There is a nearly overwhelming number of social media platforms in the online landscape. They cover every content medium you could imagine; picture or video, long-form or short-form, whatever you’re looking for, there really is an app for that.
ActiveWin utilises a variety of apps and social media platforms as part of paid social media campaigns. As such, we make sure we keep our finger on the pulse of emerging channels.
The latest to take the world by storm is TikTok, a video-sharing platform focused on short-form content. The numbers are certainly impressive, 1.5 billion downloads and a reported 500 million active users each month.
They’ve managed this even despite being under investigation over alleged links to the Chinese regime. This isn’t too surprising – after all, fellow social media behemoth, Facebook, continues to thrive despite increasing privacy and policy concerns.
Origins of TikTok
The platform’s success is surprising when you consider that it isn’t innovating in any way. The concept has been done before. In fact, the app itself is a reinvention of the popular site Musical.ly, which essentially offered the same features, albeit more primitively.
Interestingly, TikTok’s emphasis is on reactive content rather than wholly original videos. One of its biggest draws are the numerous sound clips and filters etc. at your disposal to create and edit posts.
The attraction may be that TikTok is filling the void left by the shocking demise of the app Vine. The popular video-based app took the internet by storm in 2013 but failed to innovate like its competitors, closing in 2017.
The formula doesn’t sound like it would translate in advertising terms, but many are already signalling it as the future hub of influencers. We’ve seen people assemble brands with much less, so who knows what they can do with these added tools?
The question now is, how will TikTok innovate and improve to differentiate itself from just being another Vine or Musical.ly?
There are two other parallels we can examine in the industry; YouTube, and Instagram. Both offer video sharing in some capacity, though there is a much greater emphasis on this in YouTube’s operating model, and they have proven immensely influential in digital marketing.
The monetisation models are starkly different – so too the way their users interact with the apps – but they are two sides of the same coin. Either could serve as a template for TikTok.
YouTube: The Original, But is it The Best?
Let’s start with the oldest, YouTube. It is the forefather of services like TikTok and was one of the first content-sharing sites to hit the mainstream.
While there are obviously social elements to YouTube, there is a marked difference between it, Instagram, and TikTok. Now the second biggest search engine, just behind Google, YouTube offers a wealth of SEO and content opportunities.
From a social media perspective, it is less focused on individual users than its competitors, and more on fostering communities based around popular channels.
While anyone can upload videos onto the site, only a small percentage is seen by a mass audience, particularly if they are not properly tagged and optimised. This may not be a priority for the average user, but it’s crucial in bringing content the exposure it needs.
The user base, then, can be split into two separate groups; ‘Creators’ and ‘Viewers’. The most successful examples of the former are what we call ‘influencers’. Many of these content creators go on to become veritable celebrities, with millions of subscribers.
The latter, on the other hand, tend to make up huge ‘fandoms’ centred around these personalities/influencers and, quite literally, buy into their brand.
The result is a sizable, impassioned set of consumers, usually comprised of a young demographic. As you can imagine, this presented a great opportunity from an advertising perspective.
However, YouTube’s monetisation of ads has been controversial, to say the least, especially for its biggest creators on the platform. Those at the top want to leverage their user-base but they will often do anything for more views.
In the past year alone, we have seen everything from in poor taste to flat-out illegal content. Scandals like the dangerous Tide Pod eating challenge and shooting stunts gone wrong were just the start. We’ve since seen grizzly footage of a suicide senselessly posted by Logan Paul and countless racist commentaries by popular YouTubers.
These were watershed moments and have certainly blemished the site’s reputation, but it has never been squeaky clean. There has always been tension between corporate interests and those actually using the site.
This culminated in the ‘Adpocalypse’ of 2017. This caused a media frenzy at the time and the term has become common parlance. It is used to describe the aftermath whenever YouTube overhauls its ads policy.
