The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Brand Strategy TikTok Social Media

Why brands should treat TikTok more like a search engine than a social media platform

By Kirsty King, Senior director of client growth

August 24, 2022 | 6 min read

TikTok promises new opportunities for content engagement and paths to purchase, particularly when brands effectively leverage the platform’s search capabilities, writes Kirsty King of Nativex.

Girls looking at phone

/ Shingi Rice

Generation Z has yearned for a more organic, user-focused approach to online interactions. TikTok has been able to accomplish what other media platforms until now have not – creating a community where user input isn’t just encouraged; it necessitates the platform. With this community comes loyalty and an increase in information sharing.

In doing so, TikTok may have inadvertently stumbled across a massive digital gem: search.

Recent data indicates that almost 40% of generation Z internet users are not using Google Search products for discovery; this has given even more credence to TikTok’s immersive video approach to the internet. TikTok thrives on trending content – and its search functionality is no different.

Accounting for and analyzing trends will be a key differentiator between a brand’s Google and TikTok search strategy. Including your brand in the TikTok discussion will blur the lines between social and search and make it easier for user product discovery.

So how can TikTok provide better ROI and keep your brand front-of-mind?

TikTok’s main draw is its ability to maintain and engage users organically. This is apparent throughout the platform and its ad products – from user-generated content to the hashtag challenges that have become a staple for organizations looking to boost brand awareness.

Powered by AI

Explore frequently asked questions

Purchasing decisions

One of the most powerful ways to fuel marketing growth on TikTok is by engaging throughout the path to purchase.

TikTok drives purchasing decisions differently, diverging from the traditional linear approach to purchase and instead employing a self-described ‘infinite loop’ – one where search, reviews and participation can all have an equal impact and opt-in rates. It’s crucial for brands to understand this framework in a deep way – rather than simply allocating resources to media buying.

Furthermore, community building is vital, as users can quickly become brand advocates through hashtag challenges, ‘how-to’ tutorials or reviews. Prioritizing participation is an established post-purchase marketing tactic, but it has rarely been utilized as a tool for discovery and ‘buy-in’. With the right approach, marketers new to TikTok can harness this potential.

Diversify your marketing mix

Recommendation-based marketing is changing and now relies more heavily on engagement. Luckily, prioritizing engaging content doesn’t have to be costly.

Working with influencers can be a cost-effective alternative to Google Search or Shopping if you understand the audience and a given influencer’s niche well enough. Small, generation Z-focused brands are succeeding with this strategy – especially in competitive verticals like beauty and fashion.

Although TikTok’s popularity continues to surge, it’s important to remember that relevance will be a better metric for success than reach. Here, micro-influencers often resonate better with target audiences, as users look for authentic, localized content. Localization is especially important for brands with specific location or language requirements, as it helps to identify relevant keywords and hashtags during campaign planning.

TikTok search discovery empowers brands and apps to diversify their marketing approach on TikTok. Creator-driven content strategy has already opened the door for brands to better engage with users, and with TikTok’s renowned recommendations algorithms, search will provide more user touchpoints for conversion.

Kirsty King is senior director of client growth at Nativex.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

Brand Strategy TikTok Social Media

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +