Unless you have been living under a rock, you would likely have heard of TikTok. The social platform has recently risen the ranks to establish itself as one of the world’s leading social networks — thanks in large part to its popularity during Covid. TikTok now claims to be the world’s leading destination for short-form mobile video. The platform features user-generated content. Everything from lip-syncing, singing and dancing, to comedic skits and hilarious pranks.
TikTok has presented a great new platform to market to elusive Gen Z audiences. It may be tempting to dive right in. But as with all marketing, it’s not without its risks. And TikTok certainly has not been without its controversy. So, before you decide on whether it’s right for your marketing plans, here are the things you should know.
TIKTOK IS FOR CONTENT CREATORS
TikTok’s mission is to ‘capture and present the world’s creativity, knowledge and moments that matter in everyday life. TikTok empowers everyone to be a creator directly from their smartphones, and is committed to building a community by encouraging users to share their passion and creative expression through their videos.’
Arguably one of the most entertaining places on the internet right now, TikTok has unearthed incredible talent from across the globe. Simple, everyday people who have something extraordinary to show and share. Some of these individuals have amassed large fortunes thanks to TikTok. Talent like Charli D’Amelio the 16-year-old with a net worth of USD 4M, her sister Dixie D’Amelio’s whose net worth is USD 2.9M, Addison Rae Easterling who has a net worth of USD 4M, and Josh Richards with a net worth of USD 1.5M.
Much has been said about the frustrating algorithm of Instagram, which favors those with large followings and large engagements. To create a place where creativity and talent can be unearthed, TikTok created an algorithm that doesn’t work on numbers alone. Rather it takes into account engagements. This means that users with low followings have a far more likelihood of their content going viral, which is how many of these every day teens are now reaching such heights.
Not only has TikTok created a platform that favors talent over followers, but it has also rewarded that too. In July 2020, TikTok announced they’d be launching a $200 million fund “to encourage those who dream of using their voices and creativity to spark inspirational careers.” The TikTok Creator Fund is designed to help creators make a living out of creating content on the platform. To be eligible for the Creator Fund, TikTok users must be at least 18 years old, have a minimum of 10,000 followers, and have accrued at least 10,000 video views in the previous 30 days before they apply. Eligible users receive dollars based on the number of video views, however, this has not been without its controversy. Confusion about how the compensation works, coupled with some creators reporting earning single digits on high volume video content has seen many creators pull out of the program altogether.
TikTok has also created the TikTok Creator Marketplace. The official platform for TikTok creators and brands to collaborate. The platform connects popular creators with the right audience and style with relevant brands. Providing introductions and ensuring a smooth experience between brand and creator. This unique offering to TikTok essentially cuts out the middleman and allows brands to build direct relationships with influencers — a more coveted, lucrative, and better relationship for both parties.
TIKTOK IS A PLATFORM IN FLUX
As mentioned, TikTok has not been without its controversy. And the story continues to evolve. Here’s what’s been going down up till the time of this article being published.
In August 2020, Trump stated that he would be banning TikTok in the US, citing it was a risk to National Security. The Chinese-owned social platform had already been in hot water in the past 12 months for spying on people’s clipboards and storing their data. They claimed it was to track potential fraudulent accounts, ie. users posting content to multiple accounts. But they have conceded this was not appropriate and have removed this access. Given the tensions boiling between the US and China, we can assume Trump’s concern for the American people and the security of its citizens was the driving force behind the decision. With the sale to local US entities Walmart and Oracle, those concerns appear to be alleviated for now — but it’s not been the only headlines we have seen.
That same month, Kevin Mayer, the then Chief Executive said he was leaving the company after just 3 months, citing its uncertain political status. Vanessa Papas was appointed interim global head while the search is currently still on for a new CEO. The rumor mill is reporting that they have been talking to one of the founders of Instagram.
