Watch out, Facebook. TikTok is coming for you.
In recent weeks, the Gen Z social media platform of choice introduced changes that could make it an even more alluring platform for consumer marketing campaigns.
First, TikTok revealed how it recommends videos that appear in the For You section of the app. By removing the cloak of secrecy around the algorithm the app uses, companies that were previously reluctant to use the platform may be more inclined to try it.
“It would stand to reason that TikTok made the algorithm public in order to attract an even wider audience and smooth out the learning curve that made some people hesitant to join the platform, all in an effort to speed up growth and adoption,” argues Michael Cole, VP and director of influencer marketing at BCW.
Brands and agencies have devoted significant effort to understanding what makes a video appear on the For You page. Without that knowledge, companies with smaller budgets were unlikely to devote resources to a platform surrounded by so much uncertainty. Cole believes that by revealing the algorithm, that barrier to entry may be diminished, and brands will be more willing to experiment on TikTok.
For brands that are, or will soon be, on TikTok, this knowledge translates into more power.
“More insights into the algorithm should allow brands to better test and learn which tactics yield the most visibility and engagement for brand videos,” notes Rhea Woods, VP of influencer marketing at Praytell.
Yet knowing what factors contribute to the sought-after For You appearance will not inherently translate into success, as it is still not possible to game the algorithm. In this sense, the development may not mean as much in real terms as some experts hope.
David Aglar, EVP of platform strategy and business development at Weber Shandwick, argues that “at the end of the day, brands still need to create effective content and ensure they have enough targeted reach to meet their objectives.” Partnering with creators and influencers will continue to be a key component.
TikTok has also introduced TikTok For Business, which would suggest that it is more directly taking on competitors by enabling brands to gain access to more measurement tools and analytics that are the norm on other social channels.
Akeem Anderson, director of paid media at Zeno Group, puts TikTok for Business in a similar category as Facebook Business Manager and Twitter for Business.
“It will provide brands with the necessary tools and solutions to optimize branded content and advertising with the goal of content being discovered by the right audiences and connecting with the broader communities around them,” he says.
Cole adds that this is enough to entice brands to begin building TikTok into their PR plans from the get-go. It also doesn’t hurt that Gen Z is overwhelmingly on the platform, and is becoming an increasingly important demographic for brands to reach.
“We’ll have to meet them where they are, and in this case, it’s platforms like TikTok that were created around them and for them,” he says. Cole adds that as brands want to diversify their social presence to reach even more people, TikTok and its pull with Gen Z will be a factor brands will keep front of mind.
Michael Lamp, senior social and digital media strategist at Hunter, says the implications are even bigger, calling this the “biggest evolution since the app’s launch” as far as brands are concerned.
“TikTok for Business offers not only self-serve ad solutions, but also a slew of resources and best practices,” he says. Lamp says that the new information TikTok has made available for businesses should be essential reading, helping them understand how to create content that is most suitable to the platform.
Part of that strategy is capitalizing on TikTok’s emphasis on micro-storytelling, as opposed to the brand-forward imagery seen on Facebook and Twitter.
“Long-term success may hinge on an ability to entertain while making your product or service relevant to the story you’re telling,” Lamp says. “The platform even frowns upon the word ‘ad,’ encouraging brands to ‘make TikToks, not ads.’”
However, experts are divided about whether TikTok for Business offers enough additional access to measurement and analytics data. Anderson contends it does increase the ability to evaluate and optimize content.
“Previously we were restricted by managed buys and end-of-campaign reporting, but now we can look at metrics like [clickthrough rate], [cost per click] and [cost per impression],” he says.
Meanwhile, Greg Brown, VP of global platform strategy at FleishmanHillard, argues that TikTok for Business is really just “simplicity at scale.”
“Almost all of the products on TikTok for Business were previously available, but now everything is in one place,” he says. While this will make it easier for brands to stay on top of new developments within the app, Brown says he hopes TikTok will open up its “data firehose” more widely.
Aglar agrees, noting that TikTok for Business doesn’t actually introduce capabilities.
“Brands that have already cut their teeth on TikTok will continue to use much of their existing toolkit,” he contends. Compared to the analytics tools available on Facebook, for example, it falls short. It does not include organic content analysis, and the information is far less in-depth, plus most third-party tools are unable to measure within the app.
The Facebook ad boycott could be a huge opportunity for TikTok. Lamp calls the timing “sort of perfect,” noting that “with Facebook under immense scrutiny and an ongoing boycott of its ad products, seeing TikTok share such transparent information right now works even harder for them.”
However, TikTok itself is not without controversy. This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the federal government is looking into banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps amid heightened scrutiny of Chinese technology over security concerns.
TikTok is working to build creator trust and close the gap in reporting and engagement opportunities, making it more competitive in the social media space. These steps may also help TikTok to “earn a seat at the table with platforms who have built tools to effectively target and scale campaigns of all sizes,” Woods says. She thinks it could make the platform an even more appealing marketing destination for brands.
Ultimately, TikTok’s biggest selling point may simply be that its look and feel remains unique. Even with more branded content, it has held onto its less polished aesthetic.
“TikTok has managed to maintain the heart and soul of the platform that attracted so many early adopters who fled Instagram specifically because of the look and feel of it and how consumers were producing content,” Cole says.
Lamp takes it even further. “It’s clear that TikTok wants to prevent its user experience from ever resembling that of Facebook or Instagram. Facebook will unabashedly sell you ads; TikTok wants to make you a better storyteller,” he says. “If TikTok is successful, it will rewire our collective thinking a bit with regard to what earns and sustains consumer attention.”