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To understand TikTok, act like one of its locals


Published by:

12 March 2020

Author: Sam Hoffman

Image: iLL Wayno, Holla FyeSixWun - Eyes. Lips. Face. (e.l.f.)


With 60% of its users under the age of 24, brands wanting to reach this creative generation must take time to understand the nuances of the TikTok ecosystem.

The world has been set ablaze by the wildfire that is TikTok – a social platform with over 60% its users under the age of 24.

Granted, this short-form video app isn’t solely cluttered with 16-year-olds posting about high school problems. But TikTok’s format and interactivity has formed a self-reinforcing feedback loop that rewards content that resonates with the lifestyle, humour, and values of today’s teens.

With this in mind, we must ask: what does TikTok’s sudden surge mean for brands and marketers? Considering the TikTok landscape now, and ruminating on where it will head next, it’s crucial that brands explore how they can fit into TikTok’s eco-system.

Firstly, know your target audience, then localise. Viewing ‘social media’ as a singular entity is equivalent to saying ‘Earth’ is where you’re going to advertise. Similarly, having a singular social media strategy is like having the same marketing strategy for both Salt Lake City and Hong Kong.

In the real world, global advertising campaigns can fail to resonate with certain cultures. At best, they can be humorously ineffective. At worst, they’re downright offensive, as we’ve witnessed with numerous luxury brands in recent years. Online, it’s no different. Jokes and messages that resonate with the citizens of Twitter might fall flat on the townspeople of TikTok.

As a result, explore the different nations that exist within the world of social. Venture beyond the platforms your brand or clients have visited before – Facebook, Instagram etcetera. Download TikTok or explore gaming streaming platform Twitch. Learn about social 'places' you may have never heard of.

Charli D'Amelio, Prada on TikTok
'Above all else, make sure you actually add value and delight to the lives of the citizens of TikTok'

For marketers wanting to understand what’s next, why not take a risk by investing spend into an up-and-coming or lesser developed platform? The cost is probably lower, and the payoff could be much higher.

With that in mind, let’s briefly explore TikTok to understand how brands can play a meaningful role in helping to build this young, booming metropolis. If you’ve not yet toyed with the platform, start as its users do: download the app and scroll around.

But don’t stay a TikTok tourist forever. Rather, be like Netflix. The tv and film streaming platform – currently Gen Z’s second favourite brand – has already taken advantage of TikTok by immersing itself in understanding its audience, culture and community. Similarly, spend a few days in your new home absorbing the good, bad, and sometimes ugly content. Act like a local if you want to understand the locals. How do duets on TikTok work? In what creative ways are different groups of people using the same viral sounds? How can you use the algorithm to your advantage by inserting specific keywords into your videos?

Next, consider the options for your brand or clients. You could run paid ads that appear in users’ feeds. You could create or sponsor a TikTok challenge, as we’ve seen with the likes of e.l.f. Cosmetics, which created an original song for people to use in the background of their videos, resulting in more than 4.6bn views of its #eyeslipsface hastag on TikTok.

You could also enlist your organic social team to create content on your own page. You could partner with nano, micro, and macro influencers. Above all else, make sure you actually add value and delight to the lives of the citizens of TikTok, because Gen Z consumers can spot inauthenticity faster than they can do the renegade.

Sam Hoffman is a copywriter and TikTok consultant at co:collective, a creative and strategic transformation agency.

To read more on Youth trends, download our Youth Futures Report or book yourself a ticket to our Media & Youth Futures Forum on 26 November.



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