Is TikTok changing our social media behaviour?

Political drama, global pandemics, and the “new normal” have made 2020 a stressful year. Enter Tik Tok, an app that provides the ultimate distraction. No headlines, no news, no clapbacks, no spam in the comments; just dances, songs, goofy skits, and silly memes. In the meantime, the products featured in the app have become mainstream and some creators have been elevated to superstars. As Facebook has become the platform for Boomers and IG is the hub for GenX and Millenials, it’s no secret that TikTok is where the kids are. Over 40% of the ~800 million global active users are under the age of 24, and 60% are under the age of 30. Like millions of captivated users, Tik Tok has become my #1 app for screen time. Let’s take a look at what makes it so addicting.

Back up… tell me more about TikTok

Every widely adopted app encourages users to change their behaviour: Instagram inspired us to photograph our food, Snapchat encouraged us to take more selfies than we ever thought possible and TikTok is making us dance. 3-15 second videos or looping 15-60 second videos are widely centered around choreographed movements that are contextualized by the creator. As TikTok has become more widely used, the dance aspect has become optional, but remains ubiquitous. Ultimately creators leverage a library of music tracks and sounds, hashtags, filters, duets, and challenges to perform skits, give tips and tricks, tell a joke, vlog, and tell a story. Unlike the polished veneer of Instagram or carefully considered posts on Facebook, the mood and aesthetic on TikTok is similar to Snapchat or IG Stories. It’s spontaneous, unedited, raw, and unretouched.

What separates it even more from other platforms is the way content is displayed when users search for new videos. The discover interfaces on both Snapchat and Instagram are tiled grids, multiple options that inherently divide your attention among them. Often branded content is included there as well. Upon opening TikTok, however, users are welcomed by their “For You” page — a full screen display of video content in a feed. The familiar share, like and comment mechanisms make engagement intuitive, ensure creators receive feedback, and give the platform’s algorithm valuable information to further guarantee the relevancy of future suggestions.

For now, TikTok’s value to brands is engagement.

It’s obvious that TikTok is ideal in reaching younger audiences. But beyond that, advertisers are still struggling with understanding how to leverage the possibilities. Although the ad products are not as robust as more mature platforms, currently advertisers can choose between a variety of placements including TopView – that shows your ad as soon as the user opens the app, In-Feed Ads, Branded Hashtag Challenges, Brand Takeovers, and Branded Effects. None of these offer conversion mechanisms, but in addition to the value of the global, captive, Gen Z audience, existing in-app measurement tools  like CPC, oCPC, CPM and CPV are hugely advantageous. And since the app has not been widely embraced by advertisers, the landscape is not (yet) cluttered with competing brands or brand messaging at all. TikTok is a great opportunity for a brand to fulfill upper-funnel initiatives, like increasing brand awareness with a younger demo, or drive consideration and brand affinity. 

Brands who engage with TikTok users in a platform native way, like spurring challenges (or joining them!), exposing (seemingly) unscripted behind-the-scenes peeks, offering a branded lens for consumers to engage with, or participating in a new trend in a way that feels authentic or relevant to the brand can create real connections with this audience. From an aesthetic perspective, the content must look as native as possible – vertical, creator-led video content will outperform any other content.

A huge consideration for brands entering TikTok is the Influencer component. Leveraging content creators who already have a unique and authentic voice on the platform, let alone audience, is critical. The audience will be more receptive to brand messages via Influencers, content creators who have already built credibility and earned trust. 

Other things to consider when designing a TikTok ad is leveraging the audio component thoughtfully (since sound within the app as a whole is such a large part of the experience), have a clear and singular hook or message, and keep it 10 seconds or less.

This Maybelline case study exemplifies how a brand can integrate with the platform in a way that feels native, is entertaining, not disruptive, and ultimately moves the needle for the brand. Maybelline worked together with Influencer Reiko, creating a customized song for the campaign. Resulting in an 80% lift in brand awareness, brand favorability increased by a whopping 47.9%.

So, what sets TikTok apart?

Visual Interface
TikTok is a full screen app, one video filling the frame. Instead of being bombarded with multiple images at once, the user is fully immersed in each piece of content at a time. Beyond that, the user cannot see the next piece of content until they decide to, thus increasing the feeling of FOMO (that next video might be the best one yet!), encouraging a craving for more content and fostering endless scrolling. Another important feature is TikTok‘s “For You” feed, with infinite content that is rarely repeated (unlike on Instagram or Facebook).

Built by artificial intelligence with a VERY quick-learning algorithm, TikTok records which videos were watched, how much of the video was watched, and which ones were interacted with. It used that information to serve you increasingly relevant content. Every time a user enters the app, they are presented with a new refreshed feed based on previous interactions, not only satisfying their need for new content, but maximizing the potential for the user to be entertained and engaged by that content.

What does the future hold for TikTok?

Available in over 150 countries with over 800 million active users each month, TikTok is now facing a barrage of would-be competitors. Even Instagram, who famously took a big bite from Snapchat when they launched Stories, is attempting to encroach on TikTok with their newly released feature, Reels. New app, Triller, launched just in time, positioned as an alternative to TikTok as some countries are considering banning the app. 

The biggest question mark regarding the future of TikTok is what will happen in the US. As rumours circulate about who will buy TikTok (estimated sale price is $20 – $30 billion), Microsoft and Walmart are currently identified as the most likely. If Walmart buys TikTok, it’s likely the platform will quickly evolve to resemble Douyin, a sophisticated e-commerce version of TikTok in China. For TikTok to become an unapologetically canonical e-commerce platform would not necessarily mean its demise, although that will ultimately be up to its users to decide. Contextual, in-app purchasing has not shied users to other social platforms, in fact, it has arguably added benefit and ease to the user experience within IG, Facebook, and Pinterest. However, TikTok’s markedly younger user base may not embrace a new focus on branded content within the app.

If Oracle ultimately purchases TikTok, it’s more likely that TikTok will continue more in the trajectory it has to date, serving the new owner as a data gathering mechanism rather than a sales tool. That’s not to say that adding e-commerce elements to the platform would be out of the question, as those transactions offer hugely valuable intel to data collectors, but the evolution could be slower.      

What do you think the future holds for TikTok? One thing is certain: this has changed how we consume content. Whether TikTok stays or goes, we will be creating these crazy videos while waiting for the next thing to steal our attention.

🤓 Emmali Gnestadius Kronvall
Marketing Designer, Twigeo

📅 August 31, 2020