandatory use of a Chinese mobile phone number makes this option obsolete.

Therefore, in order to download the app, it’s now mandatory to have a Chinese phone number and access a Chinese app store.

Once you have the app on your phone, creating a regular account is straightforward, just like with any social media platform.

To register an official Douyin account, however, you need to go to https://renzheng.douyin.com/ and click on the button 立即认证 (authenticate now) to start the verification process. Scan the QR code to complete the authentication. 

Register a Douyin account
Source: https://renzheng.douyin.com/

Business Account Requirements

  • A business license from mainland China
  • An ICP license, if you want to link to your website
  • Application letter 
  • 600 RMB annual fee (~90 USD)

After you’ve submitted all the required information, the verification should be completed within five working days.

Marketing Tips

  • Keep in mind the Chinese censorship is quite strict. For example, you cannot mention health benefits or that a product has a certain effect after just one application. Besides, you cannot use words like “best” or mention celebrities unless it’s in a paid collaboration. Besides, ads may not mention ghosts or spirituality.
  • Douyin is not ideal for upmarket and luxury products, because young consumers in lower tiers have less available spending money
  • Instead, Douyin is attractive for affordable and trendy items in the cosmetics, fashion and accessories niche (sneakers, handbags, etc.).
  • Likewise, trendy/fast food and Western food/drinks like Pizza Hut and Starbucks are well received among Douyin’s Gen-Z audience.
  • Finally, stay up-to-date with the app and its user base as the app is developing quickly. As soon as features and applications emerge, make sure to check if they are relevant for your brand.

This brings us to the end of this introduction.

The Takeaway

Now that we have answered what is Douyin in detail, you are ready to use this platform for your brand and business. 

So, these are the main differences between TikTok and Douyin, how to download the app, register and verify an official account, and how to run ads including popular products and genres.

Are you ready to boost your brand in the Middle Kingdom? Get started with your FREE consultation from China Gravy, your trusted advisor on China marketing.

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