All the cool kids are on TikTok. Here’s a plan for you and your business!

tiktok

TikTok seems to be everywhere in the social media conversation … and with good reason. Today, let’s take a rational view of this fascinating platform and its role in building a personal brand and a digital foothold for your business.

TikTok is significant because it seems to be emerging as a “homeroom” for a generation. One of the interesting things about the evolution of social media is how the platforms are stratifying by age groups:

  • The only demographic growing on Facebook is 55+
  • LinkedIn is the place for business professionals
  • Snapchat is dominated by 18-to-30-year-olds.
  • Gen Z (people under 20) seem to be adopting TikTok as their social media homeroom.

I suppose some day the generation after Z will view TikTok as quaint and seek their own place. So we need to watch for that!

But for now, TikTok is the center of the social media marketing conversation.

Like any social media platform, TikTok is diverse and hard to describe in a sentence or two, but in general, it is primarily kids making humorous (and at times angsty) short video clips to earn likes and attention. TikTok is an exuberant celebration of youthful fun.

TikTok launched in China in late 2016 (where it is known as Douyin) and has gone international within the past two years. The app is currently the most downloaded social media app in the U.S. and its growth in the US quadrupled in just one year, according to comScore. So, as a marketer, this demands your attention.

Should you be there, too? Let’s look at TikTok from 1) a personal standpoint and 2) from a business standpoint.

TikTok in context

One of the interesting facts is that increasingly, non-teens are adopting the platform.

tiktok

We see in the chart below that the age group with the largest number of unique visitors is 18-24-year-olds (3.7 million), which accounts for just over one-quarter (25.8 percent) of the total US adult visitors. Another one-quarter (25 percent) of the visitors aged 18 and older fell into the 25-34 age group.

tiktok income

However, these charts are missing something important. Neither chart accounts for users under the age of 18 … and that is a primary audience for TikTok. 

The significance of TikTok and the thesis of this article depends on the fact that this is a channel that is driven primarily by young people … even children. So let’s dig a little deeper. It was tough finding research that dives below the 18-year-old standard but here’s what I found:

tik tok demographics

Ah-ha! We see that about 40 percent of the entire population on TikTok is under 20 and 66 percent is under 30.

Conclusion one: TikTok is primarily populated by children and young adults.

The second question is: Who is CREATING content on TikTok? There is absolutely no data available on this so I did my own little experiment. I simply watched 200 straight videos in a random feed and recorded my estimate:

tiktok creators

This is not a scientific survey, but it’s probably a good indicator that almost all the content on TikTok is coming from teens and people in their 20s.

By the way … there were three celebrities on here that I did not include in the sample: Will Smith, Bob Saget, and chef Gordon Ramsey. I think that is sort of special category.

By the way, in my 200-video-jaunt, there were no ads shown to me. Currently, TikTok is rolling out sponsored video projects but I didn’t see an ad, which made the user experience really enjoyable.

So although the number of adults signing up to TikTok is on the rise, they’re not participating much. Perhaps this replicates the earlier Snapchat trend when adults pressed onto the channel out of curiosity and then dumped it when they didn’t fit in. Or maybe it’s marketers climbing on board to take a look. But the bottom line is, TikTok culture is for children and young adults.

Why is it important to establish this context? Because it’s going to dictate your personal and business strategy …

The personal brand on TikTok

So, should you be there? Is it a place to build a personal brand?

If you’re under 30 — sure. If you’re older than that — not so sure.

TikTok is a place where kids and young adults have fun. They’re posing, pranking, lip-synching, and doing dance challenges.

I think everybody should check it out. You never know. Maybe you’ll fall in love with it.

But from a personal standpoint, I can’t help but think as a 50-something, my presence on TikTok would be … invasive.

I mean, what does it feel like to scroll through dozens of videos of 13-year-olds lip-synching in their bedroom and then come across this:

gary v on tiktok

Despite the really cool cap, this just seems creepy to me. It screams “What am I doing here?”

I’m picking on Gary Vaynerchuk because he has recently been advocating that everybody pile on to TikTok. Like I said, go try it. But just because you can … doesn’t mean you should. Maybe we should just let the kids alone and let them have fun without us ruining it.

The problem with (most) adults inserting themselves into a place like TikTok is that they probably won’t be native to the platform.

It’s sort of like an Eskimo showing up on a tropical beach. You’d stare and wonder what’s wrong.

tiktok

Digital Natives can sniff out a fake in a heartbeat. You only belong on TikTok (or anywhere) if you can be relevant in a way that is organic to the platform.

There is certainly a guru-led charge to TikTok. In the coming months, you’ll see tons of advice urging you to pile on … but that doesn’t mean they’re right. Marketers flock to the next cool thing until they ruin it. Why participate in that?

Here’s a more rational view of how a business can approach this platform.

The business case for TikTok

If you’re in marketing for a business, you should be as familiar with TikTok as Twitter. Get on there, look around, read everything you can about it.

I’m on TikTok to learn and laugh a little, not to grow an audience of 15-year-olds or become a junior high dance champion (although I suppose that might be entertaining now that I think about it).

