What is TikTok and what is all the fuss about?

Around 90% of readers of this article will have a Facebook account, whereas only around 30% will use Instagram. Around 1-5% of readers (according to our member demographic) will use TikTok. 

TikTok is fast becoming a significant cultural phenomenon, it is likely you have come across it in the news. An exponential increase in follower rate faster than any other platform before indicates that the creators have got something right. Just what is it they’re doing that Meta (owner and operator of Facebook and Instagram) hasn’t done?

The nitty-gritty – why is it so successful?

Some say it is due to the video only aspect of TikTok. Instagram was created as a place for beautiful imagery, whilst Facebook has always been focused on communities staying up to date with each other’s lives and news sharing. Over the last few years, Instagram has been very reactive to other up and coming platforms, creating their own copycat products in an attempt to stay dominant among Gen Z and younger audiences. For example, the Snapchat 24 hour feature, where content is posted and disappears after 24 hours, which gives excitement and exclusivity to content. Instagram, in response, created ‘Stories’, which were later rolled out to Facebook, with the same 24-hour feature.

In response to TikTok, where only videos can be posted, Instagram created a video-specific tab within the app, called Reels. However, the rushed and reactive creation of this product left it losing out in functionality to TikTok – users preferring the more advanced and easier to use TikTok video editor.

However, regardless of the fact that TikTok’s video editor is superior, there is one disruptive feature of the platform that challenges the very backbone of social media algorithms to date.

Challenging the status quo

By now you likely know that on Facebook and Instagram your ‘home feed’ is perfectly tailored to your interests, not only showing you news from your friends but showing you curated videos and news articles/blogs that align with your views and your hobbies. This echo chamber keeps users (that’s you, yes they refer to people as users…) interested and in the app for longer, exposing you to more adverts and making more money with each advert you see.

TikTok has turned this on its head and created a ‘For You’ page as the landing point in the app. Whilst Instagram has a secondary ‘Discover’ page that suggests posts and videos based on your interactions, the For You page will constantly feed you a mix of content it knows you will certainly like and plenty of content you may or may not. TikTok did this with the full belief that an echo chamber becomes boring very quickly especially for younger users who want to hear different political views, see footage of different content creators and communities and learn new topics.

An unexpected learning platform

TikTok also has an extensive hashtag culture which means that you can find content from neuroscientists and astronomy professors to dance choreographers and painters, each putting out daily videos educating users on their expertise. Users can either be served or find their own niche videos by using a simple hashtag like #sciencetok or #spacetok, rather than be handed the same style of content (cat videos…) they’ve been seeing for the last 3 years that the platform knows is a slam dunk match of your interests. This style of discovery and diversity in social media is quite different to the method employed by Meta for the last 10 years and looks to change how we consume content in the years to come. You may have seen on your Facebook or Instagram feed a ‘suggested post’ labelled as ‘because you liked a post from XXXX’ – they are trying to employ their own system that shows new content but again this is still within your interests, never taking the risk that you might not like the content and leave the app.

How does this affect my business?

So what is the impact of this on businesses moving forward? Well, this method of content diversity makes younger consumers savvier than ever, hungrier for information and much less susceptible to simple discounts and deals. 

Social media advertising has been the single most targeted form of marketing in history, but social media adverts still fall within a clear advert style that harks back to billboards and tv commercials. TikTok users want to see products in organic use by content creators they like or new informative content that features genuine use of the product. Think of a new pair of earrings being reviewed by an influencer and then worn to a local festival in Auckland, and this captured and shared on TikTok. This is in line with TikToks other content, instead of a still picture of the earrings looking nice on a model on the beach which has no relevance to the user other than age and gender. The ad should speak directly to the user who may go to the festival as well, or love that style of jewellery or the band the influencer went to see – and this is known by a plethora of data fed to TikTok from this constant testing in the For You page. In short, social media marketing will have to get a lot smarter to keep up with younger consumer standards.

Before you panic, a lot of this applies to mostly FMCG and primarily targeting 16-25 year olds – there is still a large pool of consumers that like Facebook and Instagram and respond well to more traditional social media marketing, for now. Things are moving quickly though, so school up before you run out of time….tick…tock…

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