To TikTok or not to TikTok? That is the 2 billion downloads question

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

TikTok is a platform that has become a phenomenon in the last couple of years, so much so that it’s been downloaded over 2 billion times. The average TikTok user spends 45 minutes on the appand it’s now available in over 150 countries and 75 languages, so it really is a global platform.The question is, can business owners use it to leverage its power for their own business’ public relations and advertising?  

Years ago, was an app developed in China that caught on, because kids could take short video segments of music and share them with their friends. This app became super popular and was rebranded TikTok in 2018 when it was bought by ByteDance and now, it has gone global. The mission statement, as explained on the website of TikTok, is to capture and present the world’s creativity, knowledge, and moments that matter in everyday life. 

If you go to TikTok for Business, you can sign up and get a free account. When you log in to their website, there you will see modules including an introduction to TikTok, how to create ads, the structure, the format, the reporting, the creative optimization, how to do split testing, and even the creative best practices. It allows you to have three different people running the account. This very neatly packaged owner manual along with a control panel like a Google AdWords center is giving you everything that you need to start in the business of buying ads on TikTok. To some degree, it’s superseding Instagram and Pinterest, especially for the younger audience. It’s on another level, as is it is building communities by encouraging users to share their passion and their creative expression through their videos. This is also simplifies video editing, as it can easily be done on the app.

Photo from TikTok

In the older days of public relations, case studies involved interviewing people to get a testimonial for a product or service they were using. Now, everybody is making videos and showing them in real time without the client actually being involved in it at all, so it’s real people making real content, and it’s promising the opportunity to turn a culture into a cult-like following. There are now different sections and different communities inside TikTok, as people are starting to create mini-groups or mini-cultures on sports, on food, on fashion, on DIY, and so on.

Big brands are using TikTok, so you could too

When creating an advertising campaign on TikTok, one can choose which audience groups the videos will be shown to. It even has an interesting feature which is the creation of what they call a lookalike audience or an audience that overlaps with the current audience. This enables the one posting to define the demographic and the geography of the people who can see the videos. This is very useful; in fact, it’s being used by many businesses. They have case studies on their website, one of which is how KFC Germany has been using it to reach millennials, and in the UK and Europe, KFC has been using TikTok to promote them restarting their takeaways and home deliveries again. The Silver Swan brand in the Philippines has been using it for their cosmetics brands. The VinFast e-scooters in Vietnam have been using TikTok as well. Iberdrola, a continental European telco, is using TikTok to talk about World Environment Day, and they’re doing that by using hashtags. Nike, Loreal, and Rexona, so sports brands, cosmetics brands, and personal hygiene brands alike are also using TikTok, and they’re using it with a combination of both advertising and user-generated content. 

There’s a perception that TikTok is only for the young, but it doesn’t seem to be that way. Some people are aiming ahead of the curve. Kia, the Korean car company, and Mercedes in Europe have been promoting their cars on TikTok. So, the assumption that TikTok is just for Gen Z seems to be untrue, and more and more businesses are starting to consider this platform as a way of making interesting and very low-cost commercials. Studio Canal in Germany, the French broadcaster, is launching its new German content on TikTok, so there’s definitely some interesting international mixes going on here. These brands using TikTok prove that it has become something that is not just for small enterprises or young people and that it is an extremely powerful marketing franchise. 

#MBStarChallenge (Photo from TikTok)

TikTok stats & how to use influencers to get noticed

In the fourth quart of 2019, there were 219 million downloads of TikTok. But in the first quarter of 2020, there were 315 million TikTok downloads. Clearly, many people are being enticed with the new captivating content they see. Interestingly enough, the US is the leading market for TikTok, interesting in that it has its own domestic players like YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook, but it seems like people are turning away from those and using TikTok instead. $50 million was spent on TikTok alone in America in February. They’re making over a billion dollars in revenue per year, so it’s pretty amazing considering this company was only bought in 2018 from the people in Shanghai.

Statistics shows that 63% of Tiktok users are between the age of 10 and 29, and 37% or over a third are in their 30s and even 40s, which are young early adopters. Females on TikTok outnumber males nearly two-to-one in America and worldwide. It’s been seen perhaps as a female-friendly platform, because they lend themselves to the selfie and the short video. However, it is important to note that Mercedes, Kia, Amazon Prime, VinFast, and so many others are not gender-specific brands yet they’re still getting a lot of attention as well. 

How can a business use TikTok for public relations if they’re not interested in buying ads? Well, one of the key ways is the use of influencers, who are people with a following, and getting them to create a TikTok video and using hashtags in their post. In the past, an influencer would be an editor, and they would publish under a well-known brand. Now, influencers are using channels like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to create their own followings. The publishing platform now is a generic one, and people who have got good things to say are becoming the influencers. You can hire an influencer; some have got up to 10 million followers. If they create a video and publish that with hashtags, those hashtags can create a link to a real website, and this is where the big brands are going with TikTok. They’re creating hashtags and links to their mobile commerce platforms and web pages.

TikTok influencers (Photo from Reuters)

Many TikTok campaigns lead to stores like Etsy or main brand stores on eBay or Amazon, so it’s possible to have content created by influencers advertising in the same way that one might advertise on WeChat, Weibo, or Twitter. People are now buying ads on TikTok and getting others to come just as interstitials in the same way they would be doing programming on television. There’s a mix of people creating content, people buying hashtags, people buying adverts, and also public relations companies creating challenges for users and inspiring people to generate content and repost it.
The game on TikTok is actually the same game on YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest. It’s all down to eyeballs. It’s down to who has the greatest following and how you can reach out to them. The only difference is the format, wherein it’s short-form video set to music. The audience as well is a little bit younger, a little bit more dynamic, but 100% mobile. If that’s the audience that you’re selling to, if that’s who you want to attract to buy, partner with, or become staff, then TikTok may be worth a second chance. If you’re interested to go and see what sort of money you need to spend, then go to TikTok for Business.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from CNET

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