The first instance saw many top creators deemed unsuitable for a general audience, so YouTube began to penalise these channels. This limited their ability to show ads and, therefore, monetise their videos.
Many were outraged by this, perceiving the company as dropping those who had established it. Others saw this as an inevitable symptom of the site’s increasing popularity.
YouTube has certainly prioritised commercial relationships over those with its creators, for better or worse. When you go to the trending tab, it is filled with sponsored videos or content from corporate entities, ranging from tech companies to talk shows.
Whilst this was once the best place to find new content, it now lacks uploads from real creators even if they have garnered much more views.
The situation has devolved so much that many users and creators actively criticise and campaign against YouTube’s policies. Several have now moved to rebuild on alternative platforms, TikTok being one of them.
While the company is still doing well financially, public perception has taken a massive hit, particularly among its own community. Could we perhaps see a similar scenario happen with TikTok?
The reality is, despite being around no way near as long, it has already seen accusations of corporate censorship. Would this not just be exacerbated if it was to move toward more commercially incentivised content?
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Could TikTok Topple Instagram?
If you thought TikTok’s statistics were good, Instagram’s would blow you away. With one billion active monthly users, it’s no secret that ‘the Gram’ is one of, if not the biggest, social media platforms right now.
Like YouTube, it is one of few that offers social commerce tools to influencers, making monetising content so much simpler. However, the focus is on current short-form content, so it may not have the long-lasting appeal of YouTube posts.
This immediacy has been quite fruitful for Instagram: take its popular ‘stories’ function, of which 500 million are uploaded daily. It’s just another method of delivering content but it is one of the most innovative additions in years.
Interestingly, these stories are similar in format to TikTok posts and that might not be accidental. Of course, not all of Instagram’s ideas are a hit. It recently piloted removing likes from certain posts in the US, prompting some backlash from high profile users.
Despite this being a good metric for judging the popularity of specific posts, it isn’t great for developing ad campaigns. The ability to link to e-commerce sites, view detailed analytics and who is clicking them is far more valuable. This is especially case when you consider the number of ‘bought likes’ that make up many account’s metrics.
Outside of this though, Instagram maintains a more positive relationship with its content creators than YouTube. This is probably because it’s one of the few channels, apart from the likes of YouTube and Twitch, where monetisation can be a viable source of income and the policing of content isn’t too hard.
It’s the easiest place for influencers to promote their brand, while also making money. On top of this, the content lends itself to digital marketing. Ads on YouTube are seen by viewers as an inconvenience, breaks in the video they’re trying to watch. Most will no doubt skip as soon as possible, but they still have to sit through at least five seconds.
You also have programs such as AdBlock, which stop them from showing up altogether. This isn’t the case at all for Instagram; often, the advert is the content. Fashion and make-up channels are easily the most popular and this genre often make products the centre of their posts.
It’s a win-win for all parties: brands get exposure, influencers generates income and followers receive relevant, engaging content. At least in theory.
The Future of TikTok
TikTok taking inspiration from these competitors isn’t theoretical, it’s already happening. The developers have already adopted similar social commerce tools, one of the biggest attractions for influencers, though we’ll have to see if this proves as successful.
The signs are good though; it’s growing at an exceptional rate and retaining those new users too. What’s more, TikTok’s roots in immensely populated countries like China and India will certainly aid them, as other platforms have historically struggled in these areas.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed (ergo the downfall of Vine), but TikTok certainly has the potential to be a huge commercial and social entity. Its future will depend largely on they choose direction they go in.
For our part, we’ll be monitoring TikTok’s meteoric rise closely. However, as with Snapchat, the platform may not be the best fit for a lot of brands.
Social Marketing With ActiveWin
When looking at social channels, it is important to always bear in mind which audience you are targeting and whether or not you actually have relevant content to share.
Our experienced digital marketing professionals can work with you to build a social marketing strategy, which will complement your brand and speak to your demographic.
Sound good? Get in touch to discuss how we can help.