What Is TikTok and Should We Be Using It?

What Is TikTok and Should We Be Using It?

Joe Martin 27/02/2020 6

TikTok could be the biggest brand opportunity that we’re not quite sure what to do with yet. According to a recent survey from CloudApp, 40 percent of Gen Z spends 5+ hours a day watching YouTube or other social video content. 1 in 5 Gen Z office workers confessed to using 10+ hours of their workday on TikTok or other social related video.

It’s a massively popular service with more than 500 million active monthly users, but it trends young and weird with a fast turnover. This has kept some marketing companies away from TikTok, but that shouldn’t be the case if any of your customers are young.

Major brands are doing well on the service, some small groups are becoming breakout stars, and there’s plenty of room for you in there too. If you’re worried that it might be too soon or you just don’t know enough, keep reading and we’ll lay out why you might want to get your company on TikTok.

What Is TikTok?

Hootsuite has a very popular definition of TikTok: Real short videos.

That’s a great starting point for any company or marketing department. The point of TikTok is to be brief, make an impact, and then get someone to keep consuming your content. For us older marketers, it’s the latest video-focused solution, becoming a sensation on its own. It’ll remind you of Vine, but the focus (largely due to the short nature of content) is to be funny and a little quirky.

The ability to get weird is a major driving force for its popularity, and it’s the natural evolution of brand-focused marketing. We’ve all seen Wendy’s and other companies get meta on Twitter, and this is the next, more creative iteration.

The company has more than one billion installations on mobile devices, is valued at around $75 billion, and makes a few million dollars per year thanks to in-app purchases.

It started in China and still goes by its original name of Douyin there.

Who Uses TikTok?

TikTok targets young users heavily. Across the globe, nearly half of users are under the age of 24. When looking specifically at China, it’s largest market, 75% of users are between the ages of 18 and 35. It tends to be popular among the age groups that are most active on mobile devices.

So, if Gen Z is your target, it’s time to get on TikTok.

What’s a bit surprising is that TikTok is growing rapidly among adults. In the past 18 months, its US adult userbase has grown 5.5x. While teens still dominate, it is expanding. One likely culprit is the ability to share TikTok video on other platforms like Twitter.

TikTok has slightly more male users — 56% men compared to 44% women — but all people average about an hour per day on the social app. Roughly 90% use the app multiple times per day. And, about 30% of its 500 million active daily users live in China, while the rest are spread among 154 other countries.

One important thing the service has in its favor is that it has responded well to concerns, including some child privacy law violations. TikTok has put greater security measures into places and run some online safety campaigns as well. In short, you shouldn’t face any brand risk if you make a TikTok account.

How Does It Work?

TikTok is all about creating and watching video, so its built-in tools are designed to make creating engaging content easy. This means the service has expanded to support a few different, common themes of content.

Let’s look at some of these core features and tools to understand what you’ll be seeing when you start hanging out on TikTok.

  • Video and slideshows: You can create photo slideshows or film videos directly within the TikTok app. The features you’ll need to create anything in one shot are there. Unlike other social networks, most content is created within the app instead of being added to the platform.
  • Live streams: Creators with big followings were the first to get the “Live” option on TikTok. Now, many people can but still not everyone. Theses are fairly standard live streams and have a mix of popularity on the service. Some creators use TikTok live streams to direct people to other live channels such as YouTube or Twitch, where there’s more interaction with the audience (and its easier for the audience to give money to the creators).
  • Editing and filters: After capturing your video, TikTok comes with a wide range of visuals tools to make things more fun. You can add GIFs, stickers, emojis, filters, transitions, time effects, and other video options. These can make cuts less jarring and are generally easy to figure out if you’ve worked with other leading video editing software.
  • Music: Music dominates on TikTok. The service has major deals with labels and Apple Music integration to offer up an expansive music library. This allows users to add songs to videos, remix and save them, create playlists (song and video) and more. The presence of music is expected to continue because TikTok popularity has already translated into success in major music charts.
  • Interactions: Users and fans can interact with content is pretty standard ways on TikTok. There are hearts and follow options, commenting, sharing videos, browsing via hashtags, adding GIFs or reactions, and things like sound effects. If there are items you like — or you create brand content that you want to use often — it can be saved to and quickly accessed via a “Favorites” section.
  • Profiles: Influencers, celebrities, and brands can get verified profiles on TikTok with a blue checkmark similar to Twitter and Instagram. Popular creators get orange checkmarks. Your profile will show how many hearts you’ve received as well as things like follower counts.
  • Payments: TikTok has its own in-app virtual currency that users can buy and then give to creators to help them keep making content on the platform.

Right now, there are a few major types of videos dominating the TikTok scene. That said, as soon as we hit publish things may change. These are where you’ll want to spend most of your time creating for your company to game steam.

 Everything must be new and trending, but the service’s algorithm is designed to make it easy for people to find new things. That means consistent creation gives you a great way to continually find new eyes.

So, here are the ones that will most likely stick around:

  • Challenges: Perhaps the biggest driver of activity and content on the social network are the TikTok challenges. These are prompts to users to get them to work with a theme or watch something new. Challenges are often tied to new music, artists, or things like movies as well as popular hashtags. Challenges and the video responses tend to go viral quickly, but their longevity is never quite certain.

