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Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

TikTok... for surviving and thriving: The Drum editorial team’s best of 2020

TikTok launched its TikTok for Business portal in the summer

It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.

Lockdown has been a lucky break for TikTok. The short-form social video platform has seen its growth catalysed and its place in the cultural zeitgeist secured, while successfully pursuing advertisers’ budgets in straitened times.

While many expected TikTok to have a decent 12 months (we included it in last year’s New Year Honors after it took pole position as the youth social platform of choice and somersaulted creators such as Lil Nas X to the top of the charts) few would have predicted the highs and lows the platform has faced this year.

This year, big brands chased young users making a home in its endless archives of short-form films. While they’re still experimenting with how to engage with TikTok users, it has begun to siphon off spend from more established channels and will continue to do so, with a Kantar study finding two-thirds of senior marketer planning to increase their spend on the app next year.

TikTok has been proactive in encouraging that migration, launching its TikTok for Business portal in the summer and touting its ability to help place advertisers right in the thick of its rapid-fire discourse by sponsoring hashtags and sparking trends. It has also actively courted creators from other platforms, expanding the toolkit available to those with large followings and working in partnership to secure their status on the platform – an innovative approach compared to the hands-off policies of many social networks to date.

That policy has not just been in aid of expansion. TikTok’s rising star has already attracted would-be competitors of its own, most prominently US short-form app Triller. It’s unlikely that app will catch TikTok’s ascendancy, though it has tried to prise away stars such as Charli D’Amelio with the aid of a sizable war chest. TikTok itself has responded with its first advertising campaigns, growth among older demographics and a recent design tweak that will soon enable videos of up to three minutes in length – developments that signal ambitions beyond capturing just the youth market and which likely suggest designs upon YouTube’s throne.

Most of all though, the app has survived its stint as a political football. Banned in India, TikTok was handed an ultimatum by President Donald Trump: sell up to an American operator or get out of town. Following a scare over the app’s data policies, the president tried to squeeze the platform and remarkably failed. Although a sale seemed likely, the deadline set by President Trump came and went without the threatened official ban; TikTok shed a US chief executive officer in the form of Kevin Mayer, but gained street cred and avoided the worst-case scenario. An unusual approach to lobbying, but one that paid off nonetheless.

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on thedrum.com between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.

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