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The stage is set for brands to jump on TikTok’s influencer marketing boom

After a lockdown-fueled rise in popularity, influencer spend is booming on TikTok So, what do brands – and their agencies – need to know about partnering with creators on the burgeoning platform?

In the last 24 months, Bytedance-owned short video platform TikTok has hit the 100 million daily user mark in Europe and grown its subscriber count by 800% to reach the same number in the US. In China, sister app Douyin is used by 600 million people each day.

The numbers speak for themselves: TikTok is popular, and it’s spawned a new era of ‘micro-entertainment’. From Sea Shanties to baked feta pasta recipes, make-up tutorial activism to dance compilations, the app’s secret sauce lies in short form content that doesn’t take itself too seriously, a familiar self-directed friends feed and an exploration hub powered by algorithms.

Now, the platform (like so many others before it) is walking the highly-strung circus tightrope of balancing monetization with keeping users happy. Its recently made the platform more accessible for brands with a dedicated-business unit and in APAC it’s even allowing advertisers to directly access premium digital inventory across the region thanks to a partnership with The Trade Desk.

In opening up its revenue streams, TikTok has found a sweet spot: influencer marketing.

Among its hundreds of millions of users are an army of switched-on creators, ready to help brands capitalize on the app’s virality. The likes of Red Bull and Chipotle have clued on to this already and all signs point to the fact that chief marketers are increasing their TikTok influencer budgets. Some, including P&G and Dunkin’ are working with huge names like Charli D’Amelio, where others have been leaning on microinfluencers.

The rise of TikTok as an influencer platform

Fresh data from influencer marketing platform Traackr, pooled from the engagements of 50,000 beauty influencers, finds that Tiktok has seen a 164% increase in sponsored posts and a 481% increase in engagements in 2020. TikTok is the only platform to have seen substantial growth in this area, with paid-for cosmetic influencer posts down 23%, 10% and 39% for Instagram, YouTube and Facebook respectively.

It’s not just beauty influencer campaigns burgeoning, either. Klear’s recent State of the Influencer Marketing report reveals that the use of the #ad hashtag on TikTok increased by 130% in 2020.

For Rhianna Cohen, creative strategy director at influencer marketing agency This Here, which works with clients like The North Face and Dickies, she observes that though there’s been an uptick in influencer spend on TikTok, marketers are still very much in the “test and learn” phase.

She says, right now, TikTok’s ad packages are “extremely costly,” so for marketers starting out her agency has been recommending collaborating with creators.

She says as a starting point, she’s seeing brands move beyond taking part in dance challenges and pushing in-app creativity to host their own love shows virtual festivals fronted by creators, this has included London fashion week previews and a digital event from video commerce company Ntwork Transfer.

Her advice to others looking to jump on the bandwagon?

“When things are heavily branded or feel like curated advertisements they can feel out of place and jarring for TikTok’s audience,” she explains. “And when content doesn’t perform well, TikTok’s algorithm kills its reach pretty swiftly. It’s is a place where the content look and feel is more lo-fi, and it makes sense to keep in line with this”

Tom McGirr, head of strategy at The Wild (Jungle Creative’s in-house agency) asserts that in the last year TikTok has evolved from a ‘speed of culture’ flex that brands add-on to a plan, to a core part of their digital ecosystem.

“The opportunity to go viral was a big part of why brands initially joined TikTok but now we’re seeing it being used very differently,” he adds.

McGirr says the true value of the platform lies in connecting with creators and their communities.

“The experimental nature of TikTok and the general levity that exists in-platform means that brands are able to get more creative and feel less pressure to deliver polished content for their audience.

“This creative freedom has led to brands using TikTok as the hub for creator and community content – letting their audience and relevant influencers within their space lead the brand conversation and output.”

So, as audiences become increasingly keen on playing a role in brand stories, TikTok could well be best placed to facilitate this dialogue.

Lowering the drawbridge to the ad industry

As it enjoys an influencer boom, TikTok is lowering the drawbridge to agencies to facilitate deeper relationships.

This week, it announced a new partnership with IPG Mediabrands, which will see the two create a series of new programs to connect IPG’s slate of clients to sponsored opportunities on TikTok.

The pair will create a ’bespoke Creator Collective’, which will bring together a group of diverse creators who will provide hands-on TikTok guidance to Mediabrands’ clients.

TikTok will also hold regular ‘Creator Camps’, where influencers will provide strategic counsel to brands.

Agencies and brands have also started launching dedicated TikTok talent arms, including The Face magazine, which is working with creators to develop their content and profile, as well as consulting brands on talent partners and marketing on the social media platform.

For McGirr, however, it will be some time before TikTok‘s measurement tools catch up to truly quantify its effectiveness, and this is the missing piece of the puzzle.

“For the time being brands should look to double down on what they know the platform can afford them: reach, engagement and community growth – through influencers or otherwise,” he advises.

Cohen says from conversations with clients, there’s a unanimous belief that TikTok is not only here to stay, but that it has the potential to take over as the “main social platform for all age groups”.

“Tiktok was previously seen as a platform Gen Z but we’re seeing this change fast, not just in public opinion but usership too; statistically we know the audience age range is continuing to widen,” she says, pointing to the fact that 32% of users are aged 20 to 29, with the type of ”strong purchasing power” brands seek out.