What Is TikTok, and How Are Marketers Using It?

The rapidly growing social media platform is a big opportunity for savvy marketers.

a woman smiling and dancing in the kitchen

Fame may take 15 minutes, but viral fame takes just 15 seconds or less—just look at the short-form videos on TikTok. Backed by Chinese corporation ByteDance, this platform has reached over 800 million global downloads since 2017. In 2019, U.S. consumers spent 85 million hours on the platform, up 466% year over year to surpass Amazon Prime Video, among other services. As a platform that generates constantly trending content, TikTok is reshaping the world of social media.

TikTok is more than a video-sharing outlet—it’s a phenomenon powered by AI.

The TikTok algorithm

What sets TikTok apart? On the surface, users create loop videos with special effects for challenges, lip syncs and dances. Yet, a deep dive reveals that TikTok is more than a video-sharing outlet—it’s a phenomenon powered by AI. TikTok doesn’t rely on user behavior to learn their habits. Instead, it analyzes content watched to create a personalized feed. Bloomberg reports, “The app can get to know you so well it feels like it’s reading your mind.” Addictively so. Unsurprisingly, the average user spends 52 minutes on TikTok per day.

How marketers are using TikTok

While Gen Z forms 60% of TikTok’s U.S. audience, the explosive growth of this platform has made it an app for all ages. And brands are taking note. Consider Chipotle with its #GuacDance challenge. The promotion received 430 million video starts, helping Chipotle’s avocado requests jump 68% on National Avocado Day (July 31, obvs). “When you can do something that engages your customers in a way they think is … culturally relevant, people will flock to your brand,” Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt told Forbes. The outcome of Chipotle’s campaign inspired other industries to hook up with TikTok. In September, the NFL signed a two-year content partnership. Results came in fast: A TikTok of San Francisco 49er Marquise Goodwin scoring a touchdown received 2 million “likes” that day.

TikTok, data and censorship

Still, the tremendous popularity of TikTok hasn’t been without controversy. Following an investigation into how it handled young users’ data, TikTok released a series of safety videos. “This campaign … demonstrates our commitment to originality, as we educate our community to stay safe,” TikTok UK Director of Global Public Policy Elizabeth Kanter told The Drum. Additionally, the platform has combated censorship allegations by working with lawmakers to review its content moderation policy.

How to engage with audiences on TikTok

As marketers scramble to leverage this hot app, the potential of TikTok seems to overshadow its problems. So what’s the key to reaching audiences? Writing for Entrepreneur, Syed Galkhi shares some TikTok tips:

  • Upload unique videos
  • Embrace filters and musical overlays
  • Work with influencers
  • Launch hashtag challenges
  • Host brand takeovers
  • Take advantage of branded lenses

New and future TikTok features

The possibilities don’t end here—TikTok has new features in the works. A major change includes a grid-style layout, allowing users to search videos quicker. Fans aren’t the only priority—TikTok plans to attract brands by displaying video download statistics. TikTok will also roll out a self-serve ad model to make it easier for marketers to buy ads. “Their self-serve platform is a good start,” PMG Social Director Carly Carson told Digiday, adding, “But we would love to see more advanced targeting opportunities.”

New social media platforms like TikTok present early adopters with the chance to grab the spotlight and gain influence. Brands that see the potential of TikTok as a marketing channel now have the opportunity to move first and build meaningful connections with their target audiences.

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