TikTok this week revealed it has amassed more than one billion monthly active users in the three short years since it arrived on U.S. shores.
Let’s put that into context: it took Facebook almost 14 years, and the acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, to reach three billion monthly active users across its ecosystem.
Anyone aware of social media trends (or with a child of a certain age) knows TikTok has rapidly wormed its way into our collective consciousness. In addition to passing the billion-user threshold, the platform has spawned an entire ecosystem of creators and flipped the marketing paradigm on its head.
Watching TikTok’s meteoric rise, three things have stood out to me about the platform that will forever change the rulebook for how marketers interact with consumers.
First, TikTok has moved the goalposts on what it means to go “viral.” Posts on TikTok can circle the globe and rack up billions of views faster than on any other social platform.
This new threshold for virality has spawned a new category of marketing, the TikTok challenge, which is interactive and community-driven at its heart. Brands were quick to jump on the trend, from the obvious (dances and songs) to the not-so-obvious (trying to fit more Goldfish in a handful than a 7’4’’ NBA player).
This trend leads into the next one: the conversation with consumers and marketers is now officially a two-way street.
TikTok is shaped by and for its community. Everyone on TikTok is a creator, and everyone is on the same equal playing field to go viral and achieve fame. Brands that want to be successful on the platform have to invite users into their conversations and, to an extent, allow them to shape the narrative.
Twitter, Facebook and the like may have sparked the ability for brands to speak directly to consumers, but TikTok has taken it to new heights. The broadcast megaphone is out.
Marketers, take a deep breath. You’ll have to cede some control over your brand in this new era, which isn’t easy in a world rife with misinformation and brand safety challenges. But campaigns that don't involve users, or play on trends they have already started, will fall flat.
Finally, TikTok has taken influencer marketing to new heights, evolving it into the “creator economy.” Look no further than the Met Gala to see how the social media famous are reaching the upper echelons of the Hollywood elite.
But these “creators” have an edge; people feel they actually know them and can relate to them more than perfect-looking celebrities on movie screens and glossy magazine covers. Think of it this way: wouldn’t you rather buy something your best friend recommended to you than a celebrity who doesn’t even seem like a real person?
There will always be a place for celebrity partnerships – Nike will always have athlete endorsements, for instance – but those expensive one-offs will be augmented by targeted influencer campaigns that connect with smaller groups on a deeper level.
Brands are already tapping into micro-influencers to take advantage of this shift in power, recognising that influence has shifted away from the few and to the many.
We’ve been living in a social media-driven world for more than a decade, but a platform such as TikTok that completely changes the game for marketers only comes around every so often.
Are you ready for the challenge?
Alison Weissbrot is editor of Campaign US