The Rush for TikTok Followers: Will You Be Among the Platform’s Pioneers?

TikTok is THE new must-have app for your phone. A sort of cross between Vine and (bought back by TikTok), this app targets a young audience of lipsync and funny video fans. Is it time for influencers to start showing interest? Several who have answered by a resounding “yes!” have reaped unexpected success. Introduction to a platform that has people talking…

“When I posted my first video, it was neither the most successful nor the funniest […] But I did one thing: I followed the ‘trend’ […] while improving it just a little. And it became semi-viral,” relates Eric Struk in a YouTube video titled ‘How I Became TIK TOK Famous’!

Eric Struk is a young content creator from Sudbury, Ontario who has been posting on YouTube since 2016. But it is on TikTok rather than YouTube that he experienced his hour of glory after as little as one month using the platform.

His account recorded an initial boost of 75,000 followers after he had uploaded videos parodying “Canadian stereotypes”. He later hit the mark of one million followers after posting a viral video in which he promised to scribble down the names of all those who liked his post on his parents’ pickup truck.

That sets the tone—as well as of the potential—of this highly popular app with youth.

According to data released by the firm App Ape Lab, 40% of TikTok users are younger than 20 and 66% are younger than 30. In October 2018, TikTok was the most highly downloaded free app from the App Store. It is among Google Play’s best free apps and it received the “Editors’ Choice” badge. It is for all of these reasons that it now sparks the curiosity of influencers and brands alike.

TikTok: a platform on which content is king

“The goal that I set for myself was to become Quebec’s most important YouTuber/TikToker,” admits over the phone Kévin Marquis, whose TikTok account has 50,000 followers after three months. “I regret not having rushed into the Vine adventure. This time around, I said to myself that I was not going to miss my chance. At present, I am focussing on quantity and post on a daily basis.”

TikTok’s strength is that it enables anyone and everyone to quickly and easily stage themselves in edited short videos with music. You choose a sound track and press ‘Record’. Next, you have access to a host of convincing editing options: filters, slow motions, playbacks, multiple transitions, etc.

“TikTok is an extraordinary creative hub,” adds Gabrielle Madé, managing director and associate of influence marketing agency Le Slingshot. “You’ll find a host of music and humoristic videos as well as reconstitutions of film scenes. By comparison, Instagram and YouTube call more upon trust even though both platforms propose a lot of humoristic content.”

From the viewer’s standpoint, TikTok is something you consume as you would fast food. Clips that last 15 or 60 seconds are displayed randomly in the ‘For You’ section: Howie Mandel’s dance moves, the lipsync session of a girl wearing a sweatshirt, the stunts of a suburban teenager, the Washington Post’s humoristic thumbnail…

There is nothing transcending about it, but it is enough to put a smile on your face on the rainiest of days.

“There are no stars yet per se,” summarizes Frédéric Tremblay-Naud, digital and innovation director at Tam-TamTBWA. “But there are faces that come back again and again in ‘For You’, both from Quebec and elsewhere. Whether you’re young or old, it’s not important. On TikTok, content is king.”

Making fine marketing promises on TikTok

ByteDance, the Chinese company behind TikTok, has to date spared no effort to boost its platform. It bought back its competitor, an app used to create lipsync videos that is very popular with children. It then spent millions to attract the best YouTubers and Instagramers to its app.

Yet, TikTok remains to be monetized. There is very little advertising in the Canadian version of the app—some users see none at all (!)—and at least for the time being—Canadian companies cannot advertise directly on the platform unless they go through Facebook Audience Network.

However, interesting marketing initiatives are underway in the United States. Among the most convincing campaigns is the one produced by Chipotle, which challenges TikTok users to create a ‘trendy’ video featuring the avocado (the fruit) and using the #GuacDance hashtag. The results speak for themselves: 250,000 videos submitted, 450 million views generated and avocado consumption up by 68% in restaurants.

Making money on TikTok? Not quite yet!

In Canada, influencers have the option of opting for the ‘professional’ mode which gives them access to engagement statistics. However, contrary to what is the case on YouTube, they cannot monetize their videos.

A first way of using TikTok to earn money is to ask for donations, as is the practice on Twitch. “TikTok created what is called gifts,” explains Kévin Marquis. People who watched the sessions live can purchase points and donate them to creators. TikToker Kebekman held a 24-hour live session to celebrate having reached 80,000 followers. It allowed him to collect US$180.

Of course, there is also the possibility of entering into partnerships with brands. Sarah Morissette, a content strategist at Cossette, talks about a recent experience:

“We approached five Canadian content creators to promote a brand of chips. We gave them an editorial line and they came back to us with proposals. It is difficult, however, to measure the spinoffs in the absence of analytical tools.”

The Le Slingshot agency has not yet received any partnership requests. But Gabrielle Madé remains hopeful that advertisers will begin answering the call once the app’s advertising platform has been deployed:

“There truly does exist a host of advertisers who are seeking to reach teenagers or young adults seeing as that is when people usually develop their consumption habits. There are also public advertisers that launch campaigns against bullying or who promote career choices, for example.”

What does the future hold for TikTok?

Creating a buzz around an app is one thing, but making it over the long term in the digital landscape is another one. That is why it is difficult to predict what the future holds for TikTok.

In the past years, we have seen social media platforms get off to a strong start but never find an audience (Vero), never make a profit (Vine) or get bought out by a competitor (Instagram).

“It’s a nice platform that has now caught the giants’ attention,” concludes Frédéric Tremblay-Naud, pointing to the rumour according to which Instagram is working on adding soundtracks to stories as well as on video segmentation, functionalities that closely resemble those made available by TikTok. Add to that the news that Google is contemplating the purchase of Firework, a mobile app used to share 30-second videos…

All in all, the competition promises to be fierce!

Philippe Jean Poirier
Philippe Jean Poirier is a freelance journalist covering digital news. He explores the day-to-day impact of digital technologies through texts published on Isarta Infos, La Presse, Les Affaires and CMF Trends.
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