Like all new social media platforms, TikTok has garnered massive attention, its own share of controversy, and a lot of rapid change.
In the past few weeks, we have seen it become highly influential in Coronavirus response in shaping public perception, delivering important messages, and providing humor relief. Because a large number of celebrities have embraced the platform in the first few months of 2020, mainstream media attention is being turned to the platform in a big way with major outlets such as CNN and FoxNews highlighting TikTik videos on their homepages.
And having every aspect of our daily lives put into a proverbial blender has significantly heightened the demand for entertainment. According to Kantar, as countries move deeper into the pandemic, TV viewing and social media usage both rise by around 60%.
But how we consume video content was already changing, streaming services are continuing to chip away at linear TV and there is a growing polarization of content where people tend to desire content at the ends of the time commitment spectrum rather than the 30, and 60 minute episode formats traditional TV made older generations more accustomed to.
It’s why the new streaming service Quibi has raised 2 Billion dollars based on the idea that episodic content can be bite-sized (the name Quibi stands for “Quick Bites”) taking a queue from YouTube vloggers that tend to have episodes in the 10 – 15 minute range for ideal consumption rates, the service is limiting it’s programming to 10 minute episodes.
TikTok has made one key decision that has positioned it uniquely well to take advantage of the growing trends and need for entertainment, human connection in physical isolation, and an alternative to hours and hours of impersonal content from streaming tv: they are the easiest platform to share from other platforms which is driving rapid growth and expansion.
Instagram posts, Snapchats, and others are clunky or impossible to share in other platforms, giving TikTok a significant “shareability” advantage that is driving not only rapid exponential growth but also demographic changes exponentially faster than we have seen with any other previous major social media platform.
Because of this rapid change—and before we get into whether or not you should be on TikTok and if so what the right strategy is—it’s essential to understand that many of the perceptions around TikTok are not factual. So let’s start with the background.
About the Platform
TikTok is a video sharing social media network that limits each video to between 15 and 60 seconds. It was originally called Dǒuyīn, and owned by the Chinese company ByteDance that was founded in 2012. At first, it was marketed and used as a platform to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. ByteDance launched first in China in 2016 and in the U.S. in 2017 on both android and iOS.
One of the common misconceptions is that Douyin became TikTok, but this is not quite accurate. Douyin still remains an active app in China, and while the platform was the basis for TikTok, they are separate applications on separate servers in order to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions.
ByteDance purchased Musical.ly for almost $1 Billion Dollars in November of 2017 which is what drove more diversity in the type of content from primarily dance videos as Musical.ly trended more around lip-syncing and comedy videos.
In one of the smartest moves that TikTok made that significantly contributed to their explosive growth, the platform has put a significant emphasis on providing popular music for its users to be able to use with their videos. TikTok is essentially creating one of the world’s largest music streaming services without most people realizing it, due in part to a previously made deal with Universal Music, Sony Music, and Warner Music, which expired in 2019. Ongoing negotiations are evolving thanks to the explosive growth of the platform.
On January 23rd, TikTok signed a revolutionary deal with Merlin, the world’s largest music licensing agency representing independent artists. This move is yet again fundamentally flipping the music industry on its head, by putting significantly more power into the hands of independent creators to release an independent song that can be used by other independent creators to seamlessly combine music and videos. This easily creates viral content and can launch independent artists to stardom seemingly overnight, with significantly less promotional resource expenditure.
TikTok video creators can choose from an existing library of songs to use with their videos or use their own music. The power of this is subtle but significant. Getting music rights to popular songs is normally very expensive and logistically impossible for a random kid making a cell phone video. With TikTok they can tap into pop music that gives their content an immediate and significant boost in production quality. TikTok is arguably more important to independent music recording artists than it is to social media video creators and influencers.
TikTok differs from other video enabled platforms in a few key ways:
- Unlike Snapchat or Instagram stories, videos don’t disappear but go into the creator’s profile and are searchable by hashtag. They can often resurface and gain traction months after their original posting.
