A couple of months ago I decided I needed to know more about TikTok. It was something that I’d been hearing about for a while but I’d been putting off learning anything about it as I thought it might be one of those fads that quickly dies out. But I soon realised it wasn’t going anywhere so, as the curious mind and diligent marketeer that I am, I decided the time had come to educate myself.
Initially, I turned to my family for help and asked a simple question – what do you know about TikTok? I don’t know what I was expecting but it turned out to be less about helpful information and more akin to a social experiment. Here are their answers:
- Nephew, aged 12: “I know absolutely nothing about it and I don’t want to do it.”
- Niece, aged 15: “It’s a social media platform where you can show singing, dancing, comedy and lip sinking through short videos.”
- Husband, aged 37: “Aren’t you too old to be worrying about that?”
- Sister-in-law, aged 40-something: “I like it. I did one with my daughter and goddaughter and thought it was fun. I want to do a challenge but I’d embarrass my kids too much.”
- Mother-in-law, aged 60-something “What’s a TikTok?”
Hmmm. Not quite what I was looking for – so I started my own search. Here’s what I found…
What is TikTok?
My niece summed it up pretty well – it’s a social media platform where you can share short videos from five to 60 seconds long. Fifteen seconds, however, is the magic number as that’s the upper limit for recording within the app, but users can upload longer videos that were filmed outside of the TikTok platform.
TikTok is particularly popular with young people – around 50% of its global audience is under the age of 34 (I delight in this statistic as it implies that I’m still in the ‘young people’ category – for a few more months at least). And it’s here to stay – it was the second most downloaded app in 2019 behind WhatsApp, ahead of all other social media platforms. Impressive.
What kind of content is shared?
In all honesty, there’s a little bit of everything on TikTok but the most popular videos tend to be funny and light-hearted. Again, my niece nailed it in her description – singing, dancing, comedy and lip sinking videos are in abundance, as are funny pet videos (my personal favourite).
There are also a number of TikTok ‘challenges’ where users are encouraged to record themselves doing a particular action and share the video. This could be anything from a particular dance move or routine a la #BlindedByTheLightChallenge or something silly like the #FlipTheSwitchChallenge where people switch places/ clothes etc.
How does TikTok work?
Unlike other social media platforms, you don’t need an account to watch TikTok videos, but you will need an account to post your own videos or engage with other people (i.e. like, comment, follow etc.).
When you download the TikTok app and open it on your phone, a video will start playing right away without you needing to select one which is quite a nifty feature (although this can be dangerous as you’re sucked straight in). You also don’t need to be following anyone to see videos. The app automatically selects videos that it thinks you might be interested in – just like magic. Of course, if you do have an account and want to follow people, you can. You can also change your settings to only see videos from the people you follow if you wish. And, like most social media platforms, you can also search for particular accounts, hashtags and keywords to find content you’ll love.
Is TikTok just for kids?
TikTok is undoubtedly popular among teens (except my nephew it would seem) but it isn’t just young people that love the app. Recent figures show increasing amounts of adults downloading the app. In less than 18 months, the number of US adult TikTok users grew 5.5 times. Demographics for the UK are harder to track down but figures suggest that this is very much a global trend.
Can businesses and brands use TikTok?
Despite its growing popularity across age demographics, just 4% of American marketers are on the platform meaning there’s plenty of untapped potential.
One of the ways savvy brands are jumping on the TikTok bandwagon is through influencer marketing campaigns with top TikTok creators. Clothing and cosmetic companies have had particular success with this – for example Too Faced cosmetics sponsored a video from top TikTok user Kristen Hancher to promote their new mascara. The campaign generated 821 million views – yes, you read that right – 821 million views.
Other brands are turning to comedy to showcase the lighter side of their organisation. I’m particularly enjoying the work of cat treats brand Dreamies, who created a series of video ads showing cute cats scaling household obstacles to get to the treats. All set to a somewhat addictive dance music track.
How can I use TikTok for my business?
TikTok has absolutely bags of marketing potential – particularly if your product or service is aimed at the younger end of the age spectrum. However, it should be used with caution. TikTok users are shrewd – they want to see something different, so you need to be on top of trend to be successful.
A quick Google of TikTok fails reveals awkward content, ‘jumping on the band wagon’ videos with no message or purpose and uninspiring content that has been recycled from other social media platforms. To avoid joining this list, my top tips would be:
- Do your research: Look at what other people, businesses and brands are doing on TikTok and really think about if, where and how your business fits into this picture. Be clear about what do you want to achieve through TikTok and how you want to use it before you get started.
- Plan, plan, plan: As with all social media content or marketing campaigns, planning is key. Posting a funny lip sync video and hoping for the best is unlikely to get you the results you were after. Make sure you have a TikTok strategy that is supported by your other marketing activity – but always ensure your TikTok content is unique. Recycled content is a big no-no.
- Be authentic: Jumping on trends can be a great way to get your business exposure – but if the trend isn’t relevant to you it can be super cringy. Before you start rehearsing your dance moves, think about the message you want to convey through the video. You might also want to consider if there’s a unique spin you could give the trend to avoid it feeling too forced or cliched.
My TikTok journey has been an interesting one but a key question remains – am I now a TikTok convert? The short answer is yes. I have the app on my phone and I watch videos every day. I’ve even got my husband Matt into it. His description of TikTok would now be ‘an addictive rabbit hole of video content’ and I wouldn’t disagree.
But are we both using it for our respective businesses? No. While we’re both happy to watch TikToks to our hearts content, we’ve yet to actually make one. Maybe lockdown could be the time – or maybe we’ll spare the world that awkwardness for now!