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Opinion: TikTok TikTok: Time for New Ways of Consumer Engagement

TikTok has unquestionably been the social media success of lockdown. Now that it has gone mainstream, Aoife Marron looks at how brands can successfully navigate the social media platform to their advantage.

Let’s talk about this little known (for many of us oldies) and fast growing (among those 16-24) social media phenomenon. TikTok is a video sharing content platform.  Users can upload videos lasting anywhere between 15 seconds to 3 minutes in duration.  In many ways it has the same functionality as other more familiar networks – well, to those of us with or acquiring grey hairs at least!  Much like Facebook and Instagram, you can have followers and follow, there is a private messaging function, algorithms work to suggest content.  Sound familiar?  It is.

However, unlike the grandaddies of social media, TikTok goes out on a limb and leads with a “discover-first” proposition.  All other platforms presume the importance of “friends-first”; when you open the app, you’re presented with content from those you follow – your chosen community.  TikTok shows you “For You” content powered by AI learning and technology.  Without following or having followers, the technology can share highly relevant and engaging video content with you upon app opening.

The concept of “discover-first”, concise video content is highly compelling and results in high enjoyment and engagement for a number of reasons:

Diversity: The content changes consistently.  Users can expect life advice, mixed in with comedy clips or sports content.  Holiday inspiration may appear on your next scroll, or even some fashion advice (you wouldn’t want to be cheugy would you?  Don’t know what that means?  You’re probably not on TikTok and you probably are cheugy).  Variety is the norm, is expected and keeps you clinging on for more.

Commitment:  The brief nature of clips demands less time from users.  In short, you get much more from much less.  While YouTube has a similar offering, TikTok doesn’t make you commit to the same degree to get value.  It respects your time and acknowledges the true new normal – a shorter attention span.

Passivity: User engagement levels do not determine your experience.  While there are many users posting and sharing content, there are also those who are self-confessed lurkers.  Passive engagement is permitted and does not impede enjoyment.  It feels like it gives more than it demands of you.  Nice.

Opportunity: For those sitting outside the passive observer box, there is a genuine opportunity to go viral.  Your success is not determined by your number of followers but the quality of your output and how it connects and resonates with people and what the AI figures about them.  This feels more authentic as it enables victory through what seems like good, old-fashioned discovery rather than pushing.

Authenticity: In the words of an eloquent friend “it’s not curated blogger sh*te”; it’s not about bad news à la Twitter, or perfection à la Instagram.  It doesn’t leave you feeling jealous or annoyed.  It gives you a little boost because it feels more real and builds on what are essentially the boring, bland realities of life in a valuable way – providing advice to common workplace challenges, making fun out of clothes that no longer fit you.

Personalisation: The word that gets bandied about ad lib with meaning often dramatically diluted in execution!  Research and marketing have talked at length about the importance of personalisation and boy does TikTok get it right.  This app knows you better than you know yourself.  The content is so relevant that you really can’t help but get hooked.  The AI learning works incredibly well and allows the platform to win with their “discover-first” strategy.

From a brand perspective, this teaches us a lot about how to engage with young consumers and Gen Z specifically as they become a key target for many moving forward.

Make it About Them

Aanticipating consumer needs really hooks them on your brand and offer.  Link everything back to them; even though community and network is important, the primary priority is ‘me’ and what I get from this.  Ensuring you know what they want (even if they don’t!) is important.  Work to incorporate AI, consumer insights and understanding into what you do, how you do and what you offer to deliver personalisation.

 Customer Equality

Customers don’t want to be treated differently to other customers; don’t make them jump through hoops to get something of value.  This is only palatable if one is paying more than the other (e.g., different NOW memberships).  If you’re enticing new customers in with something shiny, best not to tick-off existing customers by not recognising their loyalty to you.  From their perspective, they’re the same.

Be Brave by Doing Different

While redesigning the wheel is not often fruitful, reshaping the mould can pay dividends.   Understand how consumers are and have changed and respond to this (e.g., YouTube is already a video sharing platform, TikTok recognise attention span is limited and set a time cap on their content).

Watch Out for the Small Guys

There’s growing interest and support for the underdog in the market.  This, coupled with a pandemic-induced increase in local business support, makes this form of competition a bigger threat than previous.  If you’re a small business – now is your time; understand how to leverage this position and develop a strategy to win.  If you’re a big brand – watch who’s clipping at your heels; understand why they’re doing well and what it is about them that resonates with your target.

Find Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Simplicity and realness resonate.  Promoting perfection is no longer credible – raw, authentic messaging and imagery connects with consumers.  For the first time in a long time, perfection is no longer the end goal.  Brands that recognise this will be viewed as more credible.

In a world where consumer brains are the busiest they have ever been, TikTok has managed to compete with the category founders and leaders to make social media more engaging and stimulating than ever before.

Aoife Marron is a director of Red C Research.


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