- They are short. Tik Tok videos are between 15-60 seconds. This provides a valuable alternative to YouTube in the bite sized content age of social media. If YouTube is a full meal, TikTok is a quick snack.
- The production quality tends to be low and authentic. That doesn’t mean there are no effects and a lot of post production work on some of the videos, but they feel very unpolished and don’t take themselves too seriously. In order to advertise well, your videos need to feel authentic to the style of the platform.
- You don’t have to follow someone to see their content in your feed.
- They are easily shareable to any other social media platform.
While it is clear that TikTok is carving out a valuable and unique niche, the platform isn’t without controversy.
Its early ties with Musical.ly have left many adults viewing it as a lip-sync or dancing platform that makes it too easy for children to share personal videos. It’s been accused of not adequately protecting data, especially of its younger users, and it’s been investigated over national security concerns in the US. In 2019 it was briefly banned in India over issues of pornographic content and predatory behavior. TikTok has released transparency reports to address these issues and created a “Safety Center” as well as very strict policies monitoring and disallowing controversial content like political ads and pornographic content.
Because of the strict restrictions it has developed, TikTok may actually be one of the most brand safe platforms amongst the major social media platforms. This can provide a significant advantage during unprecedented crises like the current COVID-19 Pandemic where communications need to be carefully crafted, empathetic, and generally “brand-safe”.
Platform Growth and Change
TikTok is currently experiencing exponential growth which we expect to continue in 2020 as it continues to gain mainstream traction, significantly amplified by people staying home and having extra time on their hands. TikTok challenges related to self-quarantine and other Corona Virus related content is currently dominating the platform. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, TikTok was the seventh-most downloaded app of the 2010’s and was downloaded 738 million times in 2019 with 46 million of those downloads being in the U.S.
US TikTok user demographics
Tiktok is also one of the most widely used apps in the world, and surprisingly close to Instagram in monthly active users at 800 million.
Most-used apps of 2019, Android and iOS
And those users are sticky. Average daily time on TikTok is estimated at 45 minutes a day with U.S. users returning to TikTok an average of eight times a day. And the age and income demographics are significantly different than most people think. Even before the mainstream growth explosion we have sennin late 2019 and early 2020, and the widespread adoption of the platform due to the coronavirus pandemic, as of March 2019 49% of users are age 35+ with 37% of users having a household income of greater than $100k USD.
TikTok is new and different—the only short-form video app where users watch, post, and share short video clips. Many adults only recently viewed their first TikTok video when Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez doing the ‘Flip the Switch challenge went viral. A few weeks later, and TikTok videos are showing up on major news networks as part of their Coronavirus reporting. But that’s the point.
TikTok videos are eye-catching, easy-to-share on all platforms, and strangely addicting. They’re also getting a name for being refreshingly honest, wholesome (!), and cringey. If you thought cringey was a bad thing, you’ll have to reframe your thoughts. Cringey=authentic which makes content very shareable and often reflective of unfiltered honest content that has become much more popular on social media over the last few years.
Very Simple videos with little to no production value go viral on a daily basis on the platform and generate huge numbers in the millions of likes, and tens of millions of views. This is a critical advantage at a time when it is not possible to film traditional spots while production is shut down, a single influencer can be filmed starting a challenge with post-production completed remotely. When production value needs to be low for success on TikTok, brands have a significant opportunity to keep moving forward in a cost-efficient and in-tune way.
TikTok is now across over 150 markets, with an estimated 625 million users monthly. And it’s growing rapidly.
The demographic shift towards older users is happening at an exponentially faster rate than it did with Facebook. This makes the older demographic much easier to win from an advertising perspective as CPMs are extremely low and represent an exceptionally underpriced value comparative to other media opportunities for all demographics.
