Commentary

Teens Take TikTok To The Top

Just when it seemed as if YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snap would forever dominate social media, along comes a new player. TikTok has been downloaded more than a billion times around the world, with more downloads last year than any other non-game app besides WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Facebook. And teens are driving much of its popularity and success.

TikTok is a short-form video platform that allows users to post 15-second video clips accompanied by music. Music publishers license songs to the platform, giving users a wide variety of choices. At its heart, TikTok is a “karaoke” or “lip-sync” app that allows users to sing along with favorite songs to express a mood, or fanship of a certain song or artist. But beyond that, it also serves as a platform for memes, such the “Microwave Challenge,” where users swivel around on the floor as though inside a microwave.

It’s a place where up-and-coming artists can get their music heard; aspiring social media influencers can grow their fan base; veteran entertainers like Ryan Seacrest can reach a new demographic; and anybody can express themselves and check in on the latest music and memes. Unlike most other social media platforms, the content tends to be positive, wholesome, spontaneous and a little goofy. No heavily filtered and perfectly staged Instagram tableaus, or Facebook humblebrags -- this is a place where people spin around on the floor like microwaves for 15 seconds and post it for the world to see.

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What are the marketing implications of the TikTok phenomenon?

*When you leave a void, competitors will fill it. Vine was the original short-form video platform, and content creators ate it up. However, after Twitter shut it down two years ago, no other platform really picked up the mantle for short-form video. Instagram is still used mostly for still photos, and Twitter is still mostly text-only, while YouTube videos tend to be longer, and Snap’s privacy features make it hard for content to go viral.

Enter TikTok: it gave back a platform for short-form video, and doubled the maximum video length from six to 15 seconds, perfect to tell a short story. The lesson? When you take away something consumers really like, somebody else will eventually offer it to them, and steal a lot of business.

 *If you provide tools for self-expression, consumers will use them. Almost everybody would like to be a pop star, if only for a day (or 15 seconds), and TikTok provides all the tools for becoming one, no singing talent (or licensing agreement) necessary. It’s the same with the filters Snap provides: Who wouldn’t love a selfie that’s wrinkle-free, or (depending on your mood and personality) a puppy face? If you provide consumers with the raw ingredients for self-expression, with low barriers to entry in terms of talent or technical knowhow, they’ll almost always take those ingredients, make something clever with them, and share it with all their friends.

*There’s a place for positivity in social media. The other nice thing about providing tools for self-expression is that they create something of a “walled garden,” and a framework for what’s acceptable on that platform. Long-form videos can encourage copyright violations or extreme content. A microblogging platform tends to encourage the most outrageous sentiments somebody can write in 140 (now 280) characters. Social networks can propagate all the tribalism and discontent found elsewhere in society. But if you give people 15 seconds and a pop song, it’s almost hard NOT to come up with something positive, uplifting and goofy.

By following the lessons of TikTok, marketers can top the charts with consumers, and provide a much-needed remedy to the cynicism found elsewhere online.

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