In the age of COVID-19, social distancing and isolation at home is fast becoming the new normal and with that comes the search for new sources of entertainment. Enter: TikTok. Suddenly everyone’s on it. Is TikTok only for the Gen Zs? Is there more to it than cringey coordinated dance content? Should my brand be on it? We’re breaking it down for you.
Okay, what exactly is TikTok?
TikTok is a Chinese owned video sharing and social networking mobile application owned by ByteDance. The app Musical.ly was acquired by Byte Dance and that became the TikTok we know (and see everywhere) today.
As of June 2019, CNN reports that the app had hit 1 billion users. As part of their expansion into Southeast Asia, Byte Dance has offices in Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. They set up shop in Singapore in December 2018 and as of May 2019, have garnered 1.5 million unique installations locally.
TikTok’s user base in the US is dominated by those between the ages of 16 to 24, leading to a belief that the same can be said of the users in Singapore. But a quick scroll through the app leads us to believe that the user demographic is rapidly evolving. No current statistics are available for the breakdown of TikTok user demographics in Singapore particularly, however it would be safe to assume that with the pandemic and newly enforced lockdowns, local users are no doubt growing in number, and this includes users above the age of 24.
What kind of content is on TikTok?
TikTok revolves around the sharing of short form 5 to 60-second videos set to music. At this point you may be wondering, well how does that differ from Instagram, YouTube or even Facebook? TikTok has created a niche for itself by homing in on the fact that attention spans have become shorter, signalling a demand for a platform that specifically caters to that.
Music and dance are an integral part of the app, with a huge in-built library courtesy of Apple Music. Indeed TikTok has been responsible for popularising tracks before they go mainstream. Doja Cat’s “Say So” was already a trending hit on TikTok even before the song was promoted as a single, because of a dance routine created by user Haley Sharpe. Eventually, Doja Cat roped Sharpe in to star in the official music video, in which both are seen performing the viral dance to the track.
@yodelinghaleyHERE IT IS!! the full say so dance🥺🥰♬ say so by doja cat – yodelinghaley
TikTok “challenges” are perhaps what the app is best known for. These “challenges” are essentially memes in video form and run the gamut from duets to mini comedic sketches, to parkour videos and dance routines. It’s an unspoken understanding amongst the TikTok community that “challenges” are not so much about throwing down the gauntlet, but more of an open invitation to create your own variation of the clip – a good humoured dare of creative expression.
@jloWait for it…😂♥️ @arod13♬ Nonstop – Drake
The content that finds most popularity tends to be the ones with the simplest concepts. Take for example the #fliptheswitch set to Drake’s 2018 hit, “Nonstop”. The challenge typically involves two people standing in front of a bathroom mirror; one in the foreground and filming and the other further back, dancing. When the line “I just flipped the switch,” comes on, the screen cuts to black and the pair swap places and outfits, often to comedic effect. The hallmark of the success of a challenge is when celebrities start getting involved and clips are shared on other social media platforms.
The content produced on TikTok is unique compared to that on other social media platforms because it has an authentic, unpolished quality about it. It helps that the content is often humorous – we all could use a good laugh. The flip side of this is that TikTok has earned a reputation for being the choice app for youths and its content is sometimes deemed cringey and contrived, especially by older millennials and Gen X-ers.
Why is it so successful?
TikTok’s user-friendly interface makes it easy to navigate, even for a curious bystander. The app is split into two main feeds, the “For You” section that functions like Instagram’s “Explore” page, and “Following” which features videos from users whom you have chosen to follow. Videos on the “For You” section are an endless scroll and each comes with a panel of reactions (Heart, Comment or Not Interested). The advanced AI algorithms learn your preferences and show you videos that you are more likely to be interested in.
The app’s success can be attributed to its claims to reward creative expression and actually following through with it. To that end, the app’s algorithms do not simply push the latest videos from already popular users, instead it seeks to show you new clips – leading to a more democratic and dynamic platform where anyone has an equal chance at going viral.
TikTok’s growth is also partly due to its novelty as a platform that is something of a safe space for users. Instagram is already crowded with influencers, models and brands flaunting an unattainable picture-perfect life, while Facebook is flooded with boomers and fake news. In contrast, TikTok is an escape for hours of light-hearted entertainment.
Branded content on TikTok
Brands have begun establishing a presence on TikTok, some more cautiously than others. Luxury brand Prada has an account with zero postings. Instead, they invited 15-year-old Charli D’amelio, the most followed user on the platform, to attend the Prada show at the recent Milan Fashion Week to create content on TikTok.
A more aggressive approach was taken by Guess when they launched their branded hashtag challenge, #inmydenim. The campaign objective was to promote their Fall 2018 collection to Gen Z consumers for the back-to-school season. Guess tapped a handful of influencers to kick off the challenge, dancing and posing confidently, decked out in their denim products. The result was 5,550 user-generated videos, with 41.6 million views and added 12,000 followers to their official account – by all accounts, a considerable success.
@jammincammyGuess what brand I love?! 🔻❤️ ##inmydenim ##sponsored @guess♬ #inmydenim I’m a Mess – Bebe Rexha
Sports-related brands in particular have garnered strong following and high engagement on TikTok. The NBA’s content ranges from game highlights, comedic antics of mascots and pre-game rituals of players, offering their existing massive fan base exclusive content that feels more intimate. Similarly, Liverpool FC uses TikTok to share snippets of their training sessions and seasonal greeting clips to reach out to their global fanbase. For Lunar New Year, LFC posted a video of its players engaging in a game of ping pong, the national sport of China – a fun way to celebrate the occasion and a strategic move to enter into the Chinese market.
@nba##duet with @coolbrosai Check out this fan throwing up some chalk pregame with LeBron! 💨 ##NBAMoments ##NBATogether ##JrNBAatHome♬ original sound – nba
Fashion e-commerce retailer Zalora is the first locally to have jumped on board TikTok. In conjunction with the Zalora Fashion Festival last September, they launched a challenge competition, #zstylenow, where users were encouraged to post their outfit transformations using the ‘Z’ hand sign and a specific track. Though TikTok in Singapore is in its nascent stage, Zalora is no doubt banking on the fact that it is one of first few retailers to create a presence on TikTok putting it in an advantageous position as the platform grows here to include shopping functions in the future.
Best practices for brands exploring TikTok
TikTok’s growth is undeniable and presents an attractive value proposition for brands – access to a new generation of customers, at a relatively budget-friendly cost. However their ad model is still a work-in-progress and it would be wise to tread carefully while exploring this platform for your next campaign.
- Define clear objectives and consider your brand identity
TikTok’s charm is in its simplicity and fun content. The app is a useful tool for brands to create an impression that is accessible, while engaging users directly. If your goal is short term sales conversions, this is probably not the app you’re looking for.
- Understand the medium
Social media is not a one size fits all and content that thrives on Instagram might fail on TikTok. Experience the app for yourself and be immersed in the community to gain a better understanding of the type of content that will work. As a general rule of thumb, overly complicated mechanics and instructions are a high barrier to entry on most social platforms, but especially so on TIkTok.
- Be ready to experiment
Apart from branded hashtags and influencer partnerships, TikTok in Southeast Asia has announced that it will soon begin to offer a range of other business offerings. Explore options such as brand takeover ads (ads that takeover the entire screen when the app is launched), in-feed video ads (similar to those seen in your Instagram or Facebook feed) or creating brand-specific jingles.
It may be too early to say whether TikTok will be here for the long haul but if its recent growth is anything to go by, it does have enormous potential. For brands that choose to start learning about the platform now, it will no doubt provide a leg up to understanding the app’s nuances, culture and capabilities for the future.