There are messaging features inside of TikTok, but nobody really thinks of TikTok as a messaging app. The company appears intent on changing that, though: its parent company ByteDance is hiring for a slew of roles on a team called “TikTok Social,” which seems to be tasked with turning TikTok into a much more powerful messaging system.
The listings, which were first spotted by Axios, are vague in the way that all job listings tend to be, but they make TikTok’s ambitions clear. “We are the messaging team on TikTok,” a listing for an engineering lead says. “Our team’s mission is to facilitate meaningful user connections through TikTok’s messaging experience, which is still in its infancy.” Another listing, for a backend tech lead, says the person’s role will include collaborating with teams across countries and regions “to deliver a distinctive TikTok social solution such as messaging.” A product manager for the TikTok Social team will apparently need “passion and curiosity for Social direction to create great impacts.”
If there is a specific overarching product plan, TikTok’s listings don’t reveal it. (Neither will the company: it told Axios only that entertainment is still the core of TikTok.) But the listing for a backend software engineer says that the Social team oversees “User Profile, Story, Inbox, Messaging, Follow, Like, Comment, Tag, etc.” Add all that together, and you have ... a messaging app! An extremely Instagram-sounding messaging app, at that.
While everybody else copies TikTok, TikTok’s copying everybody else
Ultimately, it appears that while the rest of the industry chases TikTok’s vertical video, creation tools, and seemingly magical algorithmic feed, TikTok is going to try and build the rest of what makes those other apps work. How far it will go will be fascinating to watch: Will TikTok try and displace Snapchat as the go-to messaging app for young people? Will it try and become the place people post expiring stories? Will it lean into WhatsApp-style group chats and communities or focus more on one-to-one chats? Where will ByteDance fall on the encrypted messaging debate?
TikTok is expanding seemingly in all directions at once. It’s testing a dedicated music app, trying to bring more shopping to the platform, and embracing podcasts. It even recently added text posts, which might fit nicely in a more messaging-focused part of the app. But any app developer will tell you that there’s nothing stickier than being the place people go to hang out with their friends — and if any app can overthrow the incumbents to become that app, it’s TikTok. It’s pretty good at doing that.