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TikTok: 'As a marketer instead of going into a broadcast mode you need to be thinking about conversation'

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With some 13 million UK individuals expected to have used TikTok by the end of this year, according to Statista, the Chinese-owned social media platform is something of a phenomenon.

By Catherine Turner

Pre-Covid it was mostly seen as a place for teenagers to sing, prank or socialise. Yet the pandemic elevated its standing as more people stayed at home and communicated via social, and now people of all ages use the platform – little wonder that brands are now seeing this as a viable engine of growth.

This month, the tech-led estate agency Purple Bricks launched a high-speed TikTok house brochure service following a year where property sales have moved faster than ever – even as TikTok's core audience are (as yet) too young to buy a house. It's a canny move, according to Pete Edwards, chief executive of Publicis-owned Spark Foundry. He says that social media has fundamentally changed the way that people consume media – and paid-for communications. ,,The reason that clients are interested in using social content so much more now is because people have become accustomed to short, pithy snackable content in bite-sized pieces. Of course there is also a need for long form content but for an advertiser such as Purple Bricks they know that people will know within seconds whether you're interested in a house or not."

He cites the example of a DIY retailer, saying that there were 1.8 billion views of DIY content in the UK alone. ,,People are spending less time immersed in long form alone… This plays to the human trend that social has created that social needs to be shorter and sharper and act as a window to longer content." BMB's Jason Cobbold agrees. He says: ,,TikTok's advertising opens up possibilities for brands to diversify their reach, engage new communities and show a new side to themselves. The beauty of the algorithm is that anyone can go viral at any time. It's a whole new world in which follower count matters less than it ever has before on social, a world where organic content is rewarded almost entirely on merit: engagement, likes and shares."

Tik Tok gives smaller brands the chance to grow organically without huge ad spend. The platform is a powerful influencer marketing channel – especially while large creators continue to charge less for TikToks than they are for posts on Instagram or Facebook, he adds.

Existing conversations
The brands that succeed on TikTok, whether through paid or organic means, are the ones that tap into existing conversations or platform trends and find fun ways to play along or subvert them. Posting content created for other platforms doesn't work on TikTok, where trends move a mile a minute, something both Edwards and Cobbold agree on. ,,This is an app that has its own language – and the key to getting noticed is to understand it, join the conversation and play the game.''

Indeed, says Edwards, this is not the place to play your television advert. Instead concentrate on optimising all that you can. ,,You can practically target anyone," he says. Edwards says that millennials and youngers are the biggest users of the service but that there enough older people to make it worthwhile. ,,Everybody talks about the currency of attention," he says. ,,Can you reach 70 to 80% of 15 to 20 year olds on Tik Tok? Possibly. Can you reach 30 to 40 year olds in that way? Probably not – but you can reach those people in a truly engaging immersive way."

Conversation
For marketing professor Matteo Atti it is a matter of "channel appropriateness" and brand safety – something that has led particularly luxury brands to shy away from social in the past. Now, though, they understand that if a brand wants to be part of a conversation they need to be where their audience is. ,,As a marketer instead of going into a broadcast mode you need to be thinking about conversation," he says. ,,You have to show continuity on the topic and you need to have extra resources if people want to go into depth, but at the same time you have to create little hooks to drive people to that message. And social media gives you the chance to interject that intention." It is why, in the wake of a hot property market, Purple Bricks has launched its first TikTok activity. A spokeswoman says: ,,Our research showed that people were making up their minds on whether they liked the look of a property in just 25 seconds – so doing rapid property tours on TikTok, in addition to the more traditional property details and 3D tours, makes a lot of sense."

Cobbold believes that it is a smart move other advertisers could learn from: ,,Not only does it tap an existing behaviour on the platform (showcasing real homes), it targets large numbers of future house buyers. And, as Tik Tok's average user age rises steadily, this is really not that far away. The content is also delivered in a way that fits the platform. Because TikTok still feels fun. It has a lightness that Instagram, Facebook and Youtube just don't have any more. Brands that use it successfully take advantage of this playfulness, showing a side that's more expressive and light-hearted. Home buying with a bit of swagger, personality and energy. Why not?"

Social media marketing and nascent platforms such as TikTok open up new avenues for marketers looking to build audiences beyond the mainstream. And as those audiences age and as older consumers with disposable incomes come on board those opportunities become more commercial than ever. 

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