July 2, 2022

Its Time for TikTok: Tapping into the Social Media Zeitgeist

by Jake Slide

#TikTokmademebuyit, a viral hashtag with more than 4.6 billion views, embodies the power and influence of TikTok. This hashtag stresses the need for brands to start marketing, interacting, and understanding how to engage consumers on TikTok.

Individual TikTok accounts use the platform in different ways allowing each user to have a specialized experience. “Sides” of TikTok are real and are simple descriptors for the communities being created on For You pages. For You pages are just that, made for you. My personal For You page belongs to gym-tok, bartender-tok, and dog-tok leading to my page being constantly flooded with workout videos, bartenders explaining how to make specialty cocktails, or wholesome videos of cute dogs which is exactly the type of content I look for when I open the app. Interacting with a video, either through continuously viewing, liking, commenting, or sharing a video that fits under one of these sides or communities will lead to changes in the For You page that will lead to a consistent stream of similar videos.

TikTok users navigate the two main features of the app, the For You page, and their own personal following page, in different ways. The accounts that users follow tend to be their friends on the app or their favorite creators/brands while the For You page is used in a distinctly different way. This is where the aforementioned “sides” of TikTok tend to appear, as users will interact with a much wider variety of users without ever following them. Thus, allowing brands, large and small, as well as individual creators the opportunity to reach large audiences without needing a considerable initial following that rival platforms like Instagram require.

The For You page, similar to how LinkedIn shows posts that any of your connections have interacted with, allows brands a wider opportunity to consistently reach consumers in a multitude of ways. This article will describe the importance of brands capitalizing on the opportunity TikTok provides to drive sales, understand their ability to alter their perception, while highlighting the power of the comment section and the most beneficial ways brands are maximizing the effects of TikTok. Effectively reaching your target market requires an understanding of what sides of TikTok they are on, the ways they want you to engage with them, and the best methods for engagement.

Driving E-Commerce

The generation predominately using TikTok is Gen Z, accounting for more than 60 percent of the total users. Gen Z is estimated to have an annual buying power of $360 billion, making them a focus of marketing activities. The characteristics most closely associated with Gen Z are their desire for connectivity and relatability. TikTok provides brands the opportunity to fulfil both of those desires while simultaneously promoting their products through the explosion of community commerce.

Community commerce is described as content that would regularly appear on TikTok that happens to have brands in them. This style of promotion provides brands with inexpensive advertising and honest reviews of products that positively impact consumers. Community or social commerce is expected to be an $80 billion industry by 2025 in the US alone. E-commerce is growing on TikTok and providing brands with impressive outcomes.

The results are evident in Kylie Jiang’s comments on the effect TikTok had on her skin-care company that emphasises targeting Gen Z. She stated that her sales on TikTok were 10 times more than what she got on Facebook and Instagram with the response she received being almost instantaneous. Marketing campaigns constantly highlight reviews in their advertisements and consumers will continue to look to the reference groups they trust to make purchasing decisions. TikTok, more specifically the sides of TikTok, has created these commerce communities that users trust to help drive their purchase decisions.

How Brands Can Engage

We have outlined the basic functions and the growing importance of reviews from reference groups on TikTok but how can brands effectively engage with their target market? The TikTok insights survey we conducted confirmed what we expected to see in terms of the preferred ways in which consumers would like brands to interact with them.

We gave participants a list of ways brands typically interact with them on the app and asked them to select all the options they preferred. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of two methods: Witty comment section engagement and participating in current trends. 85 percent of respondents wanted brands to interact with them through witty comment section engagement and 61 percent wanted them to participate in current trends.

Comment Section Engagement

Tik-Tok comment sections can be as valuable as the videos themselves. Our insights survey found that 71 percent of our respondents are actively reading the comment section on a daily basis. Brands coming up with witty comments on viral videos continues to grow in fame and the comments themselves have, in some instances, become the most popular part of the post.

Brands have various methods at their disposal when it comes to engaging in the comments with users. A well-known brand could comment something outside of what would be expected and receive thousands of likes on their comments leading to a positive effect on how consumers perceive the brand. Our survey found 78 percent of respondents agreed/strongly agreed that when a brand comments something funny/shocking it alters how they view the brand.

The most prominent brand employing this strategy is the language-learning app Duolingo which consistently comes up with viral comments. Creators often make videos reacting to the most savage Duolingo comments and are constantly surprised by the things they have come up with in the comments.

Alternatively, brands like Go-pro use the comment section to interact with videos that are in line with their typical market like their comment on a viral skiing video that received 86k likes. There is even a trend of creators asking brands to comment on their posts and that’s it, that’s the entire video. Users viewing the video will often browse the comment section to see which brands were up to the challenge.

As mentioned previously, the sides TikTok users are on will determine the personal user experience, which is similar to the brands they will interact with the most. Each side of TikTok may be hearing from certain brands more often than others. “Ski-Tok” is much more likely to be interacting with adventure brands like Go-Pro and someone on Dog-Tok would probably be seeing Petco in the comment section of viral videos. That being said, when brands comment on videos that they wouldn’t necessarily be expected to it provides a shock value and generates conversations in the comment section. The comment section is an overlooked opportunity but is far from the only way brands can effectively engage.

Participating in Current Trends

Brands that can add their personalized twists to active trends are seeing sustained success. These trends can be specific to the “sides” of TikTok your consumers are on or can be tailored to the general population. The most popular trends will find their way to almost every For You page in some manner.

TikTok is a copycat app, but brands can’t just use the same jokes that previous creators have used. Capitalizing on popular sounds and having an adaptable team is the key for brands that want to stay current as trends rise and fall in popularity rapidly. This leads to an increased importance for brands to add their unique spin to the trend during the initial phase.

A current trend that a number of brands have capitalized on started when Gunna and Future released their new song “Pushin P”. Brands like IHOP and Nike as well as programs like The Maury Show hopped on the trend in creative ways with some even gaining Gunna’s approval. The reach extended so far that the NFL changed their TikTok bio to PFL for the time being as well as generating captions to their most popular videos that referenced the meme. Even if the brands don’t fully understand the meaning behind it, they were smart enough to post about it instantaneously.

The company that seems to always be on top of current trends is the language-learning app Duolingo. Duolingo uses content creation along with actively engaging in the comment sections in random videos to make itself the most recognizable brand on TikTok. It seems like every day they come out with a new viral video capturing the app’s attention or one of their comments is garnering site-wide support that you would never expect from an educational brand. Their ability to consistently produce viral videos has allowed them to amass a following of 2.7 million and have recently surpassed 50 million in total likes on their posts. They consistently receive over a million views per post.

TikTok is not just an app used to gain more followers and provide entertainment but is an avenue for cheap product promotion through community commerce and trusted reviews by other creators that are leading to real sales. Likewise, the TikTok comment section allows brands to positively impact their brand perception and engage with their consumers in the method they prefer the most. There is no single way for brands to create buzz around their brand but missing out on the opportunity TikTok is providing to captivate a young market would be a massive oversight.