TikTok Is Here to Stay

By Sarah Cohen  | 

Many trends that were poised to shape our digital future have accelerated in the last 12 months. The rise of ecommerce, the growth of streaming services, and a younger generation that spends more time online than ever, all became even more prominent in 2020. One new contender, TikTok, has seen its popularity explode in the last year and it’s here to stay.  If you’ve been shy to jump on the train, it’s time to learn a bit more about what got TikTok trending in 2020. Let us break it down for you….

TikTok is a place where trends begin and proliferate, as the app itself is ready-built for virality and high user engagement due to its “For You Page” algorithm that serves up an endless, and tailored feed of short-form video ranging from the earnest to the ironic based on what users have already consumed. In the interactive entertainment network that is TikTok, the algorithm acts as a rapid, efficient market maker, connecting videos with the audiences they’re destined to delight. Uniquely, TikTok content is designed not for users to get the most “shares” or “likes” but it empowers people on the platform to play with humor, unlock shared memories, share information – in short, to enable unprecedented user-driven creativity and discover like-minded communities. It is no surprise that TikTok grew 30% in 2020, and was the most downloaded app of the year, as creators on one side are provided with unmatched video creation tools with access to millions and the viewers on the other end have an endless stream of personalized entertainment. TikTok features, such as Duets and Stitches, are a great example of the interconnected user creativity that makes TikTok extremely popular. For example, think of Sea Shanties or the social game, “Tell Me Without Telling Me.

TikTok is undoubtedly growing because of its unique place in a changing culture that is becoming more connected. In many ways, 2020 tested our humanity as we shifted into the pandemic era and were challenged by socio-cultural vulnerabilities, emerging to seek spaces to celebrate both our shared experiences and authentic differences. Video is a medium that universally connects people and TikTok, an entirely video platform, occupies prime real estate as it continues to grow and distinguish itself from some of its other social-media counterparts.

Last year, eMarketer predicted that TikTok would reach 74 million users in the US. The app has already passed 100 million as of August 2020. These numbers have raised eyebrows — and competitors. YouTube is reported to be launching a beta version of its short form video service in the U.S. in March. That said, one can make the case that YouTube has never released any significant video creator tools of note. Facebook, meanwhile, has not yet found the right formula to make Instagram’s “Reels” a true TikTok challenger. Still, eMarketer points out that TikTok’s growth, which has tripled since 2018, need not signal a social-media arms race. In many ways, social platforms aren’t competing with each other as much as they’re competing for attention against other channels entirely. Outlets like Netflix and linear television are TikTok’s competitors far more so than another social platform like Twitter. TikTok users averaged up to 33 minutes per day on the platform in 2020. According to eMarketer, most of these minutes are “sticky,” meaning that it’s not checking Facebook or Twitter versus spending time on TikTok, but rather a choice between streaming an episode or scrolling through FYP (the “For Your Page”) for the next 30 or so minutes on the app. The mobile data and analytics platform, App Annie, reports that Americans spend more time on TikTok each month than on either Facebook or Instagram, and predicts the app will reach more than 1 billion average monthly users in 2021. That said, the surest sign that TikTok is here to stay is that brands are increasingly interested to reach audiences there.

On the heels of controversy surrounding TikTok and its ownership in 2020, Walmart, Oracle, and several VC firms banded together in a bid to buy the app. After initially being approved, that deal is now on hold. Nevertheless, none of this has impacted the app’s growth. A recent eMarketer podcast focused on TikTok’s impressive metrics and made the case for its probable future as a major player. The app has extremely high engagement, the media landscape is changing in its favor, and advertisers are interested. The combination of these factors means that we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of TikTok in the future.

TikTok is the top app for raising brand awareness with a young, diverse population due to high engagement rates and time spent with the app. And they’re not all teenagers. In the U.S. 27% of under-35s are TikTok users. It’s no surprise brands want to get involved. As it stands, Snapchat is still a household platform for direct-response marketing in the short-form video and social arena, driving business efficiently and cost effectively. But brand marketing is a different ballgame. According to Reuters, TikTok said it tracked a 500% increase in advertisers running campaigns in the United States over the course of 2020. The queue for brands to participate and advertise in TikTok’s “hashtag challenges” is months long, and the platform is experimenting with new video lengths to diversify its offerings, as well as expanding into ecommerce. Influencer marketing is booming on TikTok, as new “stars” have moved swiftly from unknown to viral TikToker famedom, while brands are searching for opportunities to engage audiences outside of traditional production and media approaches. In fact, TikTok’s offerings for brand advertisers may seem more akin to an entertainment network than a social platform, with opportunities for brands to sponsor live tentpole and holiday events, as well as supporting a TikTok Creator Fund to ensure that there remains endless, sticky content that attracts both diverse audiences and advertisers.

It may seem surprising that a relative newcomer has taken over so much of the social and video landscape in such a short time, but when we examine TikTok’s strengths (and yes, fostering communities is among them), we should not be surprised by the app’s rapid ascent. The shifting media landscape, a more video-focused digital world, and the enthusiasm and excitement of brands for advertising there, ensures that what once may have seemed like a fleeting vehicle for sharing dances and “Bored In The House” quarantine antics, is becoming one of media’s most sought-after players. Still trying to figure out what makes TikTok so compelling? Become a user yourself. You’ll develop a sense and intuition for the flood of authentic content that lives, innovates and succeeds. As for how to make it work best for your brands? Stay tuned!

Sarah Cohen
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