Chipotle will celebrate its one-year TikTok anniversary in May 2020. Before the company joined, users were already talking about the brand on the platform, and the company took time to closely analyze the conversations and context of those posts. They’ve adapted well by doing things like launching a #GuacDance challenge on National Avocado Day which reached over 430 million views (Those videos now have over a billion video starts.) and made guacamole sales spike in their restaurants by 68% driving 800,000 sides of guacamole served breaking a record for Chipotle’s single day Guacamole sales in company history.
TikTok has the cultural and platform mechanics to make viral challenges the likes of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge commonplace. For the thoughtful Brand that understands how to execute in a platform contextual way, TikTok can be a brand super power, especially when more direct and overt advertising may not be appropriate in the current shadow of the pandemic and its emotional and economic toll.
Chipotle successfully uses hooks, calls to action, and influencers to grow their brand presence online and their sales in person, and ANA describes their TikTok presence as a prime example of developing content that not only shows up in feeds, but converts to visible sales boosts at their brick and mortar locations. Some of their challenges require making an in-app purchase—a brilliant opportunity to get users ordering online.
Chipotle’s first challenge on TikTok was #ChipotleLidFlip, which prompted customers to to post videos of themselves flipping chipotle packing which was a riff on another successful UGC campaign on instagram. The TikTok challenge generated almost 300 million views, and generated over 110,000 user generated video submissions on the hashtag in the first 6 days alone.
Chipotle was already partnering with DoorDash for delivery services and in response to social distancing needs has significantly enhanced its delivery services and capabilities with dedicated delivery production lines and free delivery when ordering directly from Chipotle.
“Our Delivery Kitchen is like a Chipotle within a Chipotle, preparing real, fresh, personalized bowls and burritos solely for digital guests,” says Chris Brandt, Chief Marketing Officer. “Chipotle is the first brand to scale this concept nationally with over 2,500 restaurants featuring the unique set-up for digital orders, and our March Free Delivery offer is the perfect opportunity to experience the Delivery Kitchen.”
Chipotle is offering free delivery on any Chipotle order $10 or more via the Chipotle app and Chipotle.com from March 15 to March 31, 2020. Chipotle deliveries will feature a new, tamper evident packaging seal to help ensure food is untouched during delivery.
In the current landscape there is an abundance of opportunity for brands to deliver social distancing, quarantine, and other related challenges in a contextually relevant way to a growing and highly engaged audience that can work exceptionally well for eCommerce, consumer packaged goods, lifestyle brands, food take-out / delivery, home health / fitness brands and others even in the current landscape.
Mucinex was the first OTC pharmaceutical brand to use TikTok, with their #TooSickToBeSick halloween campaign. They used the popular transformation video format where users began their videos looking terribly ill, took Mucinex, and then transformed into fabulous versions of themselves on their way out the door. The branded hashtag has generated almost 1 Billion views. Mucinex has recently followed that up with another campaign in February of 2020 called #BeatTheZombieFunk. Mucinex partnered with Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Allison Holker, the husband-and-wife duo who appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance,” to choreograph a “zombie dance” that shows how Mucinex aids cold and flu symptoms.
Because of the self-quarantine stay at home orders the campaign has exploded in popularity generating 4.5 Billion views.
While we know by watching the data that TikTok is rapidly gaining traction among older demographics, as of today it is still one of the most powerful platforms for transitioning your brand to younger generations.
How can a short video platform like TikTok attract a new generation of users to a brand known more for it’s middle age reach? Take a look at an effective campaign from Estée Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand using a combination of fun, a hashtag challenge, and a group of paid TikTok creators specifically targeting strengthening their position with Gen Z consumers. MAC Cosmetics spends around 75% of its marketing budget on digital and influencer marketing.
Using the hashtag #YouOwnIt, they shared videos of people in just-off-the-street style and makeup walking a runway until a set point where they twist into a styled version of themselves. As ANA reports, the brand gained 2.5 billion impressions in six days—and continues to generate exposure with an entirely fresh and impressionable audience.
