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TikTok: Time To Get Serious About Its Content Marketing Promise?

TikTok is a player.

With over 1 billion active users who spend about 20 hours a month watching videos on the platform, TikTok has a huge audience hooked on its content.

That audience spent $824 million through the platform in the fourth quarter of 2021 alone. And even a Google executive recognizes the platform’s power, estimating that 40% of Gen Z use TikTok as a search engine to find things like places to eat.

So, the question isn’t whether TikTok is a good platform for content marketing. The question is whether TikTok is a good platform for your brand.

But there’s another question to consider whether you participate on TikTok or not: How does the popularity of TikTok’s short-form videos affect our audience’s content expectations and preferences?

We asked this question of the presenters at Content Marketing World 2022. They shared their thoughts on TikTok’s direct and indirect impact – and they didn’t dance around the question.

Take it as a reminder to get real

At its core, TikTok is emblematic of an overarching trend in which audience tastes – including but not limited to Gen Z – are fundamentally changing.

How and what does that mean? Audiences are increasingly rejecting the overly curated, picture-perfect imagery that had dominated platforms like Instagram. Users crave authenticity, creativity, humor, and perspective – characteristics now synonymous with TikTok (and ostensibly rewarded by its algorithm.)

For a real-world example, look no further than Duolingo’s TikTok account, driven by their truly brilliant social media manager Zaria Parvez. By giving her the autonomy to experiment and push boundaries, Duolingo has become one of the most successful brands on the platform. – Michael Bordieri, senior content solutions consultant, LinkedIn

Pick a lane

Use it (if your customers are there) or lose it (if they are primarily elsewhere). Myth: You have to be everywhere. Reality: You only have to be in the right places – and be good when you are in those places. – Kate Bradley Chernis, co-founder and CEO, Lately

Experience the impact

Even if your organization is not on TikTok today, it will be in the near future. Even if you don’t believe me, TikTok is already having a huge impact on content marketing in two different ways.

First, unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock (or don’t have kids), TikTok is becoming the default search engine for Gen Z. While Boomers have Google and millennials have YouTube, Gen Z is further adapting their content consumption trends. With more and more eyeballs going to TikTok searching for solutions, and with the basic tenet of content marketing about being seen everywhere, TikTok simply can’t be ignored anymore.

The other reason is that TikTok is truly impacting social media marketing, the primary place where content marketers distribute content. Even if your organization is not on TikTok, your push towards creating more Instagram Reels and potentially venturing into YouTube Shorts is thanks to TikTok’s emergence and increasing impact on how we consume content. – Neal Schaffer, president, PDCA Social

Adopt a search and repurpose mentality

TikTok – and all social media – can have a great impact on your content marketing. More and more searches for information happen on social platforms, and your content should be optimized to answer those queries. Digital natives (influencers, brand fans, and customers) – if they’re loving your product or service (or hating it) – will post about it on social. User-generated content is massive.

TikTok itself is a great platform for repurposing some of your best content in creative ways, but please, please, make sure someone who knows TikTok and authentic engagement creates the content. – Jenn VandeZande, editor-in-chief, SAP Customer Experience

Welcome the previously inaccessible

TikTok has opened up a whole new creator economy that reaches an audience that isn’t always accessible through more traditional channels. Content marketers should embrace TikTok if their audience spends time there.

But, most importantly – they shouldn’t just be making their own content on their own channel. Harnessing the authenticity and power of TikTok creators to speak genuinely about your brand can do wonders. This means you need to let go of some control. But if you do it right, everyone wins. – Inbar Yagur, director of content and product marketing, Lusha

Say hi to all ages, but don’t force it

The hashtag #TikTokTaughtMe has more than 6 billion views on TikTok. While TikTok is known for dance crazes and viral sounds, more brands find a captive audience for their content marketing on the platform. It is not just for teens and young adults. It’s becoming a go-to place for people to find information that is educational, too.

But brands need to be careful how they implement the trends on TikTok. Videos need to be natural and not forced. Many brands have even assigned or hired specific individuals to be their face on the platform. – Andi Robinson, global digital content marketing, Corteva Agriscience 

Experience the best or the worst

It depends on how much of your audience is on TikTok and if it’s an appropriate channel for your brand. Most people will say it is. For them, it’s directly diverting attention and resources away from the more funnel-driven content activities that help produce business results. But the awareness and engagement that can derive from smart TikTok content may also pour gasoline on your content marketing fire. Depending on the business and the savvy of your content team, TikTok could be the best thing affecting your effort. It could also be the worst. – Jason Falls, senior influence strategist, Cornett

Consider the return (or lack thereof)

What’s TikTok? Show me the ROI from any program in TikTok (or Snapchat, for that matter.) – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group

Get good at short-form stories

TikTok directly affects content marketing because it sets the bar high for short-form content. It puts fans at the center and is all about engagement. I can dissect a five-second TikTok for a half hour in a workshop because it is rich in storytelling. There’s no room for fluff. It’s a beautiful distillation of what we all need to achieve in all our content, even if we’ve been allowed to waffle on with long formats. It’s a joy peddler, and we all need more of that in our content marketing teams. – Jon Burkhart, founder, TBC Global Limited

Spin a sticky web

TikTok is rapidly growing and maybe stickier than Spiderman for multigenerational audiences. Users spend over 50 minutes on the app each day watching and creating new trends, which is taking time and eyeballs away from other channels.

