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Marketers want to reach GenZ. Is TikTok the place to do it?

October 29, 2019 | By Tim Bourgeois, Partner—East Coast Catalyst @ChiefDigOfficer

TikTok is the latest rage in social media, and there are some compelling reasons why it could emerge from fad status into a viable long term player. However, advertisers will be well-served by taking a measured approach to the platform. 

If you have a teenager at home, chances are good that you’ve become familiar with TikTok. It’s a highly-addictive social media video app for creating and sharing short (fewer than 60 seconds) videos, which is currently huge with Gen Zers. If you’re not familiar, a couple of examples will help: Here’s a video from Tom Brady, trolling himself to Whitesnake. And here’s one from the obligatory overnight social media sensation Maverick Baker, an 18 year old from Oklahoma who has an eye-popping 11 million followers. 

Big time

Launched in 2016, TikTok has half a billion global users. That makes it bigger than Reddit and Twitter, though half the size of Instagram and one-fifth of Facebook. But 500 million users in three years means it demands attention. It is also worth taking a look at its deep-pocketed owner, China’s ByteDance, which is valued at more than $50 billion and a key player in the country’s increasing app penetration in the U.S

At the same time, the social media landscape is littered with high-profile fatalities and crushing corrections. Think Google Plus, Vine, and Meerkat for the former, and MySpace and Tumblr for the latter. Either as the result of changing consumer preferences or being squeezed by the large established players, all of these platforms were either shuttered or pushed to the fringes of relevancy. So, while it is exciting to find an engaged audience on TikTok, it is essential for marketers to take an informed approach the platform.

Marketing that makes sense

Here’s how I’m advising brands to approach TikTok:

  • If The Gen Z Demographic Is Vital, You Have To Be There In A Meaningful Way: This means doing all of the things you’ve done with other social media platforms, even the ones that fell by the wayside. Define a strategy and goals, establish a presence, build an audience using both organic and paid media techniques, identify how other digital content can be repurposed on the platform, and figure out how to be successful as quickly as possible (which might require recruiting and sponsoring star power).
  • Assign The Platform To A Millenial. If you’re not a consumer products brand or one of the largest 100 advertisers, a more measured approach is the way to go, but formalization is key. Make TikTok account management and growth a part of someone’s job description,otherwise it won’t get done. Establish reasonable goals. Even 5 to 10 hours per week will be adequate to establish a beachhead in a few months and help you build a following (if you don’t already have a large social presence to build upon). 
  • At Minimum, Work The Platform Into Analytics & Reporting. The old chicken-or-the-egg theory will apply here. (Are you not getting any TikTok activity because you’re not on the platform in a meaningful way?) However, pursuing the baseline step of incorporating TikTok into regularly viewed reports will keep it on your radar. Over time, this will help to inform strategies and tactics. But if you don’t have the information forced into the discussion via reporting, it’ll be forgotten in the sea of all of the other digital channels that you’re already worrying about. 

By nature, I’m a skeptic. And inevitably this informs the way I think about how to approach new developments in the digital marketing industry — whether it be the so-called latest and greatest advertising tool from Facebook or Google, or the emergence of a brand new platform that seemingly popped up overnight. Given its numbers and parentage, TikTok deserves marketer attention. But given that many brands are still learning how to maximize performance in well-established digital channels, it makes sense for most of us to tread carefully on TikTok.   


About the author

Tim Bourgeois is a paid media specialist at UIPath and a digital marketing consultant that helps brands optimize ROI on advertising, technology and agency investments.

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