Is TikTok a worthy contender for the social crown?

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TikTok allows marketers toi reach younger audience segments.

If you’re over 25 and haven’t heard of TikTok, it’s okay. You’re forgiven. After all, it’s a platform aimed at consumers with a hunger for video consumption, and we all know the prominent age group of that audience is Gen Z. But who are they as a brand, and why are they the latest hype in the world of social media?

Douyin was launched by Chinese technology giant ByteDance in China in September 2016. They launched as TikTok for the international market in September 2017, while keeping their brand name Douyin in China. TikTok then acquired Musical.ly (who remembers that app? Where you could make a fool of yourself via karaoke and demolish some of the most adored songs in the world?) in August 2018. TikTok started to gain momentum in the US specifically in that same year. The fundamental basis of their existence is to push video content in front of you.

As a platform, they are not bringing anything ‘new’ to the table, so to speak, but taking various parts of existing social media platforms and exploiting the increase in video consumption year-on-year. It appears to be working rather well as a standalone brand, and in January 2019, TikTok was reported to be the most downloaded Android app in the US.

What's the big deal?

So why are they so big? They describe themselves as a social media channel where consumers can ‘be themselves’. Videos posted and watched are usually silly, or funny, or both. Instead of trying to be ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ or whatever the trending word is at the moment, TikTok is supposed to be a place that encourages you to accept yourself, and be able to laugh at yourself, and each other, with nothing but admiration.

The golden opportunity that is turning marketers’ pupils into heart shapes however, lies in the fact that it’s one of the very few online platforms where you can reach younger audience segments. So, not just 16-25 year olds, but much, much younger. Thus, it is a direct-to-consumer platform for the Gen Z audience that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.

So how did they acquire this audience? Here’s the thing, Musical.ly didn’t have an age limit - all you had to do was give them some info about yourself (date of birth, email address, etc) and no parental consent was needed to proceed. It was a paradise heaven for avid social media users under the age of 16. As a result, the Gen Z audience were prominent users of the app, and when Musical.ly became TikTok, they took all that data with them.

Yet in late February 2019, TikTok were fined $5.7 billion by the US Federal Trade commission after being accused of illegally collecting personal information from children under 13. They have since launched a series of online safety videos, and are now directing children under the age of 13 to a separate app experience that doesn’t allow them to share videos. But is that enough to keep children safe? And are brands going to be cautious about working with TikTok because of it?

Safe spaces

It’s difficult to determine whether this revelation and the fine will tarnish TikTok’s reputation and make brands weary of using the platform, especially with brands such as Disney and Nestlé's recently boycotting YouTube, due to a video that was uploaded that showed YouTube’s algorithm aiding predators through suggested videos, and brands such as Disney having their ads appear before such content.

Brands are pulling their ads where such issues occur, and are more and more likely to move away from platforms that put their brand in vulnerable positions. However, the reality of the digital advertising world is that you can’t be protected from every danger out there.

I asked a few marketers what their definition of ‘brand safety’ is and every response varied - from keeping your kids completely protected from all potential danger on the Internet, to implementing certain precautions in order to help prevent such dangers reaching them. Perhaps the issues revolving around the dangers of online advertising lie less in the incidents we see occur, and more in our inability to agree on a fixed definition of the actual term ‘brand safety’.

Just like how Snapchat began, TikTok currently have extremely limited targeting and measurement capabilities. They have however announced that there will be a whole set of advertising treats coming our way later in the year. So if they do indeed up their brand safety settings, and present us with some fabulous targeting capabilities, I wonder just how many marketers will be jumping on the TikTok train, destination: Gen Z

Lisa Sajwani is strategy & planning executive at Croud

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