How brands can make magic on the red-hot social platform
Step aside, Instagram. There’s a new social media kid in town, and its explosive growth shows no signs of slowing down. Meet TikTok, a social media app centered on short-form mobile videos accompanied by musical overlays and augmented reality-powered visual effects.
Originally launched as Musical.ly, a social network popularized by users’ playful lip-syncing videos, the platform was converted into TikTok in 2017 following its acquisition by Chinese tech giant ByteDance. Considered an upgraded version of video-sharing app Vine, which folded in 2016, TikTok boasts over 500 million users worldwide, and served as the world’s second most downloaded app in Q3 of 2019 with 176 million downloads, according to data company Sensor Tower. The platform has attracted Gen Z in spades (66 percent of users are under the age of 30), but as its popularity grows, new demographics are jumping on board, too. Among rising user segments are TikTok moms, the updated version of “mommy bloggers” who tend to leverage the platform to tap into cultural trends rather than offer parenting advice.
In TikTok, users can either record within the app, or upload vertical videos of up to 15 seconds in length. They also have the option to connect multiple clips together for up to 60 seconds of total recording, but the shorter-form videos tend to dominate TikTok’s “For You” section, where users spend 75 percent of their time on the platform. For You is an algorithmically generated feed of videos encouraging consumers to discover and engage with other users and their content. Users can also quickly toggle over from For You to “Following,” which only features uploads from the people they specifically choose to follow.
Interested in leveraging TikTok to engage consumers? We’ve got you covered. Your breakdown of the platform begins now. Tick, tock…
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Much like Snapchat, augmented reality lenses and filters can be used to personalize content on TikTok. The platform offers a variety of visual effects that can be added before or after a video has been recorded. Other TikTok features include an inbox where notifications about the user’s account appear, and a “Discover” page featuring a catalogue of trending hashtags.
Music is a key component of the platform, and a large portion of videos shared on the platform feature consumers dancing to and/or lip-synching to a particular track, or using the song as the background to a funny skit. They can choose from TikTok’s wide variety of music genres (as well as movie clips and sound effects) to personalize their video with sound. The selected track appears in a record-shaped icon that spins on the bottom right of the post, just below icons that allow users to follow the content creator, as well as comment, like and share the featured video. Users can also simply record themselves or others speaking without choosing an audio backdrop.
“Consumers, more than ever, crave a genuine and trustworthy voice that provides validation, leading brands to rethink the strategy of hiring an influencer for their massive reach.” —Brian Feit, BMF
Referred to as “creators,” TikTok influencers are nothing like the polished models and celebs you’ll find on Instagram. The creators who rise to the top are the ones who offer the most creative content. Period.
“There’s a large number of micro-influencers who were unknown before the platform [was popular] and gained recognition based off their authentic, entertaining and funny content,” says Brian Feit, founding partner at BMF. “In today’s oversaturated world of influence, consumers, more than ever, crave a genuine and trustworthy voice that provides validation, leading brands to rethink the strategy of hiring an influencer for their massive reach, rather than someone who cares about the brand product.”
One of the most effective ways to market to the TikTok community is by leveraging the platform’s Hashtag Challenges. Successful brands have either tapped into TikTok-owned challenges, or created their own branded contests, inviting users to develop content related to the hashtag. Some companies have gone as far as providing new music clips for users to interact with. And offering prizes for top content doesn’t hurt, either (for snack brand Kind’s #kindsimplecrunchcontest Hashtag Challenge, the user whose video earned the most views received a free trip to New York and a year’s supply of Kind Simple Crunch Bars).
In an example of a sponsored Hashtag Challenge, McDonald’s Malaysia worked with TikTok to create a sponsored contest dubbed the #BigMacTikTok Challenge. To enter, users were required to dance to one of the pre-recorded #BigMacTikTok tracks. All entries won a free Big Mac. “User-generated content is the most important part of any TikTok marketing campaign,” says Feit.
Marketers can also leverage TikTok’s Hashtag Challenge Plus feature, which adds a shoppable component to sponsored Hashtag Challenges, allowing users to purchase a brand’s products without leaving the app. Kroger was the first to test the waters, in partnership with four TikTok creators (360i handled). The influencers illustrated how they “transformed their dorm” by shopping at their local Kroger store, leveraging the beat of uplifting music and TikTok’s visual effects in their posts. College students were then challenged to showcase their own dorm room “before and after” transformations using #TransformUrDorm. As part of the Challenge Plus feature, users were also invited to buy dorm essentials, like laundry baskets and popcorn makers, through a dedicated Kroger page within the TikTok app. For an added boost, the brand paid for its sponsored hashtag to be stationed on TikTok’s Discover page for one week.
Brand takeovers are another way marketers can leverage TikTok. Brands have the option to advertise using still images, GIFs and videos, and the sponsored content can be linked to the company’s landing page or a TikTok hashtag challenge. But keep in mind, takeovers are exclusive to particular categories, and only one brand can take over a category each day. Companies can also create their own branded lenses, like those found on Snapchat and Instagram, which are available for a set amount of time and featured in key locations throughout the app during that period.
“Brands must focus on capturing their creativity in a lighthearted, engaging way in order to appeal to this ‘always connected’ generation,” says Feit. “TikTok users can smell sales from a mile away, so if it’s something overly produced and not authentic, they instantly catch on. Brands need to spend a little bit of time thinking about what the content feels like, so it doesn’t feel like an advertisement.”
For event marketers, specifically, who are aiming to tap into TikTok’s engaged audience, Lauren Guerrieri, senior manager-paid social at Tinuiti, whose client base includes Bombas and Tommy Bahama, recommends planning ahead. “Experiential marketers should leverage TikTok as part of the event-planning process. Look ahead at potential holidays/seasonality/real-time events that are coming up… For more real-time cultural conversations that pop-up, the best approach is to have pre-planned topic areas of conversation where your brand is comfortable having a voice, and then someone on hand that can participate in creating video content in response,” she says.
So, is TikTok here to stay, or will it die on the, ahem, Vine, like similar apps before it? Time will tell, but experts believe the platform has innate staying power.
“The way video content is deployed [on TikTok] inspires more video content to be created, whereas a platform like Vine was really more about consumption,” says Guerrieri. “The intersection of creation and consumption at scale on the TikTok platform makes it a very exciting destination, and this type of mobile-centric content creation and consumption experience is what Gen Z expects.”
*This article was originally published in 2019 and is updated periodically