How brands can take advantage of the TikTok phenomenon

Mihai Cristea 05/02/2021 | 17:47

According to data gathered by Learnbonds.com, as of January 2020, video-based social network TikTok had surpassed the mark of 40 million daily active users worldwide, on both iOS and Android devices. 

By Romanita Oprea

 

TikTok is a mobile app where users post short videos, usually around 15 seconds long, producing what is known as fast entertainment. The app is extremely popular among teenagers of all genders, with a presence in 155 countries and 75 languages. Still according to Learnbonds.com, as of January 2020, a majority of TikTok’s users were on Android, with the app reaching 33.01 million active users representing a growth of about 2.8 percent from December 2019’s 32.07 million users. By 12 October 2020, the app has been downloaded more than half a billion times from the Google Play store. Daily active users on iOS devices reached 8.26 million in January, 11.7 percent above December 2019 figures.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a period of success for TikTok, which had 315 million downloads in the first three months of 2020. The global app and its Chinese version, called Douyin, have amassed over 2 billion downloads on Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, mobile insights firm Sensor Tower said on April, as cited by TechCrunch.com.

In Romania, research carried out by iSense Solutions in 2019 showed that there were more than 175,000 TikTok users among urban 14-65-year-olds. “Knowing that there are plenty of TikTok users under the age of 14 (some are 8 or 9 years old) and considering the fact that we still have to research the activity of over half the population, I personally believe that there are around 300,000 to 500,000 Romanians using the app,” Cristian Manafu wrote on his blog.

In November, Publicis Romania signed a partnership with the TikTok platform to provide ATL creative and strategic services. The next step is to develop the brand’s first campaign in Romania. “Our collaboration began with an honest discussion about the app and the brand. We talked about the present, about challenges, but most importantly about the future, and that led us to our first TikTok brief. The one thing we can disclose is that this won’t be a launching campaign, but rather a positioning one. We came to the conclusion that even those who don’t have TikTok are at least aware of it, so it’s not a matter of awareness, but rather one of bias, and in the end, that’s what we need to change,” said Miruna Dumitrescu, group creative director at Publicis.

But why is Tik Tok such a huge phenomenon and how did it manage to overtake other apps? According to Laura Savu, global community manager at TikTok, there are several reasons for this: it’s based on a very powerful consumption trend; it’s short and still very simple; it brings video editing into everyone’s the hands. Additionally, it enables content discovery beyond the accounts a user follows and it breaks geographical borders.

“When we think about social media, we immediately think about things going viral, which is something we cannot find in other communication disciplines. Almost every new thing in our field can quickly become a phenomenon. Tik Tok is very easy to use and this is an advantage, but more than that, the content we can find there is extremely diversified, and it really is for everyone. We can all find interesting and useful information there: from funny videos and challenges to dog training lessons and even tips and tricks about legislation,” said Alexandra Ion, digital manager at Golin Romania.

“It’s very simple and super effective: TikTok is 33 percent music, 33 percent trending, 33 percent simple customisation. But it’s also about that remaining 1 percent: the mysterious fact that you can become viral for no apparent reason. This is the most desirable and catchy ‘feature’ of this boom-channel,” said Arnold Vieriu, head of social media at Tribal Worldwide Romania.

A TikTok for Business hub opened this summer, and pro accounts were rolled out in October for businesses and creators. With a business account, users can add more information to their profile and access real-time metrics and audience insights. So when it comes to creating a successful brand on the app, Raluca Colac, communications coordinator at McDonald’s, believes that the brand has to create dynamic and original videos that will attract the general interest because TikTok users are drawn to brand content as long as it is entertaining. This is the first thing to do when we want to amplify a campaign on TikTok: find a very creative way to present the products and integrate them in a way that doesn’t make users skip your content. “TikTokers are looking for realness in the content and we think they can become natural brand ambassadors. We are therefore open to collaborating with content creators who are able to tell a story to their fans from their own perspective. We think that music is an important trigger for the TikTok target, and I can give you an example that also comes with a question: What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear ‘Savage Love’ by Jason Derulo?”

