Is it time to TikTok?

Since I started to plan this blog post a couple of weeks back I’ve seen countless LinkedIn posts, tweets and articles about the new darling of social media, TikTok. And if Strictly Come Dancing are getting in on the act then it must be time to take note!

But what do brands need to bear in mind when considering the latest kid on the social media block?


The best way for the uninitiated to get familiar with TikTok is to simply download the app, open it and spend thirty minutes swiping up, consuming content. Tip: if you see stuff you’re not bothered about, tap and hold the screen and select “Not interested”. The algorithm will quickly adapt what is shows.

And with TikTok there’s absolutely no opportunity for marketeers to hide behind the excuses that were made for ‘not getting into’ Snapchat, such as… I can’t figure out how to navigate it… I don’t know anyone else on it… I can’t find any brand pages to follow. The second you open TikTok you’re off and running.

As a start, why not check out Zack King’s magic

Zach King

Why is it making big waves?

On first site it has a feel of Vine [remember that?]… so short, looping videos. But with a slightly longer format [15 seconds], the ability for users to pick from a massive library of background music and an outstanding in-app video editing suite, it really is a step ahead.

Now layer on the memes and challenges which underpin much of the content that you’ll see users creating and there’s something eerily addictive about it.

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Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash

What will I see?

I’ve purposely followed very few people and interacted [i.e. liked/commented] with few posts to see what the algorithm decides I should see. Is it by chance that the #over40 tag and meme of people saying “I’m too old for TikTok but I’m on it anyway” are what I’m often served? Is that because I’m subconsciously spending more time with that content… or does it know a certain birthday has just happened!  😑

From an advertising perspective there’s not much there right now. In the last couple of weeks I’ve definitely seen more of the premium TikTok ad inventory being used [e.g. a video that plays when you first open the app] but there’s currently little from big name brands [at least in the UK].

So is it for brands?

All the typical social network advertising options have been, or are being, rolled out by TikTok. You can can read about those on their website, so I won’t dwell on them here.

Yes, the audience is skewed to a younger demographic, but that doesn’t mean brands who don’t focus on youth culture can’t get in on the act.

It’s more about embracing the playful, human and most importantly authentic side of a brand. This is easier said than done.  The ability to poke fun at oneself and a deliver a little self deprecating humour won’t go far wrong, especially if you can nail a popular meme.

TikTok content from brands must be fun but not try too hard. It must land some sort of brand message but not be saley. And it must be timely without feeling contrived. Not a simple brief.

And herein lies the main challenge for brands who, by definition, aren’t a person. For me, TikTok feels very much about the personal connection between viewer and creator. This means brands with customer facing staff or ambassadors/ influencers [such as Gym Shark] will want to leverage these connections when considering TikTok.

More than any other social network, the route to engaging and influencing the audience won’t always be straight from brand to consumer. Stop press: this TikTok influencer app has just popped up in my newsfeed.

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The content creation challenge

This point about being ‘personal’ is just one challenge brands face when creating content for TikTok. Yes, you can perhaps repurpose something from an Instagram Story, but a straightforward copy + paste from network to network is far from ideal.

This makes content creation for TikTok arguably more difficult than any other social platform, particularly in the briefing stage. Unlike the more mature social networks there’s just less branded content examples to look at and say “make me something like that”. New memes and challenges appear frequently, which also makes nicely planned evergreen content less appropriate. Thanks a bunch!

Grabbing a beachhead

One of the beauties of TikTok as a young platform, plus the nature of its algorithm, is the level of organic reach it still offers.

Plus, as the platform is still ramping up its commercial aspects, the level of access and support is still at quite a personal level. I was lucky enough to attend an industry event a few weeks back and the TikTok team were there to help prospective advertisers get on board. Direct access and support was available for any brand making regular use of the app, regardless of spend [for now anyway].

In summary

With its sheer scale [500m+ users globally] and audience attention high, brands must at least consider TikTok in their digital communications mix. That consideration might result in a decision that it’s just not appropriate for a direct relationship with consumers, but that using some of the more ‘broadcast ad units’ [such as brand takeovers or top views] are going to be a better route.

Increasingly as social networks appear, flourish and [sometimes] fade, it’s about considering a platform for what it can offer in terms of the customer’s long term relationship with the brand. Just because they get bored of TikTok or the app fails to sustain itself in a few years doesn’t mean it’s not helping to build greater brand value with every addictive 15 second hit!

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