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TikTok Social Media Marketing

What might a world without TikTok really look like for brands?


By Tom Jarvis, Founder and managing director

June 21, 2024 | 7 min read

Wilderness’s Tom Jarvis explores how marketers in the west may adapt to any potential TikTok ban.

TikTok app on phone in chains and lock

/ Adobe Stock

As discussions about a potential TikTok ban sweep over the US, brands and advertisers face the unsettling prospect of an endless collection of mobile-first short-form video assets without the algorithmic hamster wheel of TikTok to feed them into.

The sense of dread brought by this possibility highlights not just TikTok’s dominance as the home of algorithmic entertainment but also its transformative power as a media channel and the undeniable impact it’s had on the advertising landscape.

So, what might a world without TikTok really look like for brands?

The attention king

TikTok reigns supreme as the attention king, drawing users into an endless vortex of scrolling and personalized video content curation. On average, TikTok users spend nearly 58 minutes per day and 24 hours per month on the app–nearly double the time spent on Instagram and almost the combined usage of Instagram and Facebook.

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With eyes glued to the platform, brands are battling it out to win a slice of the attention. TikTok has reshaped advertising norms, with creative ideas and brand strategies now viewed through a mobile-first video lens. Brands are no longer just competing with one another but with the millions of creators posting on these platforms every day. To reach their consumers, marketers must now pay close attention to exactly what audiences are resonating within these spaces.

From ‘should we?’ to ‘how do we?’

Once a last-minute add-on to a brand’s marketing plan, social media is now a central focal point of the media mix. For businesses looking to tell their brand story, connect with customers, or amplify their message, marketers are now turning to, or more importantly, beginning with social.

TikTok has spearheaded this change, with our team witnessing a huge rise in inquiries from brands, marketers, and social media managers over the past 12 months seeking help with TikTok’s strategy. The question is no longer “Should we be on TikTok?” but “How do we win on TikTok?”

And it’s not only the question that has changed but also the person asking it. Social media used to be viewed as an extension of PR and comms or a branch of traditional marketing, but it now holds a central position within an organization, often the responsibility of the CMO or chief growth officer. By bringing a brand closer to culture, social media can build relevance and scale, unifying various disciplines such as marketing, customer service, new business, and even product development.

The allure of authenticity

TikTok is the home of authenticity. Unlike traditional advertising, TikTok thrives on user-generated content that feels real, raw and relatable. Authenticity on the platform builds a sense of genuine connection and community, and this can hugely benefit consumer trust in brands on TikTok, with a staggering 86% of consumers more likely to trust a brand that publishes user-generated content.

And it’s no longer just about entertainment – TikTok is now also a discovery engine. With over half of web searches conducted on mobile phones, video content has become the go-to source for information. Nearly half (44%) of people prefer to learn about new products or services through short-form video. This is something brands are tapping into, with the likes of BookTok and TravelTok offering authentic, highly efficient ways for brands to connect with target audience communities.

Beyond a TikTok ban

Platforms are already evolving to deliver the same style of content as TikTok. Instagram has reported a 57.4% YoY growth in Reels usage, introducing features to enhance content discovery. YouTube Shorts, with over 50bn daily views, has also capitalized on algorithmically served short-form video, with 70% of YouTube usage now occurring on mobile devices.

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With potential US regulation looming, we may see similar actions in Europe as governments grapple with the risks associated with a Chinese-owned social media platform. However, any proposed regulation presents a golden opportunity for platforms like Instagram and YouTube to capture the attention that might shift from TikTok.

A content-led strategy

TikTok may have kickstarted the short-form video revolution, but the revolution will live beyond it. This form of content, audience behavior, and consumer preference will not die out with an app. Regardless of its forecasted lifespan, TikTok has left a permanent mark on the advertising landscapn.

Though the prospect of a ban may present challenges to brands that have built a social strategy around the platform, it offers opportunities for brands to innovate and diversify. Only by embracing alternative and emerging platforms and staying up to date with shifting consumer preferences can brands win the battle for attention in the ever-changing digital landscape.

Ultimately, these conversations point to the growing and persistent appetite for algorithmic entertainment and short-form, authentic video content. Marketers should focus not on the fear of a world without TikTok but on the possibilities for growth and connection that remain. As long as there is compelling content, there will be an appetite for it, and brands that understand this will continue to thrive.

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