The sun is rising in the east and west for TikTok

Every communicator and marketer now needs to know how to operate effectively on TikTok, which has rapidly established itself as the most important social network for young consumers.

Kylie Jenner commands an extensive social reach on TikTok with 46.4 million followers. (Credit: @kyliejenner / TikTok)

One of the biggest areas of innovation in recent times has been the rise of social media as a channel for communications and marketing.

It revolutionized the way companies and brands interact with their stakeholders and required marcomms professionals to learn a whole new mindset and set of skills to operate in two-way environments that revolve around conversation not broadcast messaging.

From a platform point of view, there has been constant innovation and creativity that led to the rise of mega-platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and, now, the inexorable growth of TikTok.

The strength of each social media brand has generally been dictated by the amount of innovation they introduce on their platforms, with newer entrants to the market finding it easier to display that creative gene compared to legacy players that seem to fall back on imitation rather than innovation as their starting point.

Facebook has long since lost its innovation mojo and last year embarked on a big bet on the metaverse as its future about which the jury is still well and truly out. We may look back on this in a few years as an inspired, bold and long-term play that took the OG of social media to another level. In the short term, however, earlier this year Facebook reported that it lost users and saw a drop in revenue for the first time in its history.

Twitter is this week digging itself out from its latest woes after its former head of security blew the whistle on potential vulnerabilities on the platform and misleading federal regulators. This follows the ongoing fiasco around Elon Musk’s abortive attempt to acquire the microblogging platform beloved of journalists and media executives. Meta’s WhatsApp faced its own privacy crisis last year that led to a mass exodus from the formerly very highly regarded messaging platform.

Two of the highest-profile social media personalities, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, last month blasted Instagram, which is owned by Meta, the same parent company as Facebook, for introducing plans to roll out a more TikTok-style algorithm that surfaces video from people not in your social circle. The two influencers, who boast a combined Insta following heading toward 700 million, posted “Make Instagram Instagram Again. Stop trying to be TikTok,” causing the photo-sharing app to rethink its changes.

These are true influencers in this space. When Jenner tweeted in 2018 that she wasn’t using Snap anymore because she didn’t like its redesign the instant messaging app lost $1 billion in market cap or 8% of its value.

Leaving aside well-publicized and very valid concerns about TikTok being owned by Chinese company ByteDance and the resultant potential harvesting of data and personal information, there is no doubt the short-form video hosting service is still in its honeymoon period and everything it touches seems to turn to gold.

It will no doubt face its own crises in time, but for now it is well and truly on the up and up and is a ubiquitous and fast-expanding hangout, especially for the much-sought-after cohort of younger consumers brand marketers covet.

Hershey’s social media and content teams dove into TikTok last week when Macklemore posted on the platform after the rapper and his electric scooter were refused entry into Chocolate World before a gig he was performing at the Philadelphia-based theme park.

He wanted to buy some Reese’s candy and throw it into the crowd during his Saturday performance, but an over-officious security guard called Owen scuppered that plan despite the rapper stating that “head honcho Todd” had given him permission. Macklemore posted a video about the incident on TikTok that rapidly received more than six million views.

Hershey’s brand content team mobilized a response video on Sunday, contacted Macklemore’s team and posted it Monday. Honestly, this one could have gone two ways in my opinion, but all seemed to end well and there’s an open invitation for the rapper to return to Chocolate World, though of course his tour long since moved on.

Influencers are huge on social media generally, but especially on TikTok, and marketers are spending large percentages of their budgets on this area. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, the market is set to grow to $16.4 billion in 2022, up from $13.8 billion last year.

The company researched TikTok usage specifically, and found that, in 2021, sponsored videos on the platform reached over 10.3 billion users, resulting  in 1.3 billion views at an average of 508,000 per video.

The totals are likely much higher than that because the regulatory rulebook is still to be written for TikTok, so there are a vast amount of influencer-led brand activations and mentions that aren’t labeled as sponsored when they probably should be. Regulation always takes time to catch up with innovation.

Our analysis last week also showed that the video environment of TikTok is rapidly becoming the place where young people conduct searches, so Google is also feeling the pinch due to the explosion in popularity of TikTok.

Google SVP Prabhakar Raghavan admitted to TechCrunch recently: “In our studies, almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

TikTok recognized this and launched a beta feature that highlights keywords in the comments section and links them to related search results.

Paid search and digital, influencer marketing and social media content generation capabilities are now an essential adjunct to the swift and agile responses to story opportunities that PR professionals have traditionally dealt in.

And there’s little doubt that TikTok is currently the primary environment where a lot of these activations and innovations are taking place.

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