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Opinion

Inauthenticity is Cancelled: How Brands Can Embrace Their Fun Side on TikTok

Brands that approach TikTok with a deep understanding of community, an organic brand voice, unapologetic authenticity, and contribute to the fun will find it easier to build relationships on the platform.

Gen Z has been consuming digital content almost their entire lives. As a result, they know real when they see it and are highly attuned to brand inauthenticity. They can smell an advertisement a mile away and have no problem tuning out brands that try to appeal to them in less than genuine ways.

However, their high level of social engagement, ability to influence others, and estimated $140 billion spending power make them extremely enticing to brands. Most recently, brands have started to notice Gen Z’s affinity for TikTok, the latest social media platform to capture the zeitgeist, which seems to have risen to meteoric success almost overnight.

For the uninitiated, the draw of TikTok is that anyone with a smartphone and a bit of creativity has the potential to grab 15-seconds of fame. The platform is entirely video-based and focused on content that is short, and – more often than not – low budget. TikTok is a platform where people can showcase their creativity, be themselves, and view an infinite spool of video content of others doing the same.

The “social etiquette” of TikTok

The barrier to entry is low, and while people from all demographics participate, the platform is tailor-made for Gen Z; it’s ideal for short attention spans, highly social, and celebrates both rawness and an absurdist sense of humour. And although Gen Z is known for being unapologetically individualistic, they still have the same intrinsic, human need to belong and feel accepted, and TikTok’s community offers a place to express themselves, stand out, but also feel a part of something.

Given how quickly and successfully TikTok has captured Gen Z’s attention, it’s no wonder brands are chomping at the bit to get a piece of the action. But the unique “social etiquette” of TikTok requires a new strategy that brands may not be used to. Here are three insights about Gen Z and TikTok that brands need to understand if they want to engage on this platform in the right way.

Respect the uniqueness of the platform

While it might be easiest to repurpose existing social content for TikTok, what works with your audience on Facebook or Instagram won’t resonate with TikTok’s Gen Z community. A good way to ensure you’re speaking their language and engaging properly is to curate a social media team that understands the platform and can create content specifically for it.

While brand voice is important, it’s critical that you let that voice be flexible to have the best chance of coming across as authentic in this unique context. Look at how brands like the NBA are using TikTok. While the NBA might share straightforward highlight reels on Twitter or Instagram, on TikTok they don’t take themselves seriously, dubbing popular audio over game clips, sharing fan-made content and more.

Don’t try and co-opt this space, respect it and learn to play along

TikTok is a playground for original ideas, and for brands to come in and disrupt that by trying to design new trends or challenges would be a major misstep. Instead, see the platform as an opportunity to join and engage a community in an authentic way.

To do that, you need to listen to what’s happening on the platform and then find ways to participate, rather than co-opting TikTok into another marketing channel or trying to lead the conversation. Instead of coming in and trying to engineer your own #brandedchallenges, do what Gen Z does and participate in the broader conversation in a way that makes sense for your brand. Find the memes or challenges that match up with your brand’s style, sense of humour, or feel like a natural fit for your products and play in those.

It’s not all about hitting engagement metrics or nailing brand messages. It’s about creating content that shows you can participate in a relevant conversation and contributes something equally lighthearted and fun. Meet TikTokers where they are and they’re more likely to embrace you as part of the group.

Don’t take your brand too seriously

Marketers spend a lot of time fretting about their brands, what they stand for, what they’re meant to say, and then serve up those ideas in finely tuned campaigns. TikTok is not a place for that – highly polished advertising will stick out like a sore thumb and likely be dismissed.

For the past few years, we’ve been in a post-truth era where people have embraced realness and authenticity in a heightened way. Part of TikTok’s appeal is that it’s not an idealised, stylised social media space. It’s a community of real people having fun – an important escape when the world feels especially serious and scary. TikTok has become a place for rawness to exist, and while there are deeper conversations, most of the content is lighthearted and pure. Brands should respect TikTok for being this light in a dark time, and not try to ruin it with their personal agendas and marketing plans.

The Washington Post was one of the first brands on TikTok and quickly went viral for showing its employees in a new and unfiltered way, participating in challenges and even starting their own hashtag series like the #SummerInternOlympics. It might feel risky to loosen up your brand voice at first, but lightening up and showing you can play along by adapting to the tone of the community will go a long way in helping your brand and its content come across as genuine.

If you show up and take over the conversation on TikTok, Gen Z will be less likely to embrace your brand or welcome you into the space. Brands that approach TikTok with a deep understanding of community, an organic brand voice and unapologetic authenticity, and contribute to the fun will have a much easier time building relationships and forming lifelong brand advocates in the process. 

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