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TikTok: A Bright Sustainable Medium or Just Another Flash in the Social Media Environment?

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A new contender has burst onto the social media app scene and is garnering some significant notice among the established players in the field. TikTok provides users the opportunity to generate creative and short videos. The vast majority of users are 13 to 24 years of age and those who are over thirty rarely report even knowing about the app. It has become popular with younger consumers who favor short, confined messages of fifteen seconds or less. One of the most popular apps in 2018, TikTok quickly reached one-billion downloads in 154 countries. On average, TikTok is receiving 17 billion views each month and is installed on more than 800 million mobile devices.

Younger users and Gen Z’ers are migrating away from the larger, more established social media platforms in order to connect more definitively with digital users who share like interests. Boasting the tagline “Make Your Day, Real People. Real Videos”, TikTok’s entertaining videos focus on creative and mostly trivial subject matters to garner favor with the impressive number of followers. A video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, it quickly became the most downloaded app in the United States in late 2018. So, what makes TikTok so popular among its users?

To start, the videos are presented in a vertical matrix rather than the traditional square format used by established video sharing applications. The vertical layout provides viewers the opportunity to see a broader array of content on one screen. Navigating through the videos is done by scrolling up and down instead of swiping or tapping the screen.  Video content is created easily through a large menu of tools that allow creators to find sounds, music and enhancements to help in the creative process. Sharing and engaging with other users is encouraged.

“Hashtags actually exist as a real, functional organizing principle: not for news, or even really anything trending anywhere else than TikTok, but for various “challenges,” or jokes, or repeating formats, or other discernible blobs of activity.” Perhaps the most fundamental reason TikTok has risen in popularity so quickly is that it is genuinely fun and easy to use. While many proponents of the app are giddy about its future prospects as an advertising medium, others are advancing carefully in order to see whether the platform can weather the necessary content filtering aspects of the environment, the inevitable parent control criteria and the scrutiny of internet watchdog groups and government regulators.

While some big brands are sticking a toe in the water, most are using their initial approach to generate brand awareness, sensing that a simple ad or sponsored influencer endorsement may not fit TikTok’s short, quick and quirky format. Still other marketers are questioning its value as a major marketing tool given that its current users seem to be limited to a very fine market niche, a reason the app may just be most valuable for getting in touch with younger audiences and demonstrating the different, less serious side of a brand.

Chipotle publishes a variety of posts that use music, memes, and other references to highlight menu items. The National Basketball Association (NBA) mixes game highlights with music montages and inspirational quotes, and the venerable Washington Post uses comedic behind-the-scenes videos and skits centered around the unseen antics that go on at a major newspaper. Thus far the opening creative marketing strategies appear to be akin to “When in Rome….”.

Meteoric rise and overnight fame too often fail to produce a sustainable outcome, leading many to resist the pressure of jumping onboard the next best thing. Exercising some measure of restraint, patience and a good measure of due diligence may just be the most prudent strategy. However, now may just be the time to test the waters and expand on your brand’s reach.