In 2016, TikTok launched onto the social media scene and its dramatic rise to fame is reshaping culture like never before. Dubbed an entertainment platform rather than a social media platform, it has taken just 5 years to reach a 1 billion users, half that of Facebook. Its growth continues to roll on.
The impact of TikTok on the digital landscape is undeniable. In 2022 Google released its search trends of the year and in the make-up and beauty category the top trending search terms read like a laundry list of viral TikTok trends. But it is not just search behaviour that TikTok is influencing. It is changing how the major platforms work, as Tech giants compete in an arms race to retain users.
In 2020 we saw Instagram launch reels to become more TikTok-esque and that marked the start of a series of changes the tech giants have made to keep users sticky. It was followed by the launch of YouTube shorts in 2021, its solution to short form content. In 2022 Google also announced changes to its search and maps to feature more images and video in search results - including from TikTok. The updates are designed to win over Generation Z as they increasingly turn to TikTok to answer the questions and queries once dominated by Google.
No longer a platform for teens
Global data from Hootsuite suggests that consumers are spending more time on TikTok than nearly any other platform – averaging 22.9 hours a month, a figure that is only just surpassed by YouTube at 23.4 hours per month. Given its levels of engagement it is clear brands should be standing up and taking notice.
Whilst TikTok was once the domain of teens, it’s been adopted by those of all ages. According to Statista, 58.3% of the platform’s users are now over the age of 24 and more than one in five are over the age of 35.
According to ByteDance’s advertising resources, TikTok now has over 7.38 million users aged 18 and above in early 2022. More than half of its users were female. Its adoption makes it one of the most important platforms for brands to connect with consumers down under.
On regulators' radars for all the wrong reasons
Despite its success and consumer popularity, however, TikTok has regulators and governments very concerned. US regulators have for some time been scrutinising the platform, which is under Chinese ownership. Both state and federal regulators are concerned that the Chinese government can access American users’ data or influence the content they see in their feeds.
In December, at least seven US states barred public employees from using the app on government devices. Whilst at the same time US Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has formally proposed banning the app in the US through a bill that he’s leading with a group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate.
The US isn’t however the first to take issue with the platform. In 2019, India and Pakistan banned it for “morality issues”, with both bans being rescinded after a while. India banned the app again in June 2020, along with a spate of other Chinese-based apps, as tensions between China and India heightened. India upheld the ban in January 2021, which has led to several other TikTok clones taking over market share in the country.
Australia too is investigating the app, although at this stage it may stop short of an outright ban. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil earlier this year tasked her department to investigate the risks of TikTok and confirmed that advice would be provided to her in “early 2023”.
How to best leverage the platform in 2023
Whilst regulators decide on the app’s future, it would be unwise for brands to simply wait to see what may or may not eventuate in the world of TikTok. For brands looking to actively engage via TikTok, what should they consider in 2023?
In December 2022, TikTok announced their What’s Next report which has provided several clear signals for what works best on the platform.
Creators are king. Nearly two thirds of users of the platform say they rely on the recommendations and reviews of creators when deciding what to buy online. For brands, cultivating relationships with creators who are existing fans of your brand is paramount to influencing core audience.
Entertainment first: As TikTok’s focus is entertainment first, its algorithm works very differently to other social media platforms. TikTok's content is curated based on what viewers find entertaining, so it captures their attention and trust. This means brands need to think 'audience first' and avoid a sales-based approach if they are to be successful on the platform.
A focus on wellbeing and little luxuries: Whilst humour and entertainment often go hand in hand, entertainment in the form of life hacks also features prominently. Users share everyday strategies and "lifehacks" on TikTok that empower them to make space for themselves whenever they need. This may cover anything from skincare tips to advice on living as a digital nomad. As parts of the globe also feel the pinch, little luxuries are coming to the fore. TikTok users are increasingly highlighting how they reward themselves at any budget level, which makes indulgence feel accessible and attainable. Brands who generate content themselves need to consider the intersection between what matters most to consumers in their lives, and how to authentically meet audience need in a way that is relevant to the brand and its values.
Further afield brands should also keep their eyes on the horizon and consider where TikTok is headed next.
In late 2022 TikTok appointed a heavy hitter as head of global gaming, and the exec made no secret of the fact that the area was of significant interest to the video company. The former Intel Executive stated on his LinkedIn profile: "TikTok and gaming were made for each other. TikTok has far shown its value in helping consumers discover what’s fun, valuable, and popular. I look forward to working closely with all gaming companies globally to help make TikTok a central foundation in your marketing strategies."
With the arms race for gaming heating up – it will certainly be one for brands to keep a close eye on.