7 Things Every Marketer Needs To Know About TikTok
Updated: Jan 4
By now, you’ve probably heard of TikTok, the social media app that allows users to create and share 15-second video clips. But like most adults, there’s a high chance that you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about. TikTok has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity since entering the U.S. market last year. It boasts 1.2 billion global installs and 500 million active users: surpassing Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat. TikTok’s ability to capture the attention of Gen-Z—the biggest consumer cohort globally—has made it the world’s most valuable startup ($75 billion). Here are seven things you need to know about the platform.
1. It's no longer just for kids
TikTok has its roots in Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app acquired by ByteDance—TikTok’s parent company—for $1 billion in 2017. Musical.ly was synonymous with teenagers. That reputation has endured, even after the merger, and understandably so. TikTok has the youngest user base out of all popular social media networks. In fact, two thirds of worldwide users are under the age of 30. However, a quick browse of the app will reveal a growing number of adults adopting the platform.
This demographic shift is reminiscent of Facebook, which started as the social network for college students. And Snapchat, which began life as the platform of choice for teenagers. Generally speaking, new technology is embraced by young people, long before it achieves critical mass. So, it would be unwise to dismiss the platform simply because it skews toward a younger audience. The arrival of adult creators—lured by TikTok’s nascent platform—ought to be an encouraging sign for brands and marketers.
2. Comedy rules the land
Although music remains at the heart of TikTok, the platform is no longer restricted to music-related content. The sheer volume and range of videos available have turned TikTok into a never-ending spectacle. During a single 60-second scroll, you’re likely to be exposed to hair-raising parkour moves, remixes of popular memes, original stand-up comedy and cooking tutorials. But there’s one trait they all share: a penchant for comedy. A closer look at the most viewed, liked and commented on videos shows a strong correlation between being funny and going viral.
TikTok has become a harbor for edgy, alternative comedy—much like its predecessor, Vine. From a marketing standpoint, humor can be a powerful weapon when it comes to connecting with consumers on an emotional level. If you’re considering a presence on TikTok, then it’s essential to show the company’s fun side. Doing so will help you build greater cultural relevance, cognitive salience and consumer trust.
3. No need for filters
TikTok is the social media network for ordinary people. The type you’d encounter in school or at work. The platform’s ascent denotes a rejection of Instagram’s highly polished, contrived aesthetic. TikTok feels like a candid selfie when compared to Instagram’s Vogue-esque ambiance. Its influencers are regular teenagers who have amassed millions of followers from the comfort of their bedrooms. On TikTok, young people feel comfortable exhibiting their full-selves, free of societal inhibitions.
The app serves as an island, free form the most toxic aspects of modern internet culture. TikTok is a throwback to the early days of the web: full of camaraderie, free of trolls. It was described as “the only truly pleasant social network in existence” by the New York Times. That’s because the platform is overflowing with niceness. The most popular comments tend to be words of encouragements, celebrating cross-cultural exchange, body positivity and diversity of thought.
4. Creativity is being democratized
Content creation has never been more intuitive, thanks to TikTok’s impressive suite of video editing tools. The app has effectively removed all barriers that prevent people from expressing themselves. Thus, answering the prayers of conceptual creators all around the globe. Technical skills no longer determine the success of content, unlike YouTube, which requires actual video editing software and skills. In short, creativity has been democratized.
Young people believe the app belongs to them; that’s why millions take part in hashtag challenges by posting user-generated content. On TikTok, the college kid from L.A. and the street kid from Delhi have an equal shot of going viral. “That’s what’s unique about the app and Gen-Z. They’re not just passive consumers anymore,” said Stefan Heinrich, TikTok’s head of marketing, at Cannes Lions. Irrespective of what happens to the company—easily produced, short-form, crowdsourced video content looks set to become the future of interactive media.
5. A window into youth culture
Reaching young people means moving at the pace of change. For marketers, TikTok can be one of the most effective ways of staying up to date. Think of it as a gigantic focus group, only without the associated costs. Some of the best memes start on TikTok, before reverberating around the internet. Put simply, the actions of TikTokers today will become that of the mainstream in weeks, months and years to come.
Earlier in the year, TikTok helped country-trap star Lil Nas X into the limelight, when “Old Town Road” become a viral meme. Now, the song is the longest-running No. 1 in U.S. chart history. Again, TikTok’s participatory nature facilitates the distribution and adoption of movements at an unprecedented rate. Recent challenges include #area51 (1.5 billion views), a joke attempt to break out all aliens and #Globalwarming, a more serious effort to raise awareness about the effects of climate change.
6. Local tribes and global reach
More than any other social media network, TikTok promises the best of global reach and local engagement. The app has gained mass adoption worldwide, particularly in Asia, with 120 million monthly active users in India, and a further 250 million active users in China (where it’s called Douyin). TikTok’s global appeal offers a unique opportunity for ambitious brands looking to penetrate new markets. Soccer club Liverpool F.C recently accrued 500,000 fans on TikTok within three months, as part of its strategy to crack the Chinese market.
At the same time, TikTok is home to a multitude of tribes, including gamers, goths, cosplayers, fitness fanatics, makeup artists, parents and much more. The app’s “For You” section uses algorithms—similar to Netflix recommend—to help users find their tribe. From a marketing standpoint, TikTok’s tribal nature allows brands to target specific youth audiences based on attitudes, passion points and shared interests, as opposed to demographic data only.
7. It's Still early days
Despite its potential, TikTok remains an underdeveloped advertising platform. Until recently, a direct relationship with influencers was the only route to market for brands. Today, the company’s ad offering includes native content, brand takeovers, hashtag challenges and brand takeovers. Predictably, more brands are now beginning to experiment on the app. For a good reason, too, TikTok is not nearly as saturated as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter. The platform offers brands the opportunity to connect with the seemingly hard to reach and highly sort after youth demographic.
For instance, Chipotle’s recent #ChipotleLidFlip campaign generated 250,000 submissions and 430 million views. Such campaigns can often be executed on smaller budgets, therefore alleviating the risk of failure. Yet, there are some important factors to consider before advertising on the platform. First, growing concerns over brand safety. Second, lack of engagement, as only 29% of users access the app daily, compared to 95% upwards for rival apps. Third, a limited range of targeting and measurement tools. These concerns need to be addressed if TikTok is to become a major player in the paid ad space.