TikTok for the brand new world

3rd August 2020

Are you a TickTocker or TokTicker? If not perhaps it’s time you were. And here’s why.

The hottest social media channel during lockdown, a time when social media has become ever more important, has definitely been TikTok. It’s growing like crazy and it could become the biggest social media channel, overtaking Facebook and the rest. But what’s the attraction? Why are people obsessed with TikTok? What makes it addictive?

First, and just so we’re all on the same page, here’s the potted history. TikTok was originally launched as an app called Douyin by a company called ByteDance in China in 2016. ByteDance began rolling it out internationally under the name TikTok in 2017. Later in 2017, ByteDance bought the US app Musical.ly, another social app from China which was dominated by American teenagers lip-synching to pop songs. ByteDance smashed the two platforms and audiences together and TikTok as we know it was born.

Around 800 million people now use it every month, compared to 2.5 billion for Facebook, around 1 billion for Instagram and less than 400 million for Twitter. So as the newest kid on the block by some distance the platform is doing extremely well. Here’s why we think it’s so compelling.

TikTok is a platform for anyone to be creative using video and music. And creativity is in most peoples’ DNA. You’ve heard the term ‘Closet creatives’, well TikTok is the platform for them, naturally creative people, not so creative people, and people who didn’t think they were creative – but now are! Some 53% of all active TikTokers claim to have uploaded content to the app. When YouTube launched, the rule was only 1% of users were creators. Quite a change in 15 years!

Every time you scroll down on TikTok brand new videos appear. Curiosity can create excitement and it’s also part of every human’s DNA. That’s a pretty powerful pull. You can also pay to see exclusive videos. Again, this is satisfying the natural desire to see more of something, especially something we really (often), really like – a celebrity, super star, actor, blogger, vlogger, friend, future friend, or, yes, someone sexually attractive.

TikTok is designed to make the creation and discovery of short form video content super-easy. Making and finding videos, usually set to music, of the things users like to talk about and do is simple. So there’s always something there that will engage, and the data bears this out – engagement rates are more than double those on other platforms, especially for accounts with lots of followers. Lastly because it’s so easy to create on the platform, TikTok has become the natural home for content memes. Trends start, spread, become mainstream and die away in the space of days.

Last but not least. During some very dark times TikTok has been the platform for millions of people to make millions of other people smile. There is some hilarious footage on there, which can also easily be shared via many messaging services like Whatsapp to friends who aren’t on TikTok. That’s also why it has become so addictive. A quick look quickly turns into hours of fairly uniformly positive browsing. Trolling and negativity dominate other social platforms but so far TikTok has kept hold of its innocence and optimism.

It’s not all plain sailing for TikTok though. At the time of writing the 120 million active users in India can’t access the app as it has been banned, along with 58 other Chinese apps. And the millions of users in the US may join them as the US Government is considering a similar ban.

First, data. India and the US both claim that TikTok harvests users’ phone data illegally and squirrels it back to China. TikTok denies this claim. More likely it is simply down to geopolitics. China and India are in the middle of a periodic flare-up over a disputed border, and the US is in a long-term dispute over trade. The popularity of TikTok makes it a useful bargaining chip.

Whatever the controversy though, brands have realised TikTok has huge potential to engage with audiences via content and/or advertising.

Lots of brands are figuring out how they can work with the TikTok content aesthetic. Let’s talk about just one, and very unlikely it is too. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, home to Michelangelo’s David and other iconic art, was a digital laggard. As you’d perhaps expect from such a conservative institution, the gallery had no website until 2015 and it appeared on Facebook for the first time only in March this year to maintain interest during lockdown. But they’re killing it on TikTok, as this take on Botticelli’s Spring shows.

If you click the link you’ll get a sense of what TikTok is all about. And if the Uffizi can do it, then anyone can.

Ongoing TikTok content is a commitment not every brand or business will be able to make, but that isn’t the case for TikTok as an advertising channel. Advertisers are trialling campaigns on new TikTok ad formats, like Just Eat with its brilliant Snoop Dogg advert. It’s very cool. We’re loving the Dogg action.

At the time of writing TikTok has finally made its self-serve ad platform available to everyone. You don’t need a TikTok account to buy ads, the interface looks and feels like LinkedIn’s ad manager crossed with an early version of Facebook’s ad tool, and it’s a bit clunky overall, but it works perfectly well. Targeting options are limited but we anticipate they will improve rapidly as advertisers use the platform in greater numbers. The bigger challenge for advertisers, however, lies in understanding the particular vibe and aesthetic of a whole new platform.

So. Whatever you think of TikTok, don’t ignore it. And if you’d like to explore opportunities for your brand drop us a line. In the meantime, check out @Lostspaceman on TikTok, which is me testing TikTok, ready for a big fundraising campaign launching soon to raise £1m+ for NHS charities supporting frontline team legends 👏