TikTok has seen a meteoric rise over the past few years, and its growth has been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic as people spend more time at home. The social media giant boasts around 100 million monthly active users in the U.S. and nearly 700 million active users globally. With this incredible growth has come increased scrutiny. In this post, I’ll explore what brands should keep in mind if they are considering having a presence on the platform.

The TikTok Ban

After President Trump issued an executive order threatening to ban TikTok over alleged security concerns, several companies, including Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart, expressed interest in acquiring part of the burgeoning social media platform. There continues to be a lot of speculation about whether any of them can finalize a bid ahead of the Administration’s Sept. 15 deadline – the clock is ticking. If an acquisition doesn’t materialize, TikTok will have to fight for its future in court.

Even as TikTok’s U.S. situation remains unclear, it’s good for companies to have a basic understanding of this platform, which has captivated people around the world.

TikTok and Brands

Lately, TikTok has gotten serious about working with brands. Its new self-serve ad platform, along with the TikTok Creator Marketplace, help companies more easily discover and partner with creators. TikTok is also working hard to keep influencers on board, and has pledged more than $1 billion to help support creators.

The Washington Post offers some inspiration about how to build up a large following. The newspaper mainly posts silly videos featuring its video producer Dave Jorgenson. Occasionally, videos feature the publication’s writers who touch on more serious topics, like the recent U.S. Postal Service changes. The Washington Post’s approach of mixing fun, relatable content with more important topics has helped to build a loyal following.

Chipotle has showcased how brands can successfully work with influencers. Chipotle has run a number of TikTok challenges, such as the #GuacDance challenge in honor of National Avocado Day, which have leveraged influencers to drum up attention and excitement about the company’s promotions.

Attorney Tom is an example of how a small business – in this case, a personal injury lawyer in Texas – can also build a strong following. Tom regularly shares his legal perspective on other users’ content with TikTok’s duet feature, reacting to popular content like this video of a motorcyclist who was lane-splitting. By reacting to other people’s content, Tom has done a nice job of fostering strong user engagement on his channel.

The Crowded Landscape

The success of TikTok and its uncertain future have driven other social media companies to deliver similar features in the hopes of driving more attention to their own platforms. Instagram’s new Reels feature has widely been called a TikTok copycat, so the platform will need to find new ways to keep its massive user base engaged. Triller, a music-focused social media app, has already attracted a lot of interest from musicians, celebrities and other influencers. It certainly has a shot at becoming one of the social media heavyweights (and even wanted to enter the bidding war for TikTok). Other platforms that are vying for TikTok’s spot include Byte, Dubsmash, Likee and Zynn, but so far there is no clear frontrunner.

What's Next

TikTok can be an integral part of a company’s multi-channel strategy. The decision about whether to invest in the platform (once TikTok’s legal issues are ironed out), is dependent on a number of factors. Consider the demographics of your target audience. For consumer brands, TikTok may be a natural fit, particularly for companies that are looking to target younger consumers (The New York Times reported that more than a third of TikTok’s U.S. users are 14 years old or younger). Certain B2B companies can get value out of TikTok too. For example, a semiconductor company could use TikTok to promote the cool devices its chipsets are powering.

Companies also need to think carefully about what their main goals are for social media campaigns. Do they want to raise general brand awareness or drive interest in particular products? It remains to be seen how well brands can drive sales through TikTok compared to other platforms, but developing content based on TikTok trends, like popular hashtags and video effects, is one of the best ways to get noticed on the platform.

Whatever TikTok’s fate, it proves there is always a hunger for fun, culturally relevant programming that speaks to consumers in authentic ways.

About the Author

Alicia Daleiden

Alicia is an account director based in San Francisco. She works with a variety of clients in the silicon industry across different segments including mobile, the Internet of Things and open source technologies. She helps to manage the strategic direction of her accounts, in addition to overseeing media relations and content creation.