TikTok is more than just an emerging trend—it is the future of social media consumption as we know it. At its core, TikTok is a social media app that has the ability to create and share short-form videos with a large digital audience (Herrman, 2019). With millions of people picking up their mobile devices the moment they wake up, until the second their head hits the pillow for bed, social media and mobile apps consume the daily lives of the average consumer.
Brands and organizations can leverage the vast-reaching audience that TikTok has cultivated, but only if they can activate their digital strategy in a holistic, organic and authentic way. With over 500 million daily active users, brands can tap into this hyper-engaged audience if they can go with the flow of the platform culture and adapt—fast.
For the last decade, the traditional social media platforms have remained the same: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Social media strategies have been developed through these core platforms and curated to fit the brand’s objectives. Bright visual creative assets go on Instagram, long-form threads live on Twitter, and third-party links live on Facebook.
In 2021, there is a new player: TikTok.
There have been many concerns cited about the use of TikTok in the western world, as the platform was created and is headquartered in China. Safety and privacy concerns regarding TikTok has been discussed with more and more frequency now that the platform is increasing in popularity, and especially with younger demographics. Is TikTok a valuable investment to delve into when considering social media presence? That is the purpose of this whitepaper.
This whitepaper will discuss the current state of social media toolkits and the emerging social media platform, TikTok. Super Duper Studios is a leading creative studio that prides ourselves on being social-first with all our initiatives. Our goal is to educate brands and agencies alike on the importance of TikTok within a business social strategy, and how to activate in this space.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a short-form video platform that originated from three separate apps. In 2014, Musical.ly was an app made in Shanghai that began as a karaoke platform, and had strong North American success. In 2016, a tech company in China called ByteDance had launched Douyin, a similar app that deviated from just being about song and dance, but short-form content in general. In 2018, Musical.ly was purchased by ByteDance and was merged with Douyin to create TikTok (Tidy & Galer, 2020).
TikTok is home to viral content that utilizes all its features, which include: Trending audio, hashtags and dynamic content engagements like duets. The platform’s strong search optimization allows users to easily access trending sounds and meme formats that will increase the user’s ability to reach several audiences through the Discover page (Mazouri, 2020).
TikTok’s peculiar origin story is coupled with its overwhelming success: it reached 1.5 billion downloads in 2019, outperforming industry heavyweight Instagram in the same category (Hamilton, 2019). In terms of demographics, the platform skews younger with 66 per cent of users that are younger than 30 and a total of roughly 500 million active users worldwide (Zote, 2020).
The platform has seen explosive success through users in India, who comprise 31 per cent of the app’s total downloads, with China comprising 11.5 per cent (Hamilton, 2019). TikTok landed the third spot on top downloaded apps worldwide in 2019, and was the only app in that top five list that was not owned by Facebook (Hamilton, 2019). TikTok’s growth has threatened social media giants like Facebook and Instagram. As Facebook has entered the cultural sphere as the place where older adults and parents share about their lives, TikTok is perceived as a hub for Gen Z and younger audiences that believe Facebook and Instagram no longer resonate with their needs (Herrman, 2019).
Where TikTok differs from its peers is in its proprietary algorithm. The For You Page is a hyper-curated feed of content that allows users to reach a larger audience than traditional social platforms. For example, an Instagram feed is populated by which accounts a user will follow, and would otherwise be empty if a user does not follow many accounts. On TikTok, users are invited to fill in a drop-down menu of different topics such as sports or makeup, and will immediately populate a feed based on the videos a user does or does not watch through (Mazouri, 2020).
Therefore, the user experience of TikTok could happen solely on the For You Page without having to follow a single user; a user’s digital footprint is developed from their own personal tastes. This is a prime opportunity for brands to jump into the game: if the playing field is one that allows you to get onto a user’s For You Page without them ever having to know about you or even follow you, your potential reach has no bounds.
TikTok’s introduction into the North American social media digest has not been without controversy. During Donald Trump’s United States presidency in 2020, he accused TikTok of being a threat towards national security because of the organization’s ties to China (Ghaffary, 2020). Concerns about security and privacy of North American information within the jurisdiction of China began to amplify when Trump declared the United States’ intention to ban the platform from the country later that year. The primary concern is that TikTok may be willing to share American locations and private information with the Chinese government (Ghaffary, 2020). To date, the US government has yet to rule on the ban of TikTok within America as these concerns, while fair accusations, are unfounded with evidence (Perez, 2020).
This is a prime opportunity for brands to jump into the game: On TikTok, your potential reach has no bounds.
Despite its challenges, TikTok’s influence on the future of social media communications is as strong as ever. Finding connection with brands, influencers and the average consumer are commonplace experiences within the multimedia social platform. Keeping a casual, organic and unpolished demeanour on TikTok is a refreshing pause from the traditionally perfect and aesthetic natures of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (Zote, 2020). TikTok has the ability to capture a more authentic brand story through human connection and creativity.
