Should You Use TikTok for Marketing?Emma Gallimore 05.07.2019
New social media platforms pop up all the time. A smart marketer keeps an eye on these changing trends but doesn’t necessarily spend time and resources to create marketing strategies for them. After all, new social media platforms rarely gain much ground against the recognized giants of Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. An upstart could easily disappear before you even have a chance to complete a reasonable strategy for it.
TikTok might be the exception. This video sharing platform is young in every sense of the word. It hasn’t been around long and it tends to appeal to audiences under the age of 25. However, TikTok quickly becoming a household name. As it gains popularity, it becomes an ever more attractive prospect for video marketing. Here’s what you need to know about using TikTok for marketing.
What is TikTok?
Before you can use TikTok for marketing, you first have to understand what the platform is. TikTok was designed to enable creative expression in a vertical video format. Each piece of content is 15 seconds or shorter. Users can add sounds and song snippets as well as effects and filters. Videos tend to be funny or musical or both.
In China, where the smartphone app originated, TikTok is known as Douyin. It emerged on the international stage after merging with Music.ly, another video sharing app, this one dominated by lipsync videos. That was in November 2017.
By November 2018 TikTok had outperformed Intagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the top free app in Apple’s app store with 80 million downloads. By February of this year it had topped 1 billion. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that TikTok is more popular than those platforms. It just means that a lot of people were downloading it in a short period of time.
Some called it the successor of Vine, Twitter’s now defunct short video network. Users from all over the world flocked to the platform. Which raises the question: on the app that wants to turn all its users into videographers, is there room for brands and marketing?
Who uses TikTok
Clear demographics on who uses TikTok are hard to come by, but a few technology watchdogs have made educated guesses. Business of Apps reported 60 Million active U.S. users and 500 million global users as of October 2018, barely a year after the Musica.ly merger. According to a Global Web Index survey, that is equivalent to about 15% of internet users in the US and UK.
Young audiences are traditionally the first to embrace any new social media platform. TikTok is no exception in that regard. But the app’s frenetic pace and focus on self-expression seems custom tailored to Gen Z, who have embraced it enthusiastically.
The greatest number of TikTok users are between 16 and 24 years old. Hard numbers aren’t really available because the social network hasn’t released them. However a quick scroll through TikTok content shows that the audience skews young.
Marketers, especially video marketers targeting that demographic may well wonder if they should be using TikTok for marketing.
How to use TikTok for marketing
A few daring brands have already made forays into TikTok for marketing. In the first year or so of TikTok’s global incarnation, there were no native advertising functions. Brands that wanted to explore the platform were limited to two options: either use influencer marketing or create a user profile for their brand and rely on organic reach.
Both strategies persist today, despite the introduction early this year of paid advertising options. Each of these has its benefits and drawbacks.
Influencer marketing is particularly effective when targeting Gen Z, who are the dominant demographic on TikTok. A marketing charts survey found that 40% of 18 to 34-year-olds are more likely to trust what an influencer says about a brand than what the brand says about itself.
While influencer marketing can be effective, it is less controlled. Your brand identity becomes wrapped up with a personality, who may or may not uphold all of the same values.
Creating a brand profile on TikTok allows for more control, but can also be a costly enterprise. Users on TikTok expect authenticity. A funny or creative video can go a long way, but anything that feels like advertising is likely to be ignored.
Which is why some brands are skeptical of the platform’s new paid advertising options. Brands can choose from:
- In-feed video ads that appear between user-generated content. These are skippable, full-screen ads with call to action buttons.
- Brand takeover ads that cause a full-page ad to appear when a TikTok user first opens the app. Static images or gifs can direct users to a landing page or hashtag challenge. They’re category exclusive for one day to maximize impact.
- Hashtag challenges, encouraging users to make a video using a promoted hashtag.
Red Bull’s TikTok profile grabs viewers by sharing extreme sports videos. They’re attention grabbing and their 100% on brand for this sponsor of the XGames and other extreme sporting events.
Should your brand use TikTok?
Every brand will have to decide if marketing on TikTok is worth the time, effort and cost. In general, you should consider TikTok if your brand meets all or most of the following criteria:
- You’re targeting young audiences (under 25)
- You want to be seen as hip, edgy and authentic
- You’re willing to experiment and test new methods.
At this point there’s no known market for business-to-business advertising on the platform. So B2B marketers should probably spend their resources elsewhere.
Keep in mind that TikTok is new and has fewer users than the social media juggernauts, which means it might be less expensive to experiment with paid ads. Furthermore, at this stage, paid ads might not even be necessary.
This hashtag challenge promotes Taylor Swift’s new song ME! by encouraging users to recreate the dance in their own videos. Because Taylor Swift makes music that generally appeals to younger audiences, TikTok is the ideal marketing platform for this effort.
To achieve organic success on TikTok your videos will need to be funny, unique, or both. But a viral video on the platform can quickly spread to beyond TikTok. Unlike other social media platforms that make it difficult for you to share content with non-users, TikTok has a built in video download button. Users can export and email your videos or post them to other social media sites (all with the TikTok watermark).
TikTok’s relative size and youth means it also has limited targeting and measurement tools for advertisers. Tracking the success of your advertisements is going to be more difficult on TikTok than it is on more established platforms.
Although TikTok has only existed for a couple of years, it’s already gathered a passionate following among young audiences. Brands that are willing to be authentic and maybe even a little bit silly might be able to capture the attention of this audience. Doing so will take experimentation. There’s no telling how TikTok might evolve in the future. Whether you choose to market there or not, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on this rising star in the social media universe.