9th January 2019 Anthony Cospito

“To Understand The Appeal, Think Of TikTok More As A Social Game Than A Video App”

By Anthony Cospito, Head of Strategy

What would you say if a stranger approached and asked, “Hit or miss?” If you’re one of the 680 million people using the short video app TikTok, you would know exactly what to say and happily respond.

Kindergarten teacher Chaz Bruce decided to pose the question to his class. Surely this conservative clutch of five-year olds wouldn’t have a clue what he was talking about. They did. In almost perfect unison, they instantly sang back the meme’s six word response.

It’s called the TikTok Test. Yell out “Hit or miss” at your local Target, Walmart, or mall and see what happens. Videos on the app showing the test in action have gotten over 70 million views. From Boston to Beijing (where the app is officially headquartered) – TikTok is a thing.

TikTok beat out Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the most downloaded app in the third quarter of 2018. Doubling in downloads from 92 million to 185 million in three months, the app formerly known as Musical.ly is growing up.

To understand the appeal, think of TikTok more as a social game than a video app. 

Instead of just posting for likes or comments, users respond to memes with posts of their own resulting in millions of user generated videos. Essentially, this is what makes TikTok, tick.

Case in point? The #Pumplikethat challenge. Videos showing the popular camera-trick effect have over 50 million views like this Kermit the Frog performance. The challenge has already been remixed with the #Hitormiss challenge birthing a whole new breed of meme.

The platform’s collaborative approach to engagement has sparked consumer brands like Red Bull, Fenty, Netflix and films like The House with a Clock in its Walls and Bohemian Rhapsody to start testing organic and paid efforts.

In a sea of similar apps, TikTok’s meteoric rise is the result of timing, technology and tone.

TikTok is entering its growth phase – the opposite of mature platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat which are increasingly pay to play platforms. This translates to a clear tactical advantage for TikTok where significant organic growth is its raison d’etre. Users cite the “astronomical” views, supportive comments, and free-flowing likes as a huge incentive to create on the platform.

TikTok is unlike anything before it because it’s an amalgamation of everything that preceded it.

A hybrid evolution of Vine, Musically, Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok’s user experience is built for collaboration. Some of the platform’s most popular features allow you to do things like record a “duet” or add “reactions” to videos with a tap. The dead simple functionality creates a frictionless participation experience. According to TikTok, 35% of users have joined a challenge.

Referred to as “the only truly pleasant social network in existence” by the New York Times and a “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine” by the Verge, TikTok wasn’t built for bragging, bullies or trolls. The entire ecosystem is predicated on open participation, embracing vulnerability and rewarding creativity – all traits emblematic of Gen Z’s values. This perspective comes through in many of the videos shared, like this duet posted by Emily Jones (@emilylou) a popular TikTok creator who built a following of 600k fans and 7.1million likes, from her wheelchair.

Singing and dancing aside, TikTok isn’t right for every brand. It’s current reach is limited compared to the five top platforms and it primarily appeals to Gen Z. In the U.S. TikTok has just 20 million monthly active users compared to Facebook’s 211 million, and Instagram’s 104 million. Daily use of TikTok has some catching up to do as well. Currently, only 29% of users open the app every day while Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube are approaching the 95% mark. That said, daily use of TikTok increased 67% in the second half of 2018 alone.

For TikTok, the next 12-18 months will resemble the early days of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram when growth trumped revenue.

Bold CMO’s with a mandate to engage younger audiences have a clear test-and-learn opportunity before them that can translate into higher awareness and more authentic relationships with the cool kids – who also happen to be the world’s largest and youngest generation of consumers.

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