what's the tea on tiktok?

by Gia
June 11, 2021

Let me start by saying that at the beginning of 2020, I was a TikTok hater. When people were doing the renegade and throwing it back, I shook my head thinking, “TikTok’s a fad, just like Vine.” I stood strong against my now dance-obsessed peers with full confidence I wouldn’t give in. It wasn’t until March, for my intern project at RPA, that I finally downloaded the app that everybody was getting on.

So what was all the fuss about?

Getting on TikTok is very confusing. You’re on the app and all of a sudden you’re watching a stranger make coffee to a French Ratatouille song and then another random person dancing to “Say So,” then another stranger is telling you a pretty intimate, embarrassing story. It’s just downright funny. Initially, the videos are all quite amateur-ish and maybe even cringe-y, but then you realize: that’s the point. The beauty of TikTok is that it’s for everybody. We’re stripping away the Instagram filters, VSCO edits, and YouTube scripts to not be afraid to just mess around and have fun for once. The fact that anyone could go viral is simply icing on the cake.

It may seem pointless, this endless flow of random videos, but TikTok perfectly captured the Gen-Z humor and meme culture: ushering in a new wave of social media as a platform for authenticity and entertainment. In a world where your online presence is ever-scrutinized and the pressure to say the right thing to not get “canceled” is inescapable, TikTok provides much-needed relief for Gen-Zs and Millennials alike. Perhaps it was due to quarantine, but the once teen-filled app is now gaining an older demographic of Millennials, making it the most downloaded app in the world since April 2020.

It comes as no surprise that brands have recognized where everyone’s attention shifted and capitalized on it. TikTok themselves also recognized the opportunity and only began to offer advertising options in 2019. Since then, brands like e.l.f. and Yoplait have utilized the app to engage with this audience through branded hashtag challenges, gaining over 5B and 3B views respectively. It was precisely the fact that TikTok was monetizing the app through advertising and influencers that I was convinced it was here to stay. I could go into the nitty-gritty details of TikTok’s advertising options but here is a quick overview of what they offer so far:

By now, advertising on TikTok is still new enough that the app isn’t yet saturated like Instagram and YouTube. Though this presents a unique opportunity for brands, they need to be extremely intentional about their ad placements and creative for it to work on TikTok. Done right, they could get over 4B views like e.l.f. TikTok’s advertising options are only going to get more sophisticated and with that, comes higher saturation and more noise for brands to cut through.

So should brands advertise on TikTok?

If you want to reach the Gen-Z and Millennial audience and engage with them authentically, then yes. If you have the budget to commission a new song and dance then by all means, yes. It’s just as easy for your content to gain zero traction as it is to go viral on TikTok. But with the right placement, music, and influencers you’re guaranteed more virality than any other platform.

I would be remiss to discuss this topic and not mention all the current data issues the U.S. is having with TikTok. As the digital-natives, Gen-Zs are unafraid to try new things online. But growing up with technology also means that Gen-Zs highly value privacy and data protection. According to a recent CNN article, “the U.S. is ‘looking at’ banning Chinese social media apps including TikTok due to security concerns.” There are also numerous Reddit threads unpacking the possibility of TikTok user data being shared with the Chinese government. These concerns don’t seem to faze the majority of current TikTok users as these allegations have been coming and going since TikTok’s early days. But in order for TikTok to gain the full trust of Gen-Zs and other TikTok skeptics, they need to proactively take steps to protect user data and be transparent about their practices to their audience.

All in all, it’s safe to say TikTok has taken the world by storm. I’m still not the most avid TikTok-er but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t stayed up till 2 am binge-watching TikTok videos. Maybe you’re still skeptical about their data privacy measures or maybe you just don’t see the value in their content. But, whether you’ve gotten on the app yet or not, I can guarantee you’ve seen your fair share of TikTok videos on other social platforms. The shareability and virality of these videos are what makes TikTok almost inescapable and one day, you’ll find yourself downloading it just to see for yourself what the fuss is all about. Here’s something you can check out in the meantime :)