4 timely PR lessons from the rise of TikTok

by | Feb 10, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

In 2009, people heard the phrase “TiK ToK” and thought of the debut single by Ke$ha. But if you ask a Gen Z’er today, when they hear “TikTok,” they think of a social media app to share and create videos. And like its predecessor, TikTok the app has become a global hit.

The short-form video app boasts nearly 500 million active users; celebrities like Mariah Carey have made the leap to TikTok; and Gen Z’ers are flocking to the platform. TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms on the market, surpassing Instagram and Facebook with 1.5 billion downloads in 70 countries. And its Chinese parent, ByteDance, which merged with the popular app Musical.ly, is one of the world’s most valuable startups.

As PR and marketing pros know, staying on top of social media trends is crucial, and leveraging the right channels is necessary for any successful campaign strategy. Now that TikTok’s popularity has soared, here are a few insights and takeaways when considering the right platform for your campaign:

1. TikTok might not be forever, but relevance is

With a short format of 60-second videos, TikTok is everything that Vine was—ephemeral, fun, and spontaneous. It offers instant gratification, the opportunity to be creative, and for PR and marketing pros, content localization.

Like Vine, Snapchat, and Dubsmash, TikTok speaks the language of its userbase—short, simple, and cross-cultural. But here’s the million-dollar question: will TikTok have longevity or fade away like the apps that came before it? While there’s potential, one thing remains the same—people enjoy digestible and short-form content. The content on TikTok, which is usually audio-visual and personalized, is aimed at a generation that values individual expression and ephemeral communication.

If you’re looking to elevate your social presence, short-form content can keep people hooked—but it’s about paying attention to things that matter to your audience. Looking ahead, focus on content that resonates well with your target.

2. Videos will keep growing with mobile-first videos rising

Videos are becoming more popular in online communities, and research shows that it’s not slowing down anytime soon. In fact, TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the app, according to BusinessApp, and people are using the app to either watch or create videos—directly on a mobile phone.

Vertical video is indeed on the rise. Because of the app’s mobile-centric features, content is easily accessible and more engaging. By 2022, Ericcson predicted that 90 percent of mobile traffic will come from smartphones.

Companies bet big on videos but it’s just as important to adapt to new formats and be ahead of the curve. But to do so effectively, brands need to be timely because the audience today is changing. Take advantage of new trends to better engage with your audience and raise your profile.

3. Brands are taking an interest in monetization

As TikTok expands into influencer marketing, the biggest question advertisers are asking is how will the app make money? With TikTok’s longevity in question, its ad offerings and capacity are still a work in progress.

While TikTok is still developing its monetization model, balancing the needs of the user and keeping them is just as important. Vine quickly established itself as the next big thing but soon found itself shuttered because of its inability to provide monetization for its creators.

The bottom line is to consider how you want to provide value and monetize it. Make use of options offered by social sites to help your audience stay. As you cultivate relationships with them, think about your metrics and how to turn valuable content into a return on investment.

4. Authenticity is still important

Ninety percent of consumers say authenticity is important when choosing which brands to support. Compared to its competitors, TikTok maintains a level of authenticity that’s almost unrivaled. Videos on the platform are raw and unfiltered, tapping into a more realistic and value-conscious generation.

With Gen Z-ers thriving for real connections, brands like The Washington Post and the NFL are shaping how to reach younger audiences—and it starts on TikTok. With fun challenges, memes, and behind-the-scenes videos, many users have resonated with the short, digestible content on the app.

But just having a social media account is no longer enough these days. Brands must craft and hone their voice on their platforms. Not every brand needs to be on TikTok, but they need to be authentic to who they are when using the social media platform of choice.

In our modern digital landscape, many platforms have come and go. But with the increased use of mobile devices, social media sites will only continue to grow. With so many new platforms emerging, there’s a place for everyone but it’s a matter of being strategic and purposeful.

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Nathalie Nguyen

Nathalie Nguyen is an intern at Scott Circle Communications (@scottcircle), a Washington, D.C. based public relations firm working with mission-driven clients.

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