Jimmy kicks off the “Tonight Show Challenges” on TikTok

  • Quick comedy: Not typically a brand or company content realm, there are a lot of people trying to become influencers and popular stars who begin with short, humorous videos. The main thing that sets these apart is that they don’t often follow challenges or hashtags and users typically will build out their own niche. It can be something to try, but there can be backlash against things that look too professionally created.
  • Duets: TikTok supports split-screen video tools so many users create duets. Here, someone will take another person’s video and add themselves to it. These are often call-and-response videos and music (like lip-synching) where there is built in time and space for reactions or someone else to sing part of the lyrics. Some of the more creative videos involve people acting out scenes in movies, creating new content for known characters, or interacting with traditional videos where there are gaps, or someone is off-screen.
  • Reaction: When some videos make it big (for good or bad reasons) people like to show their reactions. This is an outgrowth of YouTube’s long-running reaction videos showing people trailers, old content, gross things, and other videos. However, TikTok makes it easy to take this to the next level because its built-in controls for overlays and split-screen videos. You can play with someone else’s content and manipulate things significantly, building up the brand of both people.

Here’s TikTok’s instructions on how to create your reaction video

  • Cringe: One place that few brands enter but many users watch are cringe videos and compilations of cringe videos. These are videos that show painfully-awkward content and tend to be a mix of staged and sincere. You’ll usually see cringe videos crop up in the other categories once these hashtags and events start to gain popularity.

‍Common Brand Activity on TikTok

Companies make a splash on TikTok by being a good user and content creator. This means treating it largely as an advertising channel that gets people to notice you, watch some videos, and click through to learn more about you.

Large companies are focusing on content generation and seeing what they can do that’s funny, engaging, and often a little out of the norm. That keeps people viewing and sharing their videos. They’re also targeting large hashtags, like the Chipotle video below that features #oneyearoftiktok.

Chipotle shows that it’s okay to be a little strange on TikTok

For small or regional companies, there are plenty of hashtags based on your local community. We’ve seen many items for Memphis, New Orleans, and Phoenix, as well as the largest markets around the world.

Branded hashtag challenges are a common brand event now. Guess was essentially the first to rollout with this in a big way as part of an effort directly with TikTok, back in September 2018. It did a “#InMyDenim” challenge that involved getting popular content creators to show how they could use the company’s denim products to jazz up an outfit. It picked up about 37 million views and more and more companies have been running efforts ever since.

San Diego Zoo shows off its own duet featuring some famous tuxedo-wearers

You can make direct insertion order ad-buys, but they tend to be very, very expensive and have some limitations in terms of format and market. So, most companies are focusing on quirky video over ad campaigns.

While ads aren’t in every market, there have been tests since at least January 2019 of in-app ads and cards. The Chinese version of the app (Douyin) sells a variety of ads right now and the come in units including native video, branded hashtag challenges, and items with in-app purchasing.

One ad-like item that is available now are the branded AR stickers available on the service. It’s focused on sports and has garnered major leagues around the world. This should open up a clear path forward for other brands, though TikTok may serve as a content and regional gatekeeper.

On top of that, Douyin is working with Chinese influencers to start building up a more active community and we may see some direct brand tie-ins in the future.

‍A New World of Video

In 2018, TikTok average 1 million video views per day, and 2019 is poised to smash that record. People are responding to video, whether it is ones they create with friends or those coming from influencers, celebrities, and companies.

You can capitalize on it and potentially go viral when you find a way to insert your brand into the TikTok mindset. This means making a strong strategy that is based on what’s happening on the service. Learn and play on TikTok first, so you can see how it operates in real-time and ensure that what you’re creating is right for that audience.

A few things to focus on are showing a silly or creative side of your brand, no matter your industry. You’ll want to experiment with various kinds of content and video types and be sure to have someone ready to engage.

It’s easy to be a star, but you’ll also need some great videos. If you’re more comfortable building on a PC and then going to mobile, CloudApp has plenty of support. You can actually take your videos and create reaction GIFs, add extra features and highlights, and tackle the latest trends with annotations and more. We make it easy to build a powerful baseline image that then gets the final TikTok treatment within the app.

Follow the CloudApp blog and see the full State of Productivity infographic. 

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  • Chad Soper

    TikTok has come out of nowhere and may take many people by surprise.

  • Sara Chapman

    You know you're old when you didn't even know TikTok existed.

  • Karl Nambo

    TicTok is where I draw the line and pull my old man pants up to my belly button and say no!

  • Wendi Ellison

    Overlooking Tik Tok is foolish. I'm old enough to remember when people asked 'what value could there be in 140 characters'?

  • Peter Monden

    In a nutshell: TikTok is vine on steroids.

  • George Ledington

    TikTok monitors all your data.......

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Joe Martin

Tech Expert

Joe is VP of Corporate and Demand Marketing at Zight. He also served as the CMO of Stockchain Global and Advisory Board Member at Ylixr. He has over 15 years experience managing various areas of marketing including research, media buying, social, and overall strategy. His analyses have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Associated Press, and Forbes. Joe holds a BSc in Finance and MBA in Strategy & Marketing from the University of Utah. He also has an Executive Degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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