I finally got my 30-something soul to download Tiktok this weekend. I have already admitted to being too old to use Snapchat, and downloading Tiktok made me feel like I should be researching retirement homes. But Tiktok is all the rage among the youngest generation able to use smartphones these days, and it is amazing home much they use it.
Tiktok is a Chinese mobile app and social network also called Douyin in China. It bought and merged with Musical.ly in 2018 which gave it a direct intake to the American teenage market. The premise is creating short vertical videos with a soundtrack, usually the most popular songs of the moment. Videos can be up to 15 seconds long and TikTok offers extensive filters and augment reality options to spice up videos. The social angle works just like Instagram or Snapchat where people follow accounts or send their videos directly to one another.
Where Tiktok goes further is the editing capabilities that work a lot like Vine used to. This lets people easily make cuts and stitch together bits of video for fun and cinematic effects.
If there is a future contender to Instagram, it’s Tiktok. There are already 500 million monthly active users around the world (about half as many as Instagram) and has a big presence in the US and China, the world’s two biggest markets.
But after spending a few days scrolling through my feed, I can’t help help but wondering why is Tiktok so popular? It’s just bite sized videos of people lipsynching, dancing, or playing with emojis. Sometimes it’s literally a girl synchronizing a wink with the drop in a song, and it has 100K hearts.
It’s all so weird.
Teenagers Love Tiktok
Average teenage users of Tiktok spend an astounding 52 minutes per day on the app. The top types of content are challenges that proliferate. The latest is the stair challenge, where people dance up stairs in a sort of vertical moonwalk. Anyone can participate just by posting with the hashtag.
Like Instagram, influencers on Tiktok have huge communities. They post choreographed clips and rack up likes. The practice and execute dance moves that drive their followers to try the same thing. Like Instagram, they are usually beautiful and charismatic.
But where Tiktok is different from Instagram is the fact that we all want to be silly but not look like a fool. Tiktok lets you be fun with music and filters and lets anyone contribute anytime. Unlike the demands of Instagram, where people only post when they do something interesting, Tiktok opens the gates to posting all the time, since anyone can nod their head with a cool filter to the latest hit song it doesn’t matter if you’re on a beach in Greece or at your grandma’s house in Indiana for the weekend.
Instagram has also become the territory of jealousy, it’s all about doing cooler things than everyone else. Tiktok is about pulling off cooler things, and since people can rehearse their moves, anyone can put out a positive look. This is probably one of the unspoken reasons why teenagers use it so much, unless your parents are paying to get you into USC, you probably don’t live a very glamorous life to stand out on Instagram. Tiktok lets you lipsynch from your bathroom to a song that everyone already loves so the base level of coolness is already fairly high.
Plus there is a very strong virality built in with the duet option. Two people can create one video side by side even if they are not physically together. The Excalibur challenge which is currently running lets you dual with some of Tiktok’s top creators. You copy their video complete with their special effects and act side-by-side. Since the effects are built in on their side, you can get the impression that you are zapping the creator.
This particular challenge is for the launch of a new film and reprensents an entirely new way to generate user content that goes far beyond what other platforms offer.
Should brands get on Tiktok?
All signs point to yes. Tiktok is the new frontier, the home of the attention of Generation Z. It boasts an average engagement rate of 29%. In addition to the Excalibur challenge, the new film Shazam has a sponsored filter in the app right now in France. Tiktok is by nature an app that is used with the sound on, compared to Facebook and Instagram which is almost entirely consumed without sound. That provides an additional dimension to marketing.
For the moment most brands go through official partnership channels with Tiktok in order to create challenges and hashtags like Guess did with the #InMyJeans challenge last summer. The challenges are a great way to engage a young audience but they come with risks. Whenever you use user content to spread a message, you lose some part of control of that message. Kids dancing around in their bedrooms might seem harmless until one of them does something borderline (or illegal) and your brand gets sucked into that mess.
Some brands like Disney Radio and Kitkat have brand accounts, though Kitkat has only one post. Tiktok does not yet offer functionality that advertisers need like clicking through to another platform or even analytics to measure the performance of content. There is also the difficult question of how music can be used on the platform if the purpose is commercial – it’s not the same type of license if a brand uses a Sia song to sell its chandeliers than if I take a video of myself swinging on one.
This will certainly all change though as the growth picks up and advertisers looking for young eyes shift their dollars away from Facebook.
So right now the best thing to do is get in touch with creators on the platform if you want them to spread your message, and why not create a brand account just in case the platform starts to really take off. I would say if you cater to that young audience, get in now while the getting’s good.