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Opinion

Where Does TikTok Sit in the Age of Influencer Marketing?

The rise of TikTok has meant that brands want a piece of the action. The trouble is, brands are struggling when it comes to working with influencers on the platform.

The biggest surprise about the success of TikTok is just how long the arrival of a genuine challenger to Instagram took to come about. After a few false dawns, with Snapchat running them the closest, Instagram now has a contender on their hands; one that’s drawing the crowds, grabbing the headlines, and appearing on billboards aplenty. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves, though. TikTok may be new(ish), cool, and the kids all like it, which is usually a recipe for success, but nothing’s a certainty in this life and even with strong financial backing and insanely fast follower growth, rumoured changes to make the service more appealing to both a mainstream audience and advertisers might conspire to kill off exactly what it was that people loved about the network in the first place.

Brands working with TikTok

Regardless of the future, as TikTok has eyes on it, brands want a piece of the action now. The trouble is, more so than with any other headline-grabbing social network, brands really don’t seem to know what to do over there – especially when it comes to working with influencers. 

Part of the problem is one that does a good deal of the influencer industry, especially when it comes to up-and-coming social networks: the folks who want their brand to win at TikTok have never actually been on it themselves – or, at best, have downloaded the app, glanced at a video and promptly gone elsewhere.

Uncontrollable user-generated content

The other, more significant part of the problem, is that the real beauty of TikTok – and a good dose of its appeal – lies in the fact that this network is the pinnacle of uncontrollable user-generated content. Sure, TikTok themselves control a lot of what gets seen and what doesn’t (as any social network does); but, in general, what gets seen and what goes viral is based on the audiences’ reception. If content doesn’t appeal, no matter how hard it’s pushed, it really won’t fly.

Of course, this is true (broadly speaking) of all social networks but with TikTok, more than any other, follower numbers seem to matter far less and the immediate impact that content has on an audience seems to matter a heck of a lot more.

For any influencer campaign on TikTok, running a safe, simple, formulaic piece of content is going to get a brand (and an influencer) nowhere; whereas doing the same on most other social networks at least gets you a base level of engagements and views.  

Delivering creativity

For the vast majority of brands, this makes things a little tricky. Delivering the creativity needed to produce something that’s going to go down well with the TikTok kids isn’t undoable, it just requires strong insights, a firm understanding of the platform, and a not-insignificant investment of time – all things that marketing departments, used to lightning-quick content turnarounds and ‘fire and forget’ strategies, are going to struggle with. 

Then, perhaps much more importantly, there’s the necessary lack of control. All of that insight, that understanding, and that time required to develop a strong creative theme is going to be wasted if you then strangle the creativity of the influencers who are putting it into practice.

Again, TikTok is about user-generated content. The underlying theme of the content will come from the brand; but, to hit the big time, it’s going to need the creative zeal of those TikTok geniuses to guarantee (as much as can be) that the content performs well. Compliance, legal, and even a lot of marketing teams aren’t going to like that much – the ‘letting go’ required in this industry is always the hardest part for a lot of brands but, with TikTok especially, they really need to, if their investment is going to be worthwhile.

 

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