TikTok users are approaching one billion; should your business be one of them?
TikTok users are approaching one billion; should your business be one of them? AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE

Listen closely. Hear that sound? No, it's not the slow ticking of the clock as the days seemingly blend in an endless loop during this strange and crazy times we're living in. It's the sound of the latest social media craze.

TikTok, the self-styled "destination for short-form mobile videos," launched in 2018 and has in the last year and a half become the buzziest app in the digital universe. The current reality of social isolation and quarantine has also led to a significant rise in the app's popularity, with many folks discovering it and using it as a fun way to past the time.

TikTok Metrics

So what is all the fuss about? As stated above, TikTok is an app for short-form mobile videos typically between 5 to 60 seconds long. According to Hootsuite, it is currently the sixth-largest social network, with 1.65 billion downloads to date (65 million of them in March alone). It currently has 800 million monthly active users, with the bulk of them coming from China. Monthly active users in the U.S. currently total around 37 million, obviously a significantly lower number than most social media apps, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and even Pinterest, but still impressive. And most importantly, to companies and brands, in particular, research shows that the key target audience for TikTok is women aged 16-24.

Naturally, as TikTok has increased in popularity and buzz, many companies and brands have started paying attention. Currently, TikTok offers several options for companies and brands to leverage the app for promotional purposes. These include in-feed native content ads, brand takeovers, hashtag challenges, and branded lenses.

And most importantly, TikTok offers companies and brands one very significant benefit that Snapchat, for example, still doesn't and that's detailed analytics of their content performance. This includes commonly used and relevant key performance indicators such as impressions, video views, engagement, click-through-rate (CTR), etc. This is particularly significant, because one of the most important factors for any company and brand wanting to dip their toe into a new marketing pond, is having the comfort of knowing they can track the performance of their efforts.

TikTok Pros and Cons for Companies

So should your company consider adding the latest social media craze to its social media marketing mix? As always it depends on multiple factors and the number one is, of course, your audience. Is the population of consumers you're trying to reach likely to be using TikTok? If the answer is no, then it is probably not worth the time and effort. You must also consider your brand image and style and whether or not it aligns with TikTok's style and image.

For example, one of the main appeals of TikTok is that it's not glossy and perfect, but rather offers content that can at times appear almost amateurish, haphazard, and, well, silly. Reason being that it is these very elements that make it seem more authentic to users. And authenticity is one of the key elements of TikTok that appeals to its tribe of users. So it is imperative to consider whether or not that style fits in with your brand image.

You must also, of course, consider your budget. If you are a company with a limited social media marketing budget, you may want to pause on rushing full speed ahead to get in on the TikTok trend. Founder of Kissmetrics Neil Patel noted in a 2019 podcast that TikTok is not yet at scale and therefore probably not worth much investment for companies at this stage--particularly companies on smaller budgets. So definitely something to think about and consider before deciding to invest in another social media platform.

The Future or a Fad?

Is TikTok the future of social media marketing, or merely a fad? Well, the conservative answer is that it's probably too soon to tell. However, I'm a little wary and therefore am leaning towards the latter. More than merely a gut feeling, this view is based on a few factors.

  • TikTok is already facing major competition in the form of Byte, an app developed by one of the co-founders of Vine, which has already seen impressive downloads on Apple's app store. It may just be a fluke, but it's a stark reminder of how quickly trends can shift in the social media game.
  • Speaking of Vine, am I the only one who feels like TikTok is simply a more advanced and updated version of the former? And we all saw what happened there. Yes, TikTok offers several elements that Vine didn't, including advertising options for companies and brands, as well as various design functions and capabilities. That said, Vine, much like TikTok, was all about a culture of creativity and experimentation via short-form mobile videos. And for a minute, it was huge. Then Instagram and Snapchat came into the mix and it couldn't keep up. What are the odds that the same will happen with TikTok? Assuming, of course, Facebook doesn't simply purchase it, as it did Instagram.
  • Many social media users are experiencing brand advertising fatigue, which includes a growing frustration over every platform inevitably becoming overrun by advertisers. There is a very real and understandable trend of certain users, particularly the Gen Xers, moving away from one platform to the next big thing, as soon as a platform becomes too businesscentric. Once again, if the appeal of TikTok is the feeling of authenticity, having it become flooded with various companies and brands pushing branded posts, hashtag challenges, influencer content, etc. is going to turn some off.
  • We all saw what happened with Snapchat. For a moment Snapchat too was the "next big thing"--until it wasn't. Now don't get me wrong, Snapchat still has a fairly strong niche audience (see my thoughts about whether or not Snapchat is still a worthy investment for brands) and revenue from sponsored content on the app is still fairly robust. And as I noted above, TikTok does have a significant advantage over Snapchat, in that it offers companies and brands analytic reports of their content. Still, we cannot ignore how, seemingly overnight, Snapchat went from being all the rage in social media marketing to a mere shadow of itself.

Proceed With Caution

The point is, the social media marketplace has increasingly become saturated. There always seems to be the next big thing and the next trend to jump on or your business and brand "may be left behind." At least that's what some pundits will have you believe. I don't.

Maybe I'm too cautious (I've been accused of being so in the past) and not enough of risk-taker, but I truly believe that you can't tell how successful a new platform is until it's seen a steady rise for at least two to three years.

I understand the argument of being an early adopter. However, there's being an early adopter versus rushing in blindly to chase every current trend for fear of missing out (yeah, even companies and brands experience FOMO). I believe in this case that most companies and brands might want to just proceed with caution.

Digna Joseph is a content specialist/writer whose Island PR analyzes public relations, marketing, and social media.