With more than 30 million daily active users within the U.S. TikTok has surpassed Twitter and Snapchat in popularity and is less saturated with ads than its counterparts. The app allows users to edit and share 15-second videos with built-in filters, effects, and music, and has created waves within the marketing world with its virality.

In early 2019, the app launched a beta version of its ads offering. Since then, big names like Grubhub, Nike, Fenty, and Apple Music have used TikTok ads to promote products in unique, visually compelling campaigns. While targeting capabilities are somewhat limited when compared to other social platforms, TikTok offers unique ad products that come with a slightly higher cost.

The platform is almost evenly split between as 56% of their users are male and 44% of users female. TikTok was dominated and made popular by younger audiences through trending videos related to youth-oriented topics, such as school and homework, with 35% of Gen Z’ers claiming they use the app on a regular basis. The platform saw a massive surge after stay-at-home orders were put into place across the country and users looked for distractions from pandemic news that were flooding all other social channels. During this period, Millennials (ages 25-34) found their way to TikTok and now account for 27% of TikTok’s user base, with 35 44 year old users accounting for 17% of TikTok’s user base and 18-24 users accounting for 35%.

TikTok's Algorithm

TikTok has provided some level of transparency on how its algorithm works, and how videos gain traction on its platform. When you open TikTok, and land in your “For You” feed, you're presented with a stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content, and creators you love. The “For You” feed reflects preferences unique to each user, and recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors – starting from topics you expressed an interest in as a new user, and adjusting for things you indicate you're not interested in. Recommendations are based on a number of factors, including things like:

  • User interactions (videos you like or share, accounts you follow, comments you post, and content you create)
  • Your uploaded video information (captions, sounds, and hashtags)
  • Your device, and account settings (language preference, and country, and device type)

These factors are included to make sure the system is optimized for performance, and TikTok's algorithm is similar to those on most social platforms - it factors in the content you engage with, then tries to show you more of the same.

However, TikTok’s algorithm is different as it aims to showcase videos, despite their engagement or creator status levels, and has stated:

"Diversity is essential to maintaining a thriving global community, and it brings the many corners of TikTok closer together. To that end, sometimes you may come across a video in your feed that doesn't appear to be relevant to your expressed interests or have amassed a huge number of likes. This is an important, and intentional component of our approach to recommendation: bringing a diversity of videos into your For You feed gives you additional opportunities to stumble upon new content categories, discover new creators, and experience new perspectives, and ideas as you scroll through your feed.”

How to Buy TikTok Ads

TikTok is still rolling out its self-serve advertiser platform which offers a similar setup to other platforms where users can choose their objectives within a sales funnel breakout.

  • Awareness: Controlled reach, and frequency
  • Consideration: Traffic, app installs, or video views
  • Conversion: Conversions tracked via TikTok pixel

After objectives are chosen, users can select placements within TikTok partners like TopBuzz or BuzzVideo or its family of apps (Vigo, Helo or Pangle) besides the native TikTok feed.

Targeting users by interest categories is very limited with only broad categories available as options. For example, the only parental targeting qualifier available is users with an interest in “Baby, kids & maternity.” Custom audience upload options are available to target users based on email addresses, and standard demographic qualifiers (Country or state, language or age).

TikTok Ad Products

  1. In-feed video: In-feed videos live in the Discover section of the app.
    • In-feed video (One Day Max): Guarantees premium placement early on in the users’ feed
  2. Brand takeover: 3 to 5 second long videos directly shown in full-screen mode when opening the app (sound off).
    • TopView: Displayed upon opening the app, and allows for up to 60 seconds of video time played on full-screen (sound on).
  3. Hashtag challenge: Consists of two parts: The hashtag challenge itself and an accompanying 15-second video, challenging, and instructing viewers on how to recreate the original content.
  4. Branded Lenses: Allows users to add interactive visual effects (Stickers, filters, and special effects) from