In September, my colleague Jon Chatt and I attended an in-person seminar hosted by TikTok for Business in London. As a full service digital agency, we already use the platform for advertising with our clients, but even so, the event gave us wider insights into how powerful the platform is, what’s on the horizon for TikTok, and how we can maximise impact for our clients with social media marketing.
In this series, I’ll be diving into the ins and outs of TikTok - what makes it unique as a platform, why businesses should get on board, and why it is (and will continue to be) a very lucrative channel for companies using (or considering) paid advertising.
TikTok for Business: It’s A Vibe
With one billion active users across the globe - and with the average user spending just over 1.5 hours on the app every day - TikTok has quickly become one of the most influential social media channels in the world. Driven by user-generated content (UGC) and with a far more democratic algorithm than other platforms, TikTok gives creators equal opportunities for their content to be seen (and potentially go viral, if it hits the right audience).
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of TikTok influencers who have garnered fame and advertising income by simply sharing their interests, creating a unique personal brand, or sharing their niche knowledge or expertise with the world in a way that resonates with other users. While there are certainly strategic ways that users can approach content creation (particularly once they’ve built an audience), the majority of the top trends on TikTok originate organically with authentic content at their core. In a matter of hours, an innocuous video about virtually anything can gain millions of views, regardless of whether the content creator has a verified tick, thousands of followers, or has even produced any content previously.
The equal playing field that TikTok provides for user-generated content means that much of what makes it to your For You page (essentially, the data-driven, tailored content you see when you first open the app) is based on what the algorithm has determined will resonate with you. With this in mind, you’re likely to see as many (if not more) videos by perfect strangers with a few followers as you are content from influencers with massive followings. Within the majority of videos, you’ll also find the comments section - a whole subculture of its own, filled with ever-evolving memes and internet slang phrases that quickly make it into mainstream culture (see: the title of this article).
Essentially, TikTok offers an authentic experience for both users and creators, and with the ability to stitch (video reply), comment, download, like, and share content on the platform, TikTok has also facilitated an incredible sense of community. This has helped to develop many small niches built around shared interests that are otherwise difficult to find, engage with or cater to on curated or individualistic platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Even as both Meta products have tried to replicate TikTok’s success with the short-form video, neither can compete with the virality or feeling of genuine connection that TikTok offers.
TikTok’s growth and why it attracted huge brands
Although TikTok launched in 2016, it saw an incredible hike in user engagement during the 2020 lockdown, as did many other tech companies. As a community-based platform powered by UGC, TikTok quickly became the preferred place for users to create, share, and access entertainment during a time when the world was facing dramatic uncertainty and social interaction became more difficult than ever. More than other social platforms, TikTok facilitated human connection and provided a sense of shared community that the general public craved. As a result, TikTok spread like wildfire, with many of its trends and memes making it into the mainstream, catching the attention of corporations on a large scale.
Meanwhile, by necessity, our social and cultural norms underwent a significant transformation, including those of the corporate media and advertising world. Suddenly, even the biggest corporations and brands were as logistically and creatively limited as the average content creator. As a result, it became normal to see a CEO of a global brand being interviewed from their home in casual clothing; to watch television shows and advertisements that had been created using consumer-grade equipment like laptops and phones. When normal production did resume, much of the tone of advertising had also changed, and companies leaned further into the humanistic, authentic style they had been forced to adopt - embracing the style of content production that TikTok had already mastered.
Realising that this resonated well with audiences, businesses flocked to TikTok to further explore and develop their less formal, less structured and more authentic brand personas, largely by capitalising on trends and collaborating with creators. One notable example of this was when several global brands collaborated with content creator Emily Zugay, who created a series of ironic ‘redesigns’ of the world's most recognised logos, including McDonalds, Starbucks, Apple, and TikTok itself. Delivered in a hilariously deadpan, matter-of-fact style, Emily’s corporate logo redesign videos immediately went viral, even though she had not previously had a large following on the platform.
Attracting millions of views, brands started to reach out to Zugay, asking her to redesign their logos in an attempt to engage with her wide following and drive the relevancy and relatability of their brands within the app. Some of them went so far as to update their logos on multiple social channels to the versions designed by Zugay, knowing that this would not only lead to increased awareness and engagement on TikTok, but on their other channels as well. Through their strategic interactions with Zugay, companies like Microsoft Windows were able to demonstrate an awareness of internet culture, reaching new audiences like Gen Z who would have otherwise been relatively disengaged with the brand while genuinely surprising those who already did. In fact, as a long-standing schtick, Emily Zugay is the only account that Microsoft Windows follows on TikTok, and it is by interacting with and leaning in to the types of weird, informal, and non-corporate content that creators like Zugay produce that Windows has amassed a whopping 1 million followers on the platform.
Other famous brands like Ryanair and Duolingo embrace the nonsensical, ironic, unfiltered style of content that TikTok users have come to expect, and it’s worked wonders for their brands. We’re talking millions of views, thousands of comments and shares, and a whole hoard of brand awareness with an audience they may not have otherwise reached or resonated with.
TikTok: an experimental playground for brands
TikTok is ultimately a platform where a brand can experiment with its voice and audience - where it can throw corporate guidelines out the window (and get away with it). If businesses are concerned that the more outlandish aspects of TikTok content will be too incongruous with their brand identities, they firstly need to take a step back and recognise that internet culture - which is invariably entangled with the real world - has so much to offer from a business perspective.
Even if businesses are unsure of how to create engaging content, TikTok offers a collaborative advertising service which allows brands to partner with select TikTok creators, giving them the creative freedom to take their brand or product and run with it (with a little input and guidance of course). Whether you decide to create your own content or harness the power of the creator community, TikTok is undeniably a potential goldmine for companies looking to engage new audiences and stay relevant in a time when authenticity and community are at the core of advertising. It is no coincidence that these are the biggest USPs of TikTok.
Aside from the brand awareness and relevancy angle, TikTok is also a powerhouse for e-commerce. Of the billion or so users that flock to TikTok every day, 68% come to the app looking to discover new products and brands, be it through an ad, a sponsored post by a creator, a customer review, or through content that inadvertently advertises the product, such as crafting or fashion.
Ultimately, TikTok is a place where users and brands can come together - there’s an extremely lucrative, symbiotic relationship here that both global brands and SMEs are tapping into. The success of the TikTok algorithm in identifying users’ interests means that advertising is successfully targeted in a way that benefits both businesses and consumers. Naturally, without any experience using the app (and with many companies holding their brand guidelines dear), navigating the advertising and content space of the platform can be challenging and intimidating. But with the right agency by your side, it doesn’t have to be.
Interested in using TikTok for your business? We can help.
If you’re looking to explore TikTok for Business for your company, contact us to learn what you can do to boost lead generation, brand awareness, and sales. As mentioned above, we’re already working with clients to develop their TikTok strategies and with many new features for business on the horizon, many TikTok advertisers are only just scratching the surface of what’s possible.