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TikTok: The Last Happy Corner of the Internet

This post is the last in our Think 2020 series, in which we explore the mindsets, behaviors and emerging solutions shaping marketing and communications in the year ahead.

By now you’ve probably heard of TikTok, the social media phenomenon that shot into the mainstream in 2019. It was the No. 2 most-downloaded app globally last year – second only to Facebook’s WhatsApp – and has been downloaded on more than 1.5 billion phones worldwide.

And yes, it’s currently the subject of a national security review.

We don’t know what 2020 holds for TikTok, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t include it in our roundup of emerging trends that could have a profound impact on marketing this year. Regardless of where the U.S. government’s inquiry into the China-based social channel nets out, TikTok’s meteoric rise is a reminder for all marketers to stay curious about new platforms – and how customers are using them.

What Makes TikTok Unique

TikTok delivers 3- to 60-second videos of users dancing, lip-syncing and joining in various hashtag challenges, all set to a matching song or audio file. If it sounds a little silly, that’s because it is – in fact, there are days TikTok feels like the last happy corner of the Internet.

A potential reason why: Unlike other social channels that default to the accounts you follow, TikTok’s algorithm aims to serve content from accounts you’ve never seen and people you’ve never met. It’s a notable exception to the echo chamber that drives so much consumption on other platforms today.

Who’s Watching

26.5 million monthly active users in the U.S.
60% between 16 and 24
52 minutes per day spent on average in the app

– According to Reuters (November 2019) and Business of Apps (February 2019)

What’s Next

This is a space still largely untapped by marketers, but we’ll likely see that start to change in 2020. Brands like Mucinex, Kind, Crocs and e.l.f. cosmetics all made their debuts in late 2019, pulling in jaw-dropping impression and engagement metrics with their first branded hashtag challenges.

TikTok isn’t the place for driving hard leads or conversion – at least, not yet. But it could be a good fit for brands seeking to connect with young audiences where they’re spending a significant portion of their online time. It’s also a natural place to experiment for products and services for which audio is an essential part of the story.

Look for enhanced measurement and advertising options from the platform in the year ahead. TikTok launched analytics for its pro accounts this past summer, giving content creators better insight into who’s watching what for how long.

The other big thing to watch is whether TikTok can successfully scale its U.S. advertising offering. The company is in the midst of an ad ops team hiring spree. In addition to being better positioned to keep up with demand, that new team likely also will be charged with delivering more efficient, scalable, measurable options for marketers.

Think 2020

Here are three thought-starters for early adopters looking to get started on TikTok:

Pro Account

TikTok is growing at a breakneck pace. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your brand should be there.

That said, if older teens and 20-somethings are in your sweet spot – or if you’re interested in experimenting with a new way to reach the 40 percent of TikTok’s user base that’s over 24 – consider creating a pro account.

As with anything, start with a content strategy, spend plenty of time listening, and tailor your brand’s messaging to fit the channel.

Advertising Options

TikTok’s paid options currently range from in-feed ads that start at a $500 minimum spend to six-figure, impression-powerhouse branded hashtag challenges.

If you choose to go the paid route, remember this platform’s core user base is the generation least receptive to advertising. The key to your success: content that’s engaging, entertaining and authentic to both your audience and the channel.

Value-Added Interviews

A small number of national media outlets have started to embrace TikTok to connect with younger audiences, look behind the scenes at the news business and feature bonus content.

Democratic political candidates, for example, have let their personalities shine through with The Washington Post, while NBC News breaks down stories ranging from coping with Internet trolls to the LGA-favorite “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” debate. (We’re an agency divided, in case you’re curious.)

Keep emerging platforms like TikTok in mind when pitching your experts – you just might find an added-exposure opportunity.

Let’s Connect

We can’t predict the future – but we can say with certainty great ideas are fueled by curiosity and collaboration. If you’re looking for a partner to tackle this decade’s business challenges with relentless creativity, we’d love to hear from you.


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