When it comes to Gen Z-dominated social media platforms, TikTok has generated all the buzz in the past six months thanks to some astounding numbers. The app has grown exponentially since its launch in 2016, and after its parent company, Byte Dance, bought Musical.ly and merged the two. Meanwhile, the platform has more than 800 million active users and has been downloaded 1.5 billion times in more than 150 countries. While the platform has drawn mass user growth and engagement, there is still a knowledge gap on why the platform is unique and how we can leverage it as marketers. To gather insights, I spoke with Kieran Mathew, founder and CEO of Amplify, a research and marketing company that helps brands grow in the student market.
Jeff Fromm: Can you provide some background information on TikTok and why it is so engaging for Gen Z consumers?
Kieran Mathew: In its simplest form, TikTok has won the hearts of Gen Z consumers because it has democratized virality. In the last six months, we have seen explosive growth from hundreds of influencers across the world. The growth rate for the top performers is unparalleled on this platform. As a result, users feel as though they have a tangible chance of going viral and becoming an influencer. The influencer-life is one that speaks to young consumers as it is a means for passive income and fame. From a content standpoint, it is a platform that has enabled everyone to speak in their own language and from a highly unique, creative lense. Although users have taken a liking to dancing videos, skits, 60s vlogs, music, science, and even political videos are also performing incredibly well. This means that users can feel comfortable simply being themselves, creating what they want to create, not only what they think others want to see.
Fromm: Why should brands invest in influencer marketing on TikTok?
Mathew: More than 40% of TikTok users are aged 16-24 and 90% of those users go on the app more than once daily. As a result, the platform provides a unique and targeted means of reaching Gen Z consumers. The biggest upside on TikTok is sound. The significant majority of content on social platforms is consumed without sound. In contrast, all TikTok users are watching content with sound on. To understand the significance of sound, consider watching a movie without it. It is a lot harder to drive emotional reactions and engagement without the climactic crescendos of music and voices. The same can be said for ads. The additional benefit is that sounds-alone can go viral on TikTok. When creating content, users will often start with audio, working to create 15-60 second content around it. That means brands which create quirky and engaging sounds have the opportunity to capitalize on incredible user-generated content. Cash App is a shining example of this with their feature in Roddy Ricch’s ‘The Box.’ The song was not created for TikTok, but it did become a viral sound on the platform leading to hundreds of millions of additional impressions.
Fromm: Aside from the opportunity to engage users with sound, how does this differ from other platforms?
Mathew: TikTok is fascinating because users spend more time on content discovery than engaging with those they already follow. If you think of Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, time is predominantly spent consuming content from users one already follows. In contrast, TikTok users spend most of their time on the ‘for you page’ which showcases content from all users on the platform. Some of the content is viral while other content is local and will have very little views or engagement. This is why I feel that the platform has democratized virality, it is providing everyone with the opportunity to be discovered, not just prioritizing content from people who have already amassed a large audience. The algorithm also favors local content which means that influencer campaigns can still be targeted.
Fromm: What should marketers know when planning and executing campaigns?
Mathew: Reach is not as predictable on TikTok. When we invest in Instagram influencers, we have a strong idea of the impressions and reach that will be achieved. Given TikTok is predicated on content discovery, this predictability does not exist. As a result, I recommend investing in multiple pieces of content to maximize upside but also mitigate the risk of having content underperform. This also will provide marketers with the opportunity to test multiple forms of creativity from brand initiatives to conversion-focused content. Marketers will want to maximize their upside by having partners share content that is aligned to their brand and top-performing posts. For example, if you are partnering with a dance-influencer, get creative on inserting your product and service into a new routine with your own sound.
I would also encourage marketers to scroll through each prospective partner’s account and see much views and engagement fluctuate on different pieces of content. If the numbers fluctuate significantly, I suggest building a performance-based compensation model instead of a flat fee. Marketers must also be careful if they are trying to capitalize on viral content. Whether it is a viral sound, dance move, or skit, these trends rise and fall fast. One must act very quickly to capitalize on it or content will be quickly deemed cringe and fall flat. As on all social platforms, request audience demographic information to verify that their partners are reaching the target market.