Moreover, according to Hootsuite.com, the first thing one should do is spend some time watching TikTok videos, exploring the different features available on the app, and noting what filters, effects, and songs are trending. Keep an eye out for Hashtag Challenges, which basically involve a song, dance moves, or a task that members are challenged to replicate. Don’t overlook TikTok’s duets feature either. “Read up on the TikTok algorithm as well. Understanding how TikTok ranks and displays videos in the For You tab can inform your content, hashtag, and engagement strategy. You can also brush up on all things TikTok by taking courses in the TikTok Business Learning Center. TikTok influencer marketing is another big part of the app’s ecosystem. Check out the app’s mega-stars, like Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae, and Zach King. And try to discover rising stars or influencers in your niche,” added Katie Sehl for hootsuite.com.

“Digital communication and social media channels help us build a powerful relationship with our customers across the country and to create a community where feedback, ideas or information can be exchanged. That’s why we are always looking for social media platforms that can take us very close to our customers, where the McDonald’s brand and its iconic products fit in naturally. TikTok has taken over Romania during this pandemic and we all are captured by its users who seem to have a deep understanding of Gen Z and millennial behaviours, interests, and preferences. We find it challenging and think it’s a great opportunity to engage with an audience we tend to attract, as McDonald’s has always been a young, fun, and authentic brand,” added Raluca Colac.

 

Is it right for any brand?

According to Arnold Vieriu, TikTok is not for everybody. And here’s the catch: brands that you target should be using TikTok as part of their communication mix. TikTok is mandatory for early-adopter brands and it’s at the beginning of its “media age,” meaning that ads are not as annoying and repetitive for the audience. “It’s very important to know where your target spends the most time online because that’s the place where they will also engage with the right message. According to recent research, young people between 16-20 years old are spending a lot of time on TikTok and WhatsApp, so, yes – any brand that targets this age group should be on TikTok,” added Tribal Worldwide Romania’s representative.

However, Laura Savu contradicts him and argues that TikTok applies to any type of brand. “We’re talking about a mass market platform, populated by a diversity of users with millions of interests. Regardless of how niche your brand is, TikTok is another tool at your disposal to help you reach those potential consumers.” Moreover, Savu points out that any brand should have started using the app in its digital mix months ago. Why? Because it’s the top trending online communication channel at the moment and not using it would be a wasted opportunity, as it gives brands a great reach.

On Miruna Dumitrescu’s opinion, TikTok can work for any brand, but not any brand could work on TikTok.  “Every platform that we know today had its peak, its moment of glory, but sooner or later people got bored and started looking for something new, something that they felt represented them more. Today that platform is TikTok and it seems to us they learned everything they needed to know to make sure people won’t get bored too soon. And that includes advertisers. Sure, you can place your ad on TikTok. Ads are way less annoying on this platform, because you can just scroll by and you don’t have to wait too long, they don’t interrupt the content you’re watching, so that’s a plus, but it also makes an ad – not such a big deal. So, if you want your ad to be a big deal, you have to make it happen,” explained Dumitrescu.

A more balanced viewpoint comes from Golin’s Alexandra Ion, who thinks that brands should be present on TikTok if their DNA allows for this communication approach. Even though TikTok is a platform for everybody, it is not right for any type of brand, nor should it be. “When a brand uses TikTok as part of its communication strategy, then it must be ready to adapt to its specifics and be aware that a 30-second video (the recommended length) must include the brand message and also stand out from the millions of videos uploaded daily and the billion videos being viewed every day. Furthermore, brands that are considering TikTok should think carefully about the target audience they want to reach. The platform is still mostly being used by young people, who make up 41 percent of users,” she argued.

What are the biggest trends on Romanian TikTok in terms of brand communication? While at a global level we’re seeing it used for employer branding, Vieriu says that locally, there have been a lot of engagement activations recently. Some challenge-type campaigns were effective and visible, but for a very limited time. “I haven’t always seen it being used for communication by big Romanian brands, but I think 2021 will start with fresh content strategies. We are also always working on strategies for TikTok for some of our clients where it is in line with their target,” said Tribal’s representative.

According to Alexandra Ion, among the fastest growing global trends right now on TikTok are meme compilations, because memes are the art of the social media culture, they are funny, catchy, and easy to relate to. Remixing is also a new trend that will continue to grow next year. This is about mixing ideas, formats, and edits in order to match and better express a creative idea on the platform. For 2021, social commerce will be one of the fastest-rising trends on TikTok, considering its newly announced partnership with Shopify.  Finally, branded hashtag challenges are still rising as more brands are starting to communicate through the platform.