How does TikTok fit into my brand’s needs?
In the coming years, TikTok will be a key component of any brand’s social media presence. As a place where users come together to create unique and custom content for the platform, brands should be taking note about how expansive the reach of TikTok can be. The platform is poised to be a counter-culture of the traditionally “perfect” aesthetics that Instagram and Facebook often position their content. Content created on TikTok must be intentionally created for the platform to have its intended effect. Young people using social media have been bombarded with marketing tactics on their personal social platforms their entire lives, and know exactly which content to scroll right past. Sales-driven content can stick out like a sore thumb to this demographic, which is why authenticity and relatability of your content is crucial. Videos that are longer than five seconds, shot in a 9:16 ratio, and tell a cohesive story perform best on TikTok. Additionally, adding strong captions and a clear hook at the start of the video help the content gain longer watch-throughs by providing insightful information early on in the video (TikTok, 2021).
While TikTok is exploding in popularity, its success cannot save a brand that does not have a clear digital-first presence.
Any brand that has a physical product should consider using TikTok to further your brand message on this platform. Develop a strong content strategy through types of content that your audience wants to see and learn more about. Examples of content buckets could be: behind-the-scenes videos of how your products are made, footage of your founders discussing the brand in a casual setting, or finding unique ways to showcase your brand when trending hashtags or sounds begin to gain traction. Any brand that does not have a physical product such as a SaaS company may need to consider whether TikTok fits the brand’s digital strategy. Is the founder of the company well-known and easily identifiable? Does the organization own any visual content that can be refocused to fit in the TikTok culture, such as cheesy how-to videos? While TikTok is exploding in popularity, its success cannot save a brand that does not have a clear digital-first presence. These considerations must be answered before a robust TikTok strategy can be developed.
We recommend using verticals that best suit your brand. For example, makeup brands should be leveraging trending hashtags and audio from similar brands and influencers in the lifestyle and beauty vertical. Monitoring and activating upon relevant trending meme formats is also a creative way to tap into audiences that otherwise are unaware of your brand.
While it may feel enticing to begin a TikTok account for your brand because of its success as a platform, brands must consider how TikTok will fit into the overarching digital strategy of the organization. Does it fill a niche that otherwise cannot be solved through other traditional social platforms? Does the internal team have capacity to spend time making and editing videos in-app? There is more to starting a social media channel than simply the excitement of success. It also needs the tools and support to succeed. Brands that can authentically share their message and integrate into the culture of TikTok will soon reap the rewards of an engaged audience, which hit $9 million in in-app purchases in May 2019 (Perez, 2019). There is no question that TikTok is here to stay. Its success in the cultural psyche of Gen Zs and millennials is clear that it serves a niche that was otherwise feeling excluded from social media platforms that didn’t celebrate authenticity to its fullest. Despite all its bumps and bruises, a strong TikTok strategy and implementation can prove that it is more than just a teenager’s app for distraction, but a place of real-life, concrete sales for your business.
Ready to get your brand on TikTok? Email me at email@example.com and let's chat.
Lead writer and social media strategist at Super Duper Studios.
Ghaffary, S. (2020). Do you really need to worry about your security on TikTok? Here’s what we know. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/8/11/21363092/why-is-tiktok-national-security-threat-wechat-trump-ban Hamilton, I.A. (2019). TikTok hit 1.5 billion downloads, and is still outperforming Instagram. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/tiktok-hits-15-billion-downloads-outperforming-instagram-2019-11 Herrman, J. (2019). How TikTok is rewriting the world. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/10/style/what-is-tik-tok.html Mazouri, H. (2020). What brands are missing by sleeping on TikTok. Sprout Social. Retrieved from https://sproutsocial.com/insights/brands-on-tiktok/ Perez, Sarah. (2019). TikTok hit $9M in in-app purchases last month, up 500% over last year. TechCrunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/14/tiktok-hit-9m-in-in-app-purchases-last-month-up-500-over-last-year/ Perez, Sarah. (2020). US government appeals the injunction against its TikTok ban. TechCrunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/28/u-s-government-appeals-the-injunction-against-its-tiktok-ban/ Tidy, J. & Galer, S.S. (2020). TikTok: The story of a social media giant. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53640724 TikTok. (2021). Developing your content strategy. TikTok. Retrieved from https://www.tiktok.com/creators/creator-portal/en-us/tiktok-content-strategy/developing-your-content-strategy/ Zote, J. (2020). What is TikTok? Everything social media marketers need to know. Sprout Social. Retrieved from https://sproutsocial.com/insights/what-is-tiktok/