If you’re still refusing to or just haven’t made it around to signing up for TikTok yet, let me be your wake up call. It’s time. I’m also writing this to somehow validate the arguably excessive hours I’ve spent on TikTok in the past few weeks. I consider it research, but call it what you want.
I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit hesitant. I was working as an intern to help them launch in the Australian market when I realized it was the first platform that was… out of my demographic. TikTok originated as Music.ly, a lip-sync app that was populated by mainly tweens. The brand and its parent company, ByteDance, made one of the most impressive rebrands back in 2016, one that would pay off big time in 2020.
Quarantine was the dream scenario for the app. It now has the highest engagement rate of any social media platform, about 5%. There’s now 800 million active users worldwide, a number I’m sure is outdated before I even finish typing this sentence.
Vine, a similar app that faded out back in 2017, set the stage for creators wanting to share instantly-viral and short videos that can be created in any environment at any time. There was an absence of interest and entertainment that TikTok was destined to fill.
The app itself (if you haven’t made your way to downloading it yet) is efficiently brilliant. It’s never been easier to mindlessly scroll for hours. One of my friends pointed out when in the app you can’t see the time (a feature that either intentionally or unintentionally works out for the best). The 15–60 second clips are catered to our short attention spans and with the ridiculous amount of content produced hourly, it’s truly impossible to run out of content catered to your liking.
The app saw its opportunity last fall. At the time, I was studying abroad in Australia and noticed its rising popularity, but was unaware of its growing popularity back home. While I was interning, one of our clients was TikTok and they were investing everything into the Australian market. They, and us, were working nonstop to create as many headlines and buzz as we could.
When I came home just before New Years, the app was embedded in daily lifestyle. But again, I felt as if it wasn’t my place. My younger sister was already hooked, and I assumed I was just outside their target demographic and the majority of their users. 41% of their users are between 16–24 years-old.
It wasn’t until my jobs in social media and consulting found me questioning my strategy. Brands I was working with were asking me to brief them on TikTok and how to plan ahead. At this time, brands who weren’t already on the platform were behind — and they knew it, too. The app blew up so fast that nobody was really prepared. It was time to admit my fault and think about moving forward rather than consider what I had missed.
The Influence on Outside Industries
When I’m not working with brands or in school, I’m also a musician. TikTok has redefined the top charts and if you head over to Spotify’s Top Hits or Global Top Charts, you’ll see most of the songs are also popular on TikTok. Careers have been born from songs that go viral. My distributor for my music recently began working with TikTok because artists are fighting for their track to become available to add as a sound during clips. Revenue from use itself on the app isn’t enough to pay the artists’ bills, but the outside-the-app streaming and song downloads are enough to create a one-hit wonder.
Playing with the Algorithm
One of the strongest features of the app is how it caters content. Most people watch the “For You” page, something similar to Instagram’s “explore” content. Through this, users are only being shown content that relates to other pieces they’ve engaged with (either liked or commented) based upon the content itself, hashtags used, and users similar. The “stumble upon” hopes for digital messaging and branding has never been so simple.
Everyday people with no editing efforts, equipment, or mission go viral overnight. Already my screen time app notifies me that the hours a week I spend on the app is a little concerning. But it’s so easy. It’s mindless scrolling paired with content they know I’ll love.
I found influencer friends of mine switch the app immediately, seeing their bases skyrocket as TikTok allows you to connect Instagram and YouTube pages. Users that I followed became instantly popular overnight on one video. To me, it’s like YouTube. All it takes is one popular video — and then you’re set.
There are over a billion views of videos every single day on the app. Now that the app is flooded with creatives and ambitious users, standing out becomes difficult, and thinking of unique content is now the biggest challenge. Every video posted makes it on a “For You” page, meaning that at the very least one user will see the video.
I’ve found and followed experts on branding, investing, and photography to learn a few new things — but also a few offbeat comedians who thrive on the platform.
What Brands Need to Do
If you or your brand isn’t on the app yet — stop here and download it now. There’s still time to jump on the train moving full steam ahead. Users spend an average of just under an hour a day on the app. That’s just as much as apps like Facebook, and even more than Snapchat.
But before you implement your existing strategies and duplicate your content, re-think. I’ve noticed that this extension only goes so far. Like most apps, for the best payout you’ve got to have more input. The content that stands out on TikTok is genuine. And now that artificially genuine or transparent trend that we’re not all working to emulate. It needs real stories. Real transparency. My little sister even said to not put a filter on anything because that’s an immediate turn-off.
Allow TikTok to be your unique space where sales, traffic, or views isn’t the objective. Grow with the platform and let it be your place to go behind-the-scenes. Somebody I followed and who I’ve reached out to collaborate with recently blew up because he kept his humble, simple-editing while showing gratitude for the business boom his TikTok exposure gained him. It’s a fine line to walk, so take it slow is my best advice.
Trends originate from TikTok now, too. Work hard, but don’t try hard. Think hard, but don’t over-do. If you can’t at first see these distinctions, spend a few hours on the app and you’ll see what I mean.
The brands I work with are asking me to help build out their TikTok plans and all I can say is we’ll see what works. The app is so brilliantly haphazard that one singular strategy or forward thinking isn’t going to get you anywhere. It’s considered a creative space for young people, so think like them and operate in that game. Think about what’s groundbreaking and what’s almost so insane … it might actually work.
For individuals with their own brands or startups, use this platform for exposure. What’s so unique about TikTok is that I have yet to see one negative comment. Now, that’s to say that the content the app feeds me is mostly feel-good videos of puppies and dream vacations. However, the space is uplifting and now includes people of all ages. I saw one recently where somebody said their favorite accounts on TikTok were moms because they were either sharing useful advice or a divorce update, and “either one” they wanted to hear.
The app has over 1.5 billion (yes, with a B) downloads now. No matter who you market to or how you’re working to build an audience, TikTok is now at the top of everyone’s to-do list. If you’re still thinking it’s not meant for you, think again. As a marketer and creative, one of the main things I’ve learned is to accept that your strategy isn’t the best strategy, but adaptation is always a good option.