“TikTok is still considered to be a controversial platform in Romania, and people are mostly there to watch content and follow trends, but many still lack the courage to start posting themselves. Duets, hashtag challenges, and transitions are the biggest trends in Romania right now. Another big one was music video promotion on the platform. Artists would launch their new videos with a specific challenge and then they would publish it on YouTube, TV, and other media,” added Alexandra Ion.

“I don’t consider brands to be trendsetters on Romanian TikTok. They are still at the very beginning. However, I have noticed a few patterns: FMCG, Beauty & Fashion, Tech, and e-commerce brands were the brave ones who first started to test the app. Most of them are jumping on influencers and celebrities for content. They are focusing too much on the types of content they think is ‘working’ on the app, rather than on developing their own brand DNA and creativity,” Laura Savu argued.

 

Changing perspectives

But is the boom big and influential enough to change the way brands communicate and evolve online? How is it really impacting brands? “They will start to pay more attention to their communication strategies and analyse the platforms they already use to communicate with their audience. Content creation will be tailored for every platform and brands will finally recognise how important this is. If they want to be relevant and successful on every platform, brands need to respect their specific guidelines,” said Alexandra Ion.

At the same time, Ion pointed out, TikTok is making video content more accessible through its real time editing tools. Keeping an eye on trends and brand authenticity are key points for online brand communication and presence, and so is the sound-on experience, which is largely ignored on Facebook, for example.

In Arnold Vieriu’s opinion, TikTok will change employerranding and brands will begin to value their employees more. The InstaFace phenomenon will move to TikTok, and long-term partnerships between influencers and brands will be a must. “I think it’s a kind reminder of the fact that communication tools are constantly evolving and that brands need to keep up. I also believe TikTok tends to push brands into behind-the-scenes content and requires more authenticity and creativity,” added Laura Savu.

The McDonald’s Romania representative believes that it’s still too early to say whether TikTok is changing the way brands communicate on social media, but it’s a new way of interaction, where users are creating joyful and creative content that makes it hard to stop scrolling down. If a brand aims to keep up with the preferences of its target audience, it should see TikTok as a good place to market its products or services. “Once TikTok becomes a part of the social media strategy, the key to brand success on this app is creating fresh, dynamic, and entertaining content. At McDonald’s, we were amazed by the ways in which our customers have incorporated their favorite sandwiches or have captured moments with family or friends at McDonald’s in their TikTok videos. Part of our target audience is already there and they are generating brand-related content, showing us how the McDonald’s brand could be integrated on TikTok in a fun and natural way. Every trend that impacts our customers’ online behaviour should be taken into account, and the rise of TikTok will certainly have an effect on our brand, as we engage more with our fans there,” Colac concluded.

 

TikTok DON’Ts for brands:

“It’s very important for the brand to understand that TikTok is not just another ad placement space (like Facebook or Instagram). If they think of it this way, their content will be rejected by the community. Brands should come up with their own approach for TikTok if they want to gain brand engagement.” – Arnold Vieru

“There are quite a few, but I’ll mention the most important one: Don’t make ads, make TikToks.” – Laura Savu

“A valueless video will not be appreciated. Even if TikTok is an entertainment platform at its core, think about the fact that more than a billion videos are being watched daily on the platform. Don’t go there just because of FOMO; it can harm your brand in the long run.

Don’t do too much lifestyle-type content. You have Instagram for that. Tik Tok is more about fun, challenging, and educational content.

Don’t use cuts from your YouTube or Facebook videos – they will not work here. You must tailor the content to perfectly match the platform.

Try to stick to those 30 seconds for your videos. The attention span is very short, so you cannot afford to be boring.” – Alexandra Ion

“We think this is the time to experiment, to make mistakes, to try out every single format and play around with it. There are some examples of best practices, but this platform is so fresh that we feel like recipes for success are still to be written. And I guess that’s the best part… being able to create them together. As for don’ts… there aren’t any on TikTok, that’s what’s great about it. You can just do it.” – Miruna Dumitrescu

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