Published on March 3, 2023, at 9:25 a.m.
by Jenna Richardson.
Since its official launch in 2018, TikTok has taken over the world. The social media app, which started as a platform for dancing and lip-synching, has now been the most downloaded app worldwide for the past two years.
Currently, TikTok has over 3.5 billion downloads and one billion active monthly users — which puts the app in fourth place for the number of active users on a social media platform. In first is Facebook, followed by YouTube and Instagram, all of which have been around for at least six more years than TikTok.
It’s not just popular among individuals; businesses have also found great success in using TikTok for public relations and marketing. As of this year, TikTok is used by nearly half of marketers, and more are expected to join by the end of 2023. The app is tied in second place with YouTube and Instagram for top ROI for social media platforms, despite being on the market for significantly less time.
Josh Bramlett, assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Alabama, has watched TikTok grow into a social media giant in the past few years.
“I’m always skeptical of new platforms and wait to see if they have lasting power. It does seem like TikTok will have that lasting power, so it’s not surprising that many brands are considering it,” Bramlett said.
What advantages does TikTok have for businesses?
TikTok users are willing consumers and enjoy seeing brands on the platform. More than half of users have made purchases based on videos of products they’ve seen on TikTok. Additionally, 70% of users said TikTok helps them find brands that align with their lifestyle.
Brands have been able to do more than sell products on TikTok — they have also built authentic communities for consumers.
Challenges such as Chipotle’s #ChipotleLidFlip challenge and beloved spokespeople such as The Washington Post’s TikTok manager Dave have drawn in followers and support. Other companies like Duolingo have used hilarious and shocking TikTok content to attract consumers and encourage a connection to the brand.
Brooke Bailey, a social media strategist at Zehnder Communications, runs a TikTok account for a destination marketing client located in Florida. TikTok seemed like a natural choice for this client when Bailey and her team decided what social media platforms to use.
“There’s so much potential there. The audience, the reach, how the algorithm works. It was almost dizzying to realize how much we could do with it,” Bailey said. “It’s a great place to meet people where they are and bring your client to a new audience.”
Currently, 44.1% of TikTok users are aged 20-39. For Bailey’s team, TikTok helps them target and connect with a younger generation of beachgoers.
“It’s Florida, it’s the beach, a lot of people have grown up going there,” Bailey said. “But with that age range of millennials and older Gen-Z, we have to catch them at a vulnerable place to get them to pay attention to us.”
To accomplish this goal, Bailey said her team focuses on authentic connections as opposed to more promotional routes they take on their client’s other platforms.
“I think that it builds more of a relationship, which is just as useful and helpful to our brand as driving people to our website,” Bailey said.
What disadvantages does TikTok have for businesses?
TikTok is not always a great fit for every business. Though practices like influencer marketing can be profitable for some, businesses have to find influencers that fit with their brand. For less glamorous brands, that can be a difficult task. Another issue for businesses is the costs of TikTok promotions. TikTok ads start at $10 per CPM (cost per 1000 views), and influencer partnerships can be expensive as well. A company’s social media managers will also have to put time and money into creating TikTok content.
“Think about your capabilities. Will jumping on another platform take away time you could be spending in a more productive way?” Bailey said. “If you’re going to jump into TikTok and you’re not thinking about it strategically and going about it in a way that is profitable, that time is probably better used elsewhere.”
Though Bailey utilizes TikTok for one client, she has others that do not use the platform. For those clients, Bailey said her team considered resources, publics and potential content, and ultimately decided against using TikTok.
Randall Huffaker, a senior instructor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Alabama and a public relations practitioner, has also decided against TikTok for many of his clients.
“When clients tell me they should be on TikTok, I always ask why?” Huffaker said. “Do you have the assets and creativity to do what is hip? Do you have the time to do it? And is your audience even there? If they’re not, then it’s a waste of time.”
Huffaker’s latest client is a bank opening in the Southeast. He immediately ruled out TikTok when considering what platforms to utilize. For him, the decision was based the client’s target audience, content and the value it would add to the app. If a business is deciding whether or not to use a new platform like TikTok, considering certain key factors is vital to the decision-making process.
What should businesses consider when choosing social media platforms?
1) Who and where are the target publics?
“You really want to think about what value you can provide, and where your audience is,” Huffaker said. “If they’re not on these channels, or if they’re only on these channels for distraction, then you’re not going to be able to do what you want to do.”
Locality can also be an important aspect to consider. According to Bramlett, a big issue of TikTok is that it can struggle with reaching local consumers. Especially for a local business, even if a post goes viral, only a small portion of those views may be from people in the area.
2) What resources are available to the organization?
Another aspect to consider is what resources a business can invest in social media accounts. According to Bailey, abandonment is a huge issue in social media. Companies that have more platforms than resources allow are often inactive on certain accounts. Another issue is not putting resources toward a platform and expecting it to be successful.
“I think TikTok is a really good example of a platform that not everyone is able to be on,” Bailey said. “But if you have the time and the money to do it right, it can be a game changer for an organization.”
3) What is the story being told?
It’s important to consider what story a company wants to tell about itself. On social media, authenticity and spontaneity are key factors that draw in users. If a company is unable to meet these effectively on TikTok and still be successful, it may not be the best platform to use.
“With a company, being authentic is needed for brand personality,” Bramlett said. “For example, if your brand personality is serious but then you’re goofy on TikTok, then there’s an incongruence that’s off-putting to people.”
4) How effective are the current platforms?
A social media manager’s job is never done. If they’re not paying attention, time and money can be wasted on platforms that aren’t relevant to their client’s objectives anymore.
“It’s important to always monitor which channels you’re on and decide if it’s worth it to continue with what return you’re getting,” Bailey said. “You don’t need to be on every platform, but you need to be on the platforms that make sense.”
TikTok can be a great platform for organizations to promote products and build brand image. However, organizations must stop and consider how it would fit into the TikTok world. If an organization jumps onto the platform without thinking through target audiences, resources, brand image and current platforms, the result could be ineffective content and wasted energy. Taking time to strategically consider each social media platform before utilizing it is key to a successful online presence.