TikTok exploded onto the global social media arena in late 2017 and has since fended off concerns over privacy and national security with its weapon of instant gratification. By the end of 2021, TikTok surpassed one billion monthly active users and shows no signs of slowing.

With both TikTok and copycats of its addictive formula enjoying great success and a broadening user base (for instance, YouTube Shorts have already exceeded five trillion views after launching in September 2020), it is clear that companies will try to unlock the components behind TikTok’s mass appeal and harness the platform within their marketing strategies.

What sets TikTok apart?

It is no secret that TikTok is addictive—to curb internet addiction, China has banned users under the age of 14 from using Douyin, their equivalent of TikTok, for more than 40 minutes a day. Alongside the algorithm, the content itself has proved to be contagious. The short dance routines have spread like wildfire, and the catchy audio clips used in the background regularly make appearances in music charts.

ByteDance, TikTok’s developer, is at the top of GlobalData’s Social Media thematic scorecard, where companies in the sector are ranked based on how well they are responding to the disruptive themes they are faced with. Unsurprisingly, ByteDance receives the highest possible score, five out of five, for the themes of artificial intelligence, Generation Hashtag, and digital media.

TikTok prides itself on its short-form videos that get to the point, which are still popular despite now competing with the likes of Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat Spotlight. The viewer simply does not have time to be bored with such short bursts of content—in an age of instant gratification, this is genius.

TikTok easy to access content

Users can easily access new content driven by the highly-effective TikTok algorithm, which means they do not even need to search for what they are seeking—their viewing history does all the work. By combining the lazy swipe of Tinder and the forced conciseness of Twitter, TikTok satisfies a short attention span and provides instant entertainment.

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By GlobalData

TikTok also simplifies the process of content creation with its user-friendly and comprehensive editing suite. Compared to video platforms like YouTube, TikTok content is less polished and more relaxed. Users do not need expensive sound and lighting equipment, or even a fully-formed idea, to produce popular content. Moreover, content on TikTok is public by default, making TikTok videos far more accessible and likely to go viral than Snapchat and Instagram stories.

The key to TikTok’s success has been the concentration of its users around a certain age band—Generation Z. This has meant that the content, created by users of the same age as their target audience, is more likely to be relatable to viewers, and there is a stronger sense of community across the platform than across the likes of Instagram and YouTube.

How can businesses benefit?

TikTok is venturing into the territory of social media commerce (s-commerce), an offshoot of mobile commerce (m-commerce). M-commerce is when purchases are made online via a smartphone and is a segment of ecommerce that grew rapidly during the pandemic. GlobalData predicts that the value of mobile wallet transactions will exceed $266 billion in the US and $60.5 trillion in China by the end of 2022.

TikTok has been introducing shopping capabilities for businesses that are Shopify merchants and have a TikTok for Business account. Businesses can add a shopping tab to their profile on TikTok, through which users can make in-app purchases.

Content creators can also tag items in TikTok posts with a link to a purchasing page. This will reap big rewards, with a variety of consumer goods already becoming viral via the platform, from the Dyson Airwrap hair styler to The Ordinary Peeling Solution exfoliator. Amazon has recently added an ‘Internet Famous: The Latest to Go Viral’ page to its marketplace, showcasing the products garnering the most traction on platforms such as TikTok. By using influencers or creating quirky skits themselves, brands are now able to make their marketing appear more personal and relatable, for instance by using viral challenges and hashtags to generate hype and build trust in their brand.

Younger customers are attracted

It is not just an opportunity for the consumer sector—banks can also capitalize on social media platforms’ access to younger generations. Traditional financial institutions are struggling to attract younger customers because of the variety of innovative fintech platforms now available to them. On TikTok, personal finance is already a widely-viewed theme, with over 3.3 billion views on all related videos, and the hashtags #FinTok and #StockTok are also popular. TikTok can be used to quash the outdated perception of traditional banks among Gen Z, by creating engaging and easy-to-understand videos that break down different financial products, explain concepts like reducing credit card debt, and advise young people on how to sensibly invest assets.

It takes less time to build a sizeable and solid audience on TikTok than other social media platforms, and both big brands and small businesses should be capitalizing on this space before it becomes too competitive. TikTok has proven itself to be an excellent platform for brands to tap into Gen Z. Indeed, the platform’s popularity is spurring its own growth and expanding its user base further. And it shows no signs of slowing.