There have also been several content safety concerns, with two disturbing incidents making global headlines. The first being a meme that went viral, encouraging users to mock people with disabilities. The second being a highly graphic and disturbing video of someone committing suicide, which was seen by many TikTok users. Due to TikTok’s unique algorithm, platform moderators were unable to easily remove the video, demonstrating concerns for the safety of their audience and the content they are served — especially as most of their users are underage.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GEN Z STRATEGY, THEN YOU MIGHT WANT TO HOLD (FOR NOW)
Recent reports state that over 75% of the TikTok audiences are under 25, and as much as 1/3 of them might be 14 and under. Regardless of this, the platform is firmly planted in the Gen Z bracket for now, with Millennials making up the majority of the remaining audience.
If you are a brand looking to market to the challenging audience of Gen Z’s, TikTok is a gold mine. TikTok boasts a strong concentrated Gen Z audience, ready to engage with brands who have the right attitude and approach. But you can’t market to them the same way you would a Millennial. Brands that don’t make an effort to know them and provide personalized marketing rarely break through and risk a backlash.
While audience numbers continue to evolve, it is too early to tell whether their audiences will stick. There are certainly a few musical chairs happening. Instagram remains the number one platform for Millennials and second only to Facebook for Boomers. TikTok recently overtook Instagram with the Gen Z audience, second only to Snap.
One also can’t ignore the introduction of competitor products in the market, including Instagram’s Reels. TikTok has come out stating they aren’t concerned with Instagram’s new play, as TikTok is focused on the creators and Instagram isn’t. However, it’s been reported that Instagram is currently throwing large sums of money at TikTok creators to lure them away from TikTok. All this to attract Gen Z audiences away from TikTok, while also maintaining their loyal community of Millennials.
SKIP THE TRIAL, TIKTOK IS AN ‘ALL-IN’ PLAY
I would never recommend to any brand that what they post on Facebook will work the same on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Each social platform is different, audience expectations and user experience are different, and therefore they require unique, independent approaches. But all that said, they are not too dissimilar that one piece of content can’t be easily repurposed and repackaged for other platforms.
The same can’t be said for TikTok.
The platform is unique in the way users engage with content from the brand. Being primarily Gen Z they are highly fickle of brands and only interested in engaging with brands who connect on their level. As the algorithm favors engagement, brands must create unique approaches that suit the platform and tap into their audience interests. There is a multitude of ways that brands can create content on the platform. Remember that TikTok is a creator network, so people want to create.
Brands that have seen success have been brave in their experimentation and encouraged creativity with their brand. Some brands have created their own unique song that others have replicated. Others host a challenge or start a duet. And brands that share content create unique brand content that can’t be viewed anywhere else.
I’ve talked to so many brands who want to conduct a ‘trial’ to see if it performs for them, before investing. That might work for other platforms, but it won’t work for TikTok. If you aren’t creating unique content aligned with a specific TikTok strategy, you won’t see results.
If you want TikTok to work for you, you need to work for TikTok. Spend the time, build a strategy, identify some creators to engage with, and invest in the platform. If you put in the effort, the community will reward you.
TO INVEST? OR NOT TO INVEST?
TikTok is in its early stages and has seen its fair share of controversy. This is due in large part to the current political climate, so unfair to solely judge on this merit. But it’s also driven by concerns for its audience, as a large proportion of the audience is under 18. As with any new platform, it’s worth spending the time to properly evaluate the platform against your company policies.
When it comes to brands trying to reach Gen Z, this is a highly valuable and effective platform. But putting in the effort is vital. Sure you can just use this as another advertising platform, but you won’t reap the rewards this platform can provide. Take the time to understand the audience and the platform, and find ways to meaningfully interact.
My recommendation to all my clients is to spend a little time on TikTok before you make the call to invest. Look around, view some content, maybe even make some yourself — and discover what it’s all about. TikTok is a community, not an advertising platform. And it’s a community of creators who want to create and showcase their talents. The more you can find ways to encourage that, the better your brand will do.
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