Snapchat has become the communication hub for under-30s and I think that same, strong emotional connection is forming between TikTok and teens. So perhaps this is a platform that has lasting power.

TikTok’s growth is impressive and promising, but it’s not time to overhaul your marketing strategy just yet. TikTok is still quite small compared to the giants of social media and users can be notoriously fickle —  what’s hot one day might not be the next. There are data privacy concerns to be aware of, as well as concerns because the data-collecting company is Chinese-owned (TikTok’s founder said the platform will be kept separate from the government).

So for now, how should we rationally approach TikTok from a business standpoint?

1. Go Native

We went through this same cycle with Snapchat. Everybody piled on in a frenzy … and then a few brands figured out a relevant way to participate in the channel:

  • Account take-overs with people who belong on the platform
  • Partnering with native influencers to create sponsored content
  • Appropriate channel-specific advertising
  • Relevant stories and channels that align with the youth-oriented audience

The same thing will happen with TikTok. We’ll figure it out eventually because of the obvious commercial opportunity.

Several large companies are already starting to experiment with co-created promotions on the app. Most of these promotions take advantage of TikTok’s “challenge” concept by creating their own challenges and even providing new music clips for users to interact with and make their own.

For instance, McDonald’s worked directly with TikTok to create a contest called the #BigMacTikTok Challenge.  To enter, TikTok users would dance to one of many pre-recorded music clips that were uploaded to the service. After creating the video, users were required to submit their entry via the official McDonald’s mobile app. All entries won a free Big Mac and a few winners danced away with cash prizes.

That’s a great example of how a brand can join in with the fun in an organic way and reward great creative work.

2. Cool hunter

The most exciting thing to me is that the next big trends are percolating on TikTok. This is a hotbed for viral. TikTok could become the epicenter of pop culture coolness.

What’s the next popular fashion accessory, hairstyle. or video trend? It’s probably coming from the cool kids on TikTok. If your brand depends on cultural relevance, a steady diet of TikTok is required!

I could see spin-offs — TikTok-based television shows, commercials, and other relevant content coming in our future.

I think it’s only a matter of time before there are live and televised TikTok competitions — teams get an original piece of music and then a limited time to create a team dance routine. This would also be a great sponsorship opportunity!

3. The next creators/influencers

One of the things that is so fun about TikTok is that it’s an incredible creative platform. It forces kids to get wild and crazy to stand out. High schools are even forming TikTok clubs to enable collaboration on short creative videos. How cool is that!

I saw this one funny video on TikTok. As a young lady awkwardly dances around her room, she writes “I can’t dance. I can’t sing. I’m not funny. The only thing I do well is drink wine.”

The point is, building and sustaining an audience on TikTok requires an enormous amount of talent and consistent creative effort. The emerging TikTok stars will be the next generation of influencers and creators — The new media stars, artists, movie directors, and celebrities. Predictably, there is already a wave of sponsored content hitting the TikTok airwaves.

Recently, TikTok began rolling out two new features that allow influencers to add links in their videos to eCommerce sites (similar to Instagram’s “swipe up” feature in Stories), along with the ability to place URLs within a profile page.

If you’re in the business of identifying and connecting to youthful influencers, this is the place to be.

4. Advertising/sponsored content

In early 2019 TikTok began to roll out several brand advertising opportunities.

Brands like Chipotle have had MASSIVE success with its #GuacDance Challenge paid program on TikTok.

In perhaps the largest US branding effort to date, TikTok announced a multiyear partnership with the NFL that will allow third-party brands to sponsor content on the NFL’s TikTok account. The NFL also hopes to generate user engagement by inviting fans to create TikTok-centric content to support their favorite teams and players.

Like every social platform, TikTok will have to monetize through sponsored content while providing user experiences that seem organic and native to the culture of the platform.

5. Cultural Relevance

TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the platform.

Whoa.

Even though it’s still small, TikTok is mighty! If your target demographic is under 30, you simply must be exploring ways to create a meaningful presence on the network.

If you want your brand to be relevant to the next generation of consumers, you probably need to be there. Mainstream brands like Macy’s, the supermarket chain Kroger, and WalMart have already started to create a relevant brand presence on TikTok.

And finally …

I want to emphasize that I’m not telling you what to do, and I never do.  You are an experienced marketing professional and you can make your own decisions. I just want to provide a rational business perspective to the best of my ability in a world of relentless hype.

I hope you’ll make appropriate decisions led by common sense, strategy, and data … not based on the hype of social media gurus.

Make sense?

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go practice my dance moves for the next challenge!

Update December 2019: Facebook-owned Instagram has launched a TikTok competitor. The company is trialing a video-music remix feature in Brazil called Reels. Reels lets you make 15-second video clips set to music and share them as Stories, with the potential to go viral on a new Top Reels section of Explore. Just like TikTok, users can soundtrack their Reels with a huge catalog of music, or borrow the audio from anyone else’s video to create a remix of their meme or joke.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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