Elizabeth Culliford wrote in a December 23rd, 2019 article for Reuters that “TikTok’s sponsored “hashtag challenges,” where high-profile influencers begin video trends, are one of the main ways for companies to advertise on the app.” At a time when normal self-serving brand messages and traditional commercials fall flat, leaders in marketing see an opportunity to help and do it in a natural way.
Procter and Gamble is a great example of how to do marketing right both during a time of crisis and on TikTok in general. P&G partnered with TikTok’s biggest star Charli D’Amelio on a campaign to raise aid money for COVID-19 relief charities as well as to promote social distancing. They asked her to choreograph a dance and select the music. They used two hashtags: #distancedance and #pgpartner.
The campaign asks viewers to stay at home and tells them that P&G will make a donation for each of the first 3 million videos uploaded to Feeding America and Mathew25.
The video itself is already extremely successful. It is now the most viewed video on Charli’s account with over 187 Million views in the first week and growing. The #distancedance hashtag now has 9.7 Billion views. An astronomical number by any stretch of the imagination. The #pgpartner hashtag has about 190 Million views.
And although TikTok is the seed platform, that success is going to be leveraged into other channels. An article for Adweek, by Diana Pearl puts it into context: “…they’re planning to take the #DistanceDance to other platforms and evolve the sharing method. For example, on Twitter, people are accustomed to retweets and likes, rather than recreating posts for their own accounts, so that may be a more fitting metric. And as well-known as D’Amelio is among Gen Z, she’s not as familiar to those age 30 and up—so viewers “might start to see some new voices” on new platforms to spread the word.”
“If brands want to communicate right now, they have to be humans, they have to be honest and they have to be helpful,” he said. “We’ve been dogmatic about not making it a marketing message. We’re going to see if brands understand how they can help and really be human in this time where humanity and empathy is more important than ever before.”
How to Get Started
So if now is a unique and extremely opportune time to start advertising on TikTok, what should you do to get started?
TikTok is unique in its ability to quickly and inexpensively generate massive followings and impressions. If your brand is already good at video content and or working with influencers, you should take advantage of a fantastic advertising platform. But it’s not as simple as just throwing up a great video on your account and crossing your fingers.
There are three primary ways brands can leverage the platform:
- Create your own account and upload brand content
- Partner with influencers
Content and advertising on TikTok must be fresh, raw, and unexpected. Emerging trends, popular songs, and even memes can all give inspiration to create videos that will hook in viewers. Take a look at accounts like Estée Lauder, San Diego Zoo (Edit: Wait! Please don’t look at the zoo page until you’re done with the article. We’ll lose you for sure!😉) and Chipotle (https://www.tiktok.com/@chipotle).
Create your own account and upload brand content
Many of the challenges and videos feature before and after, transformations, and genuine bloopers that give viewers a feeling of unfiltered access that can endear them to your brand.
Step 2: Fill out your basic profile details
Step 3: Plan. Develop a TikTok specific strategy based on your unique product, brand, or company. Partner with an Agency that can help you both strategize for the platform, integrate it with your other media efforts, and help you produce TikTok specific video content and campaigns.
Step 4: Deploy your content. Be sure to include your hashtags, calls-to-action, and links to microsites or other relevant brand content as well as instructions for how people can use any filters or terms of any contests.
Partner with Influencers
Partnering with influencers works on TikTok—especially those who share authentic and connectable content. Calvin Klein has taken a more traditional approach on the platform, sticking to high earning celebrities and slick content. At this point it’s not catching on to the degree of other brands. But companies like the NBA and Washington Post are using TikTok with great success—and they’re fun to watch!
There is an important lesson here, your content must respect why people are on the platform in the first place and the type of content they expect. That is why influencers are so successful, because TikTok marketing works best as a native execution because people are there for connection, fun, and authenticity. Something that traditional commercials can’t deliver.
