TikTok: The Future of Marketing or Just Another Fad?

There is a nearly overwhelming number of social media platforms in the online landscape. They cover every content medium you could imagine; picture or video, long-form or short-form, whatever you’re looking for, there really is an app for that.

ActiveWin utilises a variety of apps and social media platforms as part of paid social media campaigns and, as such, we make sure we keep our finger on the pulse of emerging channels. 

The latest to take the world by storm is TikTok, a video-sharing platform focused on short-form content. The numbers are certainly impressive, 1.5 billion downloads and a reported 500 million active users each month, despite the fact that it is under investigation over alleged links to the Chinese regime. Not surprising, since fellow social media behemoth Facebook continues to thrive despite increasing privacy and policy concerns.

The platform’s success is surprising when you consider that it isn’t innovating in any way. The concept has been done many times before. In fact, the app itself is a reinvention of the popular site Musical.ly, which essentially offered the same features, albeit in a more primitive fashion.

Interestingly, TikTok’s emphasis is on reactive content rather than wholly original videos. One of its biggest draws is that it has numerous sound clips, filters and more, to help create and edit posts. The attraction may be that TikTok is filling the void left by the shocking demise of the app Vine.

The formula doesn’t sound like it would translate well in advertising terms, but many are already signalling the app as a future hub of influencers who can use the tools to create clever content for brands. The question now is, how will TikTok innovate and improve to differentiate itself from just being another Vine or Musical.ly?

There are two other parallels we can examine in the industry; YouTube, and Instagram. Both offer video sharing in some capacity, though there is a much greater emphasis on this in YouTube’s operating model, and they have proven immensely influential in digital marketing. The monetisation models are starkly different, so too the way their users interact with the apps, but they are two sides of the same coin, and either could serve as a template for TikTok. 

YouTube: The Original, but is it the Best?

Let’s start with the oldest, YouTube. It is the forefather of services like TikTok and was one of the first content-sharing sites to truly hit the mainstream. While there are obviously social elements to YouTube, there is a marked difference between it, Instagram, and TikTok. Now the second biggest search engine, just behind Google, YouTube offers a wealth of SEO and content opportunities.

From a social media perspective, it is less focused on individual users than its competitors, and more on fostering communities based around the most popular channels. While anyone can upload videos onto the site, only a small percentage will be seen by a mass audience, particularly if they are not properly tagged and optimised, which may not be a priority for the average user. The user base, then, can be split into two separate groups; ‘Creators’ and ‘Viewers’. The most successful examples of the former are veritable celebrities with millions of subscribers, whilst the latter tend to make up huge ‘fandoms’ centred around these personalities. The result is a sizable, impassioned set of consumers, usually comprised of a young demographic. As you can imagine, this presented a great opportunity from an advertising perspective. 

However, YouTube’s monetisation of ads has been controversial, to say the least, especially for its biggest creators on the platform. Those at the top want to leverage their userbase but, in an attempt to woo more views, posted content ranges from being in considerably poor taste, to inflammatory, to flat-out illegal. Scandals like the dangerous Tide Pod eating challenge, a shooting stunt going horribly wrong that ended in the death of one of the participants, the grizzly footage of a suicide posted senselessly by Logan Paul, and countless racist commentary by several top YouTubers have blemished the reputation of the site.

There was always a tension between the corporate interests and those actually using the site, and this came to a head in the ‘Adpocalypse’ of 2017. This term has been used multiple times since, whenever YouTube has overhauled its ads policy, but the first saw the biggest changes. Essentially, many of the top creators were deemed to be unsuitable for a general audience, so YouTube began to penalise these channels, limiting their ability to show ads and monetise. Many were outraged by this, perceiving the company as dropping those that had established it, while others thought this was an inevitable symptom of the site developing mass appeal.

YouTube has certainly prioritised the commercial relationships it has over the creators, for better or worse. When you go to the trending tab, it is filled with sponsored videos or content from corporate entities ranging from tech companies to talk shows, but lacks uploads from other creators even if they have garnered much more views. The situation has devolved to a point where many users actively criticise and campaign against YouTube’s policies and have moved to alternative platforms. While the company is still doing well financially, its public perception, particularly in its own community, has taken a massive hit. Could we see a similar scenario happen with TIkTok, which has already seen accusations of corporate censorship, if it was to move toward more commercially incentivised content?

Could TikTok Topple Instagram

If you thought TikTok’s statistics were good, Instagram’s would blow you away. With one billion active users month on month, it’s no secret that ‘the Gram’ is one of, if not the biggest, social media platforms in existence. Like YouTube, it is one of the few that offers social commerce tools to influencers, which makes monetising content so much simpler. However, the focus is on current short-form content, so it may not have the long-lasting appeal of YouTube posts. This immediacy has been quite fruitful for Instagram, take its popular ‘Stories’ system for example, of which 500 million are uploaded daily. It’s just another method of delivering content, but it is one of the most innovative additions in years. Interestingly, these stories are similar in format to TikTok posts, and that might not be accidental. 

Of course, not every move Instagram makes is an instant hit. It has recently piloted removing likes from certain posts in the US, which has prompted some backlash from high profile users. Despite this being a good metric for judging the popularity of specific posts, it isn’t particularly helpful when developing ad campaigns. The ability to link to e-commerce sites and then view detailed analytics on who is clicking them is far more valuable, especially when you consider the number of ‘bought likes’ many accounts have. Outside of this though, Instagram maintains a more positive relationship with its influencers than YouTube. This is probably down to the fact that it’s the only channel apart from YouTube where monetisation can be economically viable as income, while also not policing the content too hard. 

It’s the easiest place for influencers to promote their brand, while also making money. On top of this, the content lends itself to digital marketing. Ads on YouTube are seen by viewers as an inconvenience, breaks in the video they’re trying to watch, that they will skip when possible. You also have programs such as AdBlock, which stop them from showing up altogether. This isn’t the case at all for Instagram; often, the advert is the content. Fashion and make-up channels are easily the most popular and influencers in this genre will make the product the centre of their posts. It’s a win-win for all parties; the brand gets exposure, the influencer generates income, and the follower receives relevant, engaging content.

The Future of TikTok

TikTok taking inspiration from these competitors isn’t theoretical, it’s already happening. The developers have already adopted similar social commerce tools, one of the biggest attractions for influencers, though we’ll have to see if this proves as successful. The signs are good though; it’s growing at an exceptional rate and retaining those new users too. What’s more, TikTok’s links immensely populated countries such as China and India will certainly aid them, as other platforms have historically struggled in these areas. Of course, nothing is guaranteed (as with the downfall of Vine). TikTok certainly has the potential to be a huge commercial and social entity, but it will depend largely on the direction they go in.

For our part, we’ll be monitoring TikTok’s meteoric rise closely. However, as with Snapchat, the platform may not be the best fit for a lot of brands.

It is important to always bear in mind the social channels which your target audience are using, and judge whether or not you actually have relevant content to share.

Our experienced digital marketing professionals can work with you to build a social strategy which will complement your brand and speak to your target customers.

Sound good? Get in touch to discuss how we can help.

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