The weird and wonderful world of TikTok
For many, TikTok appears like a strange new world full of quirky videos and unexplained buffoonery, which poses the question for a business: should my brand be on there?
Since it was made available for iOS and Android users outside of China in 2017, the number of active users on the platform has spiralled to a mesmeric 800 million. That’s not that far behind the 1 billion active users Instagram reported in 2018.
Admittedly, these numbers are inflated because of the dramatic number of downloads in China and India (646 million in 2019 alone), but there’s also a big market here in Australia (1.6 million) and it’s only going to continue growing.
What is TikTok?
Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, TikTok is a purely video-based platform, with videos predominantly lasting just 15 seconds — if you remember Twitter-owned ‘Vine’, it’s more akin to that.
But unlike any social media outlet, TikTok isn’t (yet) dominated by celebrities and influencers. Instead, it’s made up of mostly young everyday users doing something cute, funny, or clever in a 15-second attempt at short-lived viral fame.
At first, TikTok was referred to as a ‘lip-syncing’ app, where a user could place a backing track to a video to create a bizarre online karaoke experience.
However, its overall success has stemmed from the app’s ability to make video editing incredibly simple. An amateur can now make a viral sensation with ease, with music, graphics and on-screen memes all built into the app. Furthermore, unlike any other platform, an amateur video is actually celebrated.
TikTok is largely made up of users from Gen-Z who are tired and suspicious of content being shown to them on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. Instead, they want a break from the modern ‘fake news’ world with videos that are simple, goofy, irrelevant and present no hidden agenda.
Should businesses be using TikTok?
Just because TikTok is being used by the people for the people, it doesn’t mean that business can’t, or shouldn’t, play a role in its content.
If you use TikTok correctly, you can introduce your brand or product to a huge audience — but remember who that audience is.
Across the world, most of the people who use the platform are aged between 16-24. There is also a skew towards female users, making TikTok a perfect choice for clothing and beauty product placements.
At this stage, it’s safe to say you don’t have to be on TikTok if your brand or product is aimed at an entirely different market. It also wouldn’t be appropriate if your brand has a more serious message attached to it, as it wouldn’t fit the style of TikTok’s fun and lively video culture.
The app isn’t the place for serious sit-down sales pitches, so it’s best to study the social media platform first. Go to TikTok’s ‘trending’ page and you’ll get a pretty instant idea of the kind of videos that users want to see.
How should a business use TikTok?
After studying the platform, you’ll find you need to produce fun and creative content. As we’ve already said, the young users on TikTok will not tolerate the usual advertising jargon.
This means it’s really inexpensive to promote your business on the platform, because it’s designed to be simple — get out your phone and start filming.
It doesn’t need to be too wacky, just light-hearted and simple. For example, all ‘Lush’ do is show off their products in a fun demonstration with music.
Similarly to Facebook and Instagram, a business can spend more and take advantage of TikTok’s advertising methods. These are still relatively new, and come in four different forms:
- In-feed native content – Like Snapchat or Instagram stories, story ads can include website clicks or app downloads. They can be between 9 and 15 seconds long, but users can skip or scroll past them, so they need to be interesting!
- Brand Takeovers – These ads appear in the user’s feed before they see any other user content. They are specific to a certain category or hashtag and are exclusive for a whole day. The ads are linkable to the advertiser’s landing page.
- Sponsored hashtag challenges – Remember the ‘Ice bucket challenge’ back in 2014 and how new this type of viral sensation was? Well, six years later, challenges have now found a permanent home on TikTok’s ‘discover’ page — and they can be sponsored. A business can pay to sponsor a specific hashtag challenge and get a custom banner across the Discover page. When a user clicks on this banner, it takes them to videos of your business showing how to do the challenge. Users can then give it a go themselves or create their own variation of it, referencing that specific challenge hashtag in the description.
- Branded lenses – Businesses can also design their own special TikTok filter that represents their brand or product. Users can select the lens when choosing a filter for their video during the 10 days it’s live for. The lens is automatically included in the top 10 trending list and it comes in 2D and 3D.
Just like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, there are millions of people vying to become TikTok influencers. Those with a large following have the potential to produce a large return on investment.
For a certain level of capital, these influencers can talk about your product on a video, post about it in the video description or link to your brand in the description.
This has been a tried and tested method on other platforms and TikTok is no different. However, businesses need to be smart about who they team up with. An influencer will need to match a brand’s message, have access to the correct target audience and not support a rival brand to confuse a particular message. A simple example is that a video game influencer is not going to work well with a beauty brand.
A lot of businesses don’t use the platform specifically for link clicks or sales, but more for brand awareness. Nike has opted to produce no original content, and if you go on their profile, you actually have to request access to view it.
However, if you search for #nike, you can see what the global sports brand is doing. As you scroll down, you’ll see videos and GIFs of users doing various things in their Nike gear. This is a very rare and sought-after form of free advertising.
If your brand or product has a younger target audience, TikTok is fast becoming the main place to attract their attention.
If you look at the usual social suspects, Facebook, Instagram etc, despite being relatively young, they’re fast becoming old and stuck in their ways. TikTok is new, fresh and crying out for creative content and ingenious ideas.
The brilliant thing about this platform is that no one has quite worked out its algorithms, meaning you have more chance of reaching more people. The fact that there are fewer brands cluttering a user’s feed means your video content is more likely to have cut-through.
Although no one can see into the future, it’s a pretty safe bet to say TikTok will only get bigger. We can see just how big YouTube, Facebook and Instagram have become as advertising platforms. TikTok will follow in their footsteps until the next social giant comes onto the market — you don’t want to be late to the party.