Step 1: Determine the type of influencers you would like to work with. And remember they don’t even need to be on the platform yet. When Kevin Hart joined TikTok his very first video got 6.4 Million likes and 45 Million views. What’s most important is finding the right people for your brand.
Determine whether you need Mega-Influencers with millions of followers, Macro-influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers, or micro-influencers in the hundreds or thousands of followers ranges.
Remember followers is not the most important metric. Being able to connect with your target audience is most important. Brands are often better off working with a variety of micro-influencers who are much more authentic to their target audience than bigger celebrities.
Step 2: Work with an influencer marketing agency to put the deals together. If you don’t have significant resources or want more control, reach out via DM. Especially with micro, and macro influencers you don’t have to have an agency middleman involved, that being said managing influencers can be stressful and time consuming and agencies can help ensure good creative direction and negotiate differences in vision.
Step 3: Set clear expectations. Know what the campaign is trying to accomplish and communicate that clearly with the selected influencers. You can now crowdsource creative ideas by creating a clear brief and using companies like Famebit you can have video creators and influencers pitch you on their ideas. This approach can help you rapidly brainstorm ideas and get to market much faster, which is especially critical right now as brands rely less on the big behemoth agencies, but more on lower cost, more nimble and socially distanced remote creators and agencies that can get their work produced in the current landscape.
Ads are just beginning to grow on TikTok. Again, this is the time to get onboard. But remember: fresh, raw, unexpected, platform relevant, empathetic, and authentic. It’s a great place to garner geo-targeted and international exposure and facilitate viral-worthy content.
TikTok requires a minimum budget of $500 per campaign and uses a bidding system similar to other digital ad platforms.
Step 1: Sign-up for TikTok Ads. You can login to connect the ads account with your brand TikTok page.
Fill in your details and agree to the terms and conditions. Then you can start setting up your campaign which uses a fairly similar process as Facebook Ads.
Step 2: Upload your video content to the “Library”
Step 3: Set up your campaign and ad sets.
Measuring success on TikTok requires a different approach than traditional advertising, especially during a global pandemic. You’re looking for engagement rather than hard conversions—but engagement does lead to sales, as Chipotle has so effectively demonstrated.
Hashtags and contests are two of the best ways to attract engagement. When you do use direct ad options, TikTok provides real-time tracking of performance so you can constantly evaluate effectiveness.
Another thing to remember is that this is not the platform for perfection! In fact, giving raw behind-the-scenes footage, showing influencers without makeup, and memes are all fantastic ways to expand your reach and connect with audiences. Visual perfection is the enemy of results on TikTik, strategic perfection relative to the context of the platform and your target audience will often look like low production quality filmed from a cell phone in someone’s house or backyard.
Content can be measured with three metrics: the number of video views, the type and amount of engagements, and sales generated from the in-app purchase option. The more eyes on your videos the better, but when it comes to engagement, brace yourself for a pleasant surprise. Unlike platforms like Facebook and YouTube, comments and engagement on TikTok can be noticeably friendlier and kinder. Users are generally looking for things they like, not things to bash, with one exception. Paid Ads are obviously marked as such and because there currently are not many of them, users naively are fighting to keep their feeds ‘native’. A common form of protest to ads on the platform is a user simply commenting “f” on an ad as a form of protest to the idea of having ads on the platform. Ads that do not come off as contextually relevant often get a lot of those filler comments. Brands should post meaningful ads and respond to comments just like they would on any other platform.
TikTok users describe themselves as brand conscious and easily swayed. They express their opinions, share what they love, and post product reviews. It’s still a young platform with much to learn, but the potential to advertise in a space where authenticity and influence combine is marketing gold an a new world where the entire marketing and business landscape has been flipped upside down by the global COVID-19 pandemic and where social media acceleration is being forced in a way that will fundamentally change marketing forever.