Early last year, TikTok was on top of the world. It had temporarily dethroned Google as the most visited website on the internet, and competitors such as Instagram and YouTube were scrambling to mimic the short video clips that made TikTok a sensation.
But at that very moment, inside TikTok, the app’s leaders were putting their heads together about how to respond to a slowdown in the growth of its audience in the U.S., the world’s biggest market for online advertising. The number of active monthly U.S. users 18 years and older dipped slightly in February 2022 compared to the prior month. While user numbers improved briefly over the summer, the decline continued. By December that monthly user figure would be 3.5% lower than it had been in January, according to estimates by Data.ai, a mobile app tracking firm.
TikTok’s leaders didn’t wait long to respond. In a meeting last March, top executives discussed how the pandemic had created a major surge in the app’s audience and how, as the world returned to normal, they needed a plan to reenergize growth over the next few years, according to a person involved in the discussions. Among the responses they discussed were ways to improve engagement with new features connecting users with their friends on TikTok. At the same time, they discussed an expansion into shopping, which could also boost revenue, the person said.