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What is TikTok and Should Your Business Use It?

Posted by Kim Moseman on July 30, 2019

Modern trends in video marketing can be difficult to assess. Especially when it comes to determining the best social media platforms for your brand in terms of how to share and distribute all of that great video content. One mobile app that’s quickly on the rise as a popular social media platform is TikTok. But what is TikTok?

Before we get into all of the details of this fascinating new trend, and where your business might look to capitalize on its popularity, we’ll break down some of the finer points of what differentiates TikTok from similar apps, who is using TikTok already, and what the future might hold.

What is TikTok?

As you may have already figured out from the intro, TikTok is a mobile video sharing app. It’s similar in function to the now discontinued Vine. Users can film and upload videos up to 15 seconds in length, while mixing in songs, sound effects, audio bites, and a variety of visual effects.

TikTok is fun and easy to use, since all it really requires is a smart phone with a camera. But its features reward users that take their time in creatively approaching new content through its unique parameters. Its user experience design also makes it easy to watch endless loops of channels based on specific interests and trends.

It originally stemmed from Musical.ly, a popular lip-syncing app. Acquired in 2017 by ByteDance (a tech company based in Beijing), who had already developed TikTok. At that time TikTok was already quite popular in Asia, and once TikTok Absorbed Musical.ly (which was similar in structure to TikTok already), all existing accounts were migrated to one single app.

Now TikTok is one of the most downloaded apps in the world, with over 500 million active users worldwide.

TikTok users utilize front facing camera.

Who Uses TikTok?

A large portion of TikTok users are outside of the United States. This isn’t too surprising, given the app was originally developed and grew in popularity in China. However as of February of this year, there were 27 million active users in the U.S. And that’s a number that’s likely gone up.

But right now, it seems like TikTok is still in the early phases of finding real mainstream longevity. Instead, it has emerged as a legitimate community for strange, subversive humor and creative pursuits. The vast majority of its users are “normal” people. People who are essentially inviting thousands of strangers a front seat into their own strange, mobile television channels. Think of it like more of a DIY version of IGTV.

The results have already started to produce new social media stars and influencers, but it also leads to the cringey creative visions of teenagers, odd ball trends and memes, and the truly “weird” corners of the web. For many, that’s the draw of TikTok. In many ways it’s still the wild west and hasn’t seen the corporate wash of other video sharing platforms. Plus, its format makes it easy to repost in compilations on Youtube or snippets on Instagram and Twitter.

The Dark Side of TikTok

While it has been a haven for the weird and wonderful while promoting positive community engagement, there are always exceptions. With an app that’s mostly geared towards young people, there have been concerns over predatory behavior as well as the illegal data collection of users who are still minors. Like much of the internet at large, TikTok shares many of the same pitfalls that other social media platforms face in terms of user privacy and protection. But TikTok’s offbeat trends can sometimes accidentally invite a darker element that all users need to be aware of.

In general, TikTok is a platform built entirely through the lens of internet culture: memes, trends, challenges, inside jokes, etc. It might take some time to for it to develop into something more predictable. But for the creators and influencers that have quickly built an audience through the app, TikTok continues to entice as a potentially extremely lucrative platform.

TikTok and Business

Users can make money through TikTok through two distinct avenues. The first is through strategies that are often seen on other channels, particularly Instagram, and that’s branded partnerships. Basically, creative influencers or personal brands who have amassed popularity and a large audience might take on a corporate partner.

They’ll then create the same kind of content they usually do. Only now with some sort of reference to the company or product they’ve partnered with. Hence why you might see something like “sponsored post” or “branded content” on one of your favorite channels.

The second way is through “coins,” which are the virtual currency in TikTok. It allows any user to make digital, in-app purchases to send directly to their favorite creators. Think of it as a live, one-time version of supporting someone’s Patreon campaign.

What is TikTok users in a crowd.

Should Your Business Use TikTok?

It’s hard to say if brands should really try to get in on TikTok. It will depend entirely on your company’s industry and the type of audience you’re looking to reach. Major brand interaction on TikTok is still very much in its infancy. Though a few big names have stepped in in interesting ways. 

Chipotle conducted its own “challenge” through the app which was intended to simply draw awareness in an attempt to go viral. Uniqlo, a fashion brand, also pushed its product in a market-shifting way by asking creators in four different country to wear its newest fashion line.

But Hollister had the most innovative approach. The brand worked with TikTok directly to add a “Shop Now” button within its posts. It led to a mini, in-app store. Purchases were limited to the mini store and only featured a select few products, but it helped bring some new innovation to how brands might use TikTok in the future.

If your company has a single voice or face, or even a small team of highly creative people (who deeply understand Internet culture), then TikTok might be something worth exploring.

Right now, it’s something that hasn’t proved to be valuable on a larger scale. But it could very well alter how we approach mobile shopping and viral marketing. It might be worth having some sort of presence on the app. If nothing more than to keep an eye on growing trends and the possibility to be in on the ground floor should the market opportunities expand.

The Wrap

TikTok is still so new to U.S. audiences that its likely many top brands haven’t even thought of utilizing it yet, and for good reason. There are problems and growing pains that will likely hinder its usefulness for brands to devote too much time to it.

But TikTok’s growing influence is undeniable. There’s something massively refreshing about the strange space it’s occupying in video sharing, filling the void left behind from Vine users. And it’s important to always stay abreast of emerging trends in terms of social media and video marketing. Understanding where your communications plans might be a year from now is a major key to realizing the full potential of your business.

In the meantime, your current video production goals shouldn’t suffer. If you want to stay on top of the latest trends, get in touch with us at Crews Control. We have over 30 years of experience and can help you shoot the dream project to take your brand building to the next level. From first cut to the final edits, you’ll work with the best local crews that will help you execute your next branded content video project every step of the way. Don’t wait, get your free quote today!

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