Tik Tok, the online social video platform, is gaining media attention as an emerging avenue with great potential for publishers to engage young audiences. This represents a significant step into the global media mainstream for a Chinese-owned social media app, which – as many commentators have begun to acknowledge – offers a fun and innovative way for users to interact with one another online.
With a global user-base of more than 500 million, many of whom are under 30, TikTok is already turning heads in the social media sphere. Interest in the app is increased by the fact that, unlike most globally recognised social media platforms, TikTok is Chinese-owned and operated. Now available in 150 markets and 75 languages around the world, this represents a growing portion of the market that is not US-owned.
In Nigeria, the emergence of TikTok has also begun to catch the mainstream industry’s eye. In July, Techpoint Africa wrote that the app was ‘slowly snatching young Nigerians from Instagram’, and noted the platform’s relatively straightforward and user-friendly interface when compared with the more longstanding Facebook-owned Instagram.
But perhaps the most interesting thing of all about TikTok, is the way it is reshaping the way we think about communications online.
TikTok invites users to create videos that are up to 15 seconds in length. Multiple clips by different users can be combined to create 60 second videos, and the app includes more familiar features like Snapchat-style filters, Instagram-style discovery, hashtags, licensed music, in-app editing and special effects, and of course: messaging. A big emphasis is placed on engagement, as users are encouraged to interact with one another by recording reaction, duet, and challenge videos, which constantly move the audiovisual conversation between users from one clip to the next.
Media Account Manager, Paco Camuñas, has even gone so far as to suggest that TikTok may represent the emergence of a new audiovisual language, in which users are able to communicate emotion and meaning through the use of music, appearance, and movement. And it is this analysis that is most interesting, because TikTok does indeed offer a completely different experience from any of its social predecessors.
For companies operating in the corporate world, it is fair to say that TikTok’s young audience and informal style make it a difficult social media platform to adopt into standard communications output. Even for government institutions looking to appeal to these younger demographics, communicating education and health messaging through song and dance is undoubtedly a difficult play.
But play this game companies must, at the very least from a research and development point of view. Brands such as Guess, Burberry, and even the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (UNIFAD) are engaging audiences on Tik Tok. While TikTok’s young-skewing user-base may themselves have jumped from this app to the next before the traditional industry has even had time to get to grips with it; what we are seeing is an evolution in the way that online communications are carried out.
From the didactic publishing of posts on Facebook, to the more colloquial interactions that take place on Twitter, and beyond to the direct living-room-to-audience video content of Instagram, social media content has been evolving. What we see in TikTok is this evolution being taken a step further, where communications happen as naturally and in some instances as much through body language as human communications are carried out in the real world.
While betting the farm on one particular communications channel does not make good sense for media or corporate companies alike, it is critical that they keep up with the changing nature of conversation online, and stay at least within striking distance of it, for when they are ready to communicate with these audiences.