TikTok has overthrown Facebook and Twitter on my phone and even has me trying the silliest trends to see what it’s like. In my view, it’s one of the best user-generated platforms in the market right now and shows no signs of slowing down. Competition is high, and content marketers will have to be more creative to recapture some of their audience’s time if their brand is not Tik Tok compatible. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop

Get creative

TikTok is forcing everyone to be some kind of creative. This may be as a talking head or an editor. You are forced to learn and adapt in some type of capacity. This also blurs the line of edutainment. – Michelle Ngome, founder and executive director, African American Marketing Association

Speed it up

Have a conversation with someone under 25, and you’ll realize how much TikTok affects content marketing. “I saw it on TikTok” is a common phrase. Listen to the TikTok channel on SiriusXM and notice how many songs are sped-up versions – two to three times the normal speed of the song. Even Saturday Night Live has skits about TikTok.

The TikTok generation wants fast, easily consumable content that helps them do something. As TikTok users increasingly become that employee researching a B2B purchase, think about how they want to consume information. It’s not a 20-page e-book audience. Short, useful information is the new style for early-stage product research. – Penny Gralewski, senior director, product and portfolio marketing, DataRobot

Develop relationships

TikTok has mastered the art of rapid influencer creation. So, if there’s an untapped opportunity, it might be understanding how to build deeper, longer-term relationships with the influencers and micro-influencers you discover on TikTok. – Andrew Davis, author and keynote speaker, Monumental Shift

Be there

You need to have a plan for TikTok. It’s no longer a platform that can be ignored. – Meg Coffey, managing director, Coffey & Tea

Appreciate the potential

TikTok has proven how powerful video content can be and reinforced many best practices when creating video content. Not every brand should be on TikTok – and most brands shouldn’t be on TikTok unless they are in a consumer-facing space with a Gen Z audience.

However, content marketers across industries should spend some time on TikTok to see how to craft engaging short-form videos, examples of how to overlay text and captions, and inspiration to create fun video content. – Erika Heald, founder, lead consultant, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting

Go there for big promotion, but don’t expect trust

It’s a place to make very short-form videos visible to big, diverse groups of people. If short videos can convey something meaningful for your brand, and if you want to reach large, diverse groups of people, it could be a promotion channel.

If you need to build trust, you need longer form content. If you want to be efficient, you need smaller, more targeted audiences. You need account-based marketing (ABM). TikTok is the polar opposite of ABM. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Orbit Media Studios

Know your content competitors

Anything that alters our expectations for online content affects content marketing. When it comes to the attention of our audience, we’re not competing only with our business competitors. We’re competing with everything they read or look at, or listen to online, including TikTok. People expect brands to respect their time and earn their attention by educating and even entertaining them with our content—even content that has a business purpose. – Monica Norton, head of content marketing, Yelp

Have a plan

TikTok can be a distribution channel for content if the brand’s audience is there and if there is a dedicated strategy. No brand should launch a distribution channel without dedicated management of that channel, though, including a strategy and KPIs to measure its effectiveness over time. – Tracey Wallace, director of content strategy, Klaviyo

Think and think again

Everyone recognizes the power and effectiveness of the TikTok algorithm. Any content marketer that isn’t at least exploring ways to leverage that channel is leaving revenue on the table. I’m not saying that every brand should have a channel on TikTok, but every brand should at least be thinking about how they can leverage TikTok. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester

See short-form potential

Without a doubt, TikTok has highlighted the importance of short-form video across the content marketing board. But it doesn’t mean content marketers should go all-in on creating just this type of content for one platform only.

Instead, TikTok is inspiring more creative thought about how short-form video can become part of your overall content strategy and how you can streamline its creation. Perhaps you want to lead with creating short-form videos for multiple channels (e.g., TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube shorts), or maybe you want to create longer-form videos and repurpose them into short-form videos. Video is the most versatile content format, so create with repurposing in mind, and your investment will go far. – Amy Woods, founder and CEO, Content 10x

Is the time right for your brand?

None of these experts can tell you whether your brand should be on TikTok. But their input should better prepare you to answer the question.

And even if the answer is no, don’t disregard the popular platform. Instead, continue to monitor its impact on content creation overall. Authentic, short-form content will be a strong player for years to come.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute