In the space of four years, TikTok has secured more than one billion users worldwide, leapfrogging the likes of Twitter and Snapchat without even breaking a sweat. It was also the second-most downloaded app of 2019, beating both Facebook and Instagram while only losing out to WhatsApp.
With download numbers showing no signs of dropping, TikTok is already being touted as the future’s biggest social network. In early 2019, the network launched its advertising platform which poses the obvious question: is now the time to start advertising on TikTok?
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a Chinese social media app that goes by the name “Douyin” in China. The video-sharing app was developed by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, allowing users to create and share 15-second videos with background music of their choice, filters and other features.
Basically, if Instagram and Snapchat hooked up behind Facebook’s back, it would probably result in something a lot like TikTok.
Except there was already an app very much like TikTok that had a strong userbase among teenagers in the US. This app was called Musical.ly. In 2017, ByteDance bought Musical.ly, merged it with TikTok and migrated all of its users over. This set TikTok up to become one of the most popular social platforms in both China and the US - something no other platform has managed.
In 2020, TikTok looks like it could become a major player in just about every market in the world.
Who is actually using TikTok?
Precise user numbers are a little tricky as ByteDance keeps the Chinese version “Douyin” that’s popular in many Asian countries separate from TikTok. Here we have user numbers provided by Statista and Pioridata but this doesn’t include key markets like China, Japan and South Korea.
However, it does give us an idea of how popular the app is in India, the USA and other key markets compared to the UK. To put this in context, there are estimated to be more than 44 million Facebook users in the UK (2019) compared to fewer than seven million TikTok users.
In terms of demographics, this is a young userbase with 41% of TikTok users being aged between 16 and 24. In the US, Gen-Z dominates the app’s userbase but the platform has become popular with millennials across other parts of the world. The gender divide is pretty equal, too, although there are slightly more women using the app with 56% of TikTok users being female.
What kind of advertising options are available on TikTok?
There are four types of ad formats that you can use on TikTok:
- Brand takeover: Image, GIF or video ads that allow one brand to dominate a specific topic for the day.
- In-feed native video: Vertical 9-15 second video ads that show up on the “For You” page.
- Hashtag challenge: Create sponsored hashtags to encourage user-generated content, engage users and attract influencers.
- Branded lenses: Create 2D or 3D lenses that users can try out for themselves.
Now, that gives you an idea of what advertising looks like on TikTok but getting results from this network is going to be challenging. While the app looks a lot like the new Instagram, it’s actually more like YouTube in terms of how people use it. TikTok isn’t a network for engaging with friends (like Facebook and Instagram), it’s a place where people go to be entertained.
This is a platform designed for the world of influencer marketing, content creators and seven-year-old millionaires.
Your Instagram campaigns are not going to cut it on TikTok.
As things stand, success on TikTok comes from product placement, branding, viral content, influencers and soft-selling techniques. Paid advertising is a new thing on the network and brands are still finding out what they can achieve with the products TikTok provides. However, it’s the organic content campaigns that are generating the most success. We’ll have to see how long organic visibility remains a viable option for brands as the network refines its advertising platform.
Should I advertise on TikTok?
If you’re confident that your target audience is using TikTok and your brand is capable of creating engaging content on this kind of platform, then it might be time to start using the network. TikTok advertising is still in the experimental stage, though, and this is all brands can really hope to achieve with it: experiment.
With an average CPC of $10 (£7.50), you’ll be putting a hefty budget on the line for the sake of experimentation - especially when things are likely to change so much in the coming years.
At this stage, TikTok is an exciting network for brands in certain niches, targeting a certain kind of audience. But most of the excitement revolves around organic content opportunities while the network is yet to prove itself as an advertising channel worth recommending.
One to keep an eye on, though.
Ashleigh Brown, PPC specialist at Vertical Leap.