Marketing Breakdown: TikTok and Authenticity
In our previous blog, we discussed the importance of creating emotional engagement through authenticity and outlined, broadly, how to go about it. TikTok brands itself as a social media platform built for authenticity, so could it be an authentic channel for marketers to engage emotionally with their audiences? This week, we’ll dive deep into what makes this app tick and why it might be worth using it as a marketing platform for your brand.
TikTok and the Quest for Authenticity
TikTok is growing rapidly and is predicted to reach a billion users in the next year. An app that was once considered the domain of Gen Z, now hosts over a third of users who are over the age of 30. There is a huge range of users with an infinite number of interests. Based on this alone, it’s a good idea for many brands to familiarize themselves with the platform.
For the uninitiated, TikTok is a social media platform that allows for quick and easy communication via video. A good example for someone unfamiliar with the platform might be the sea shanty trend that was doing the rounds in early 2021, which involved a number of people adding to old seafaring “call and response” songs, creating beautiful collaborative results. Compared to other video sharing apps such as YouTube, TikTok videos take much less time to make because the platform provides users with a range of tools to do so (including filters and duet functionality), resulting in rapid content creation and increased engagement given the ability to interact with the content of other users.
Rather than promoting advertising in the traditional sense, TikTok aims to create an experience of connection, co-creation, and entertainment, and marketing efforts need to meet this criteria. As a result, brands are members of the community and not advertisers. This means that, on TikTok, brands can’t fall back on traditional advertising techniques. Instead, they need to find ways of creating value and encouraging creative engagement from users with their content.
While this is a challenge, TikTok’s research, in collaboration with Nielsen, has found that your hard work will pay off. Advertising on TIkTok was perceived as more authentic, fun, honest, real, and trustworthy. In addition, 60% of TikTok users reported feeling a sense of community on the platform and 75% agreed that they can express themselves openly on the platform.
While this all sounds great, there are some pitfalls to keep in mind if you want to give TikTok a try. It’s worth noting that a separate UK survey found that users didn’t find TikTok particularly authentic, but the same went for any form of social media. People are aware that the media they’re shown is curated and not 100% genuine (to the extent that there is always an agenda of sorts), but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy and engage with it. If you do pull it off and garner exciting, fun engagement with your brand then you’re set. However, if your authenticity is perceived as performative and fake, users will turn on the brand. To avoid this, you might consider making use of an influencer.
Marketing with TikTok Influencers
Working with influencers is a great option for marketing your brand on TikTok. They are more keyed in to the trends and landscape than you probably are, and they have a better sense of what their audience likes or does not like. If you work with an influencer, it is also important to establish trust between the two of you and create a mutually beneficial partnership.
Influencers are likely to understand what might work and what might not, as well as what would be more engaging for their audience. They also need to be able to trust that you won’t force them to do anything that might jeopardize their authenticity on the platform and lose them popularity with their audience or damage their reputation.
It is important to remember that, on some level, consumers understand that social media is inherently inauthentic. Its performative nature and the tendency for aesthetically pleasant and interesting content to take preference over content that is more realistic means that influencers are showing a highly curated version of themselves. This can result in dishonest influencers who fake aspects of their lives in order to succeed. The discovery of this dishonesty can result in a large amount of backlash. An example of this is actress Jameelah Jamil’s criticism of influencers who advertised FitTea as a healthy weight loss option. In this case, both influencers and the product were hurt by this public call for accountability.
If this all sounds great but you’re not sure where to start, here are a couple of examples of brands that have nailed marketing campaigns using TikTok for inspiration.
Earlier in 2020, Converse, the popular shoe brand, challenged creatives on TikTok to customize a pair of Converse sneakers in their unique style and post the results with the hashtag #ConverseAllStar. This “Creative All Star Series” not only initiated brand participation, but resulted in a lot of user-generated content being made, leading to over 50 million views. They added to this goodwill by commissioning work from some of the creatives that took part in the challenge and giving them access to members and resources from the Converse team so they could grow their own careers. This showed compassion for the community that had so generously created content for them, particularly during the pandemic.
Italy’s Uffizi Gallery is using TikTok to spark an interest in art from a younger generation. Using TikTok’s quick video format, they turn classic artwork into funny memes that drive engagement and collaboration from the community. While it’s mostly good fun, it has also sparked an interest in the arts from a young community that may not have had access to information regarding the arts or an interest before.
As exciting as this all seems, TikTok is not without its risks. It has repeatedly been in the news for a number of safety concerns, including data mining its users and not doing enough to protect minors on the platform. The major concern is whether the Chinese-owned app is sending or could be compelled to send its data to China. For this reason, the US military and staff for the US government are banned from having TikTok installed on work phones.
That being said, an investigation by the Washington Post concluded that the app doesn’t mine any more of your data than Facebook does. This is not reassuring, considering the scope of data that Facebook is able to gather on its users, but it does put things into perspective. As with any app or social media service that is free, it’s important to be wary of the information you are transmitting and do everything in your power to protect your privacy.
In conclusion TikTok is definitely a platform not to be so quickly dismissed when discussing successful marketing platforms and one to keep an eye on in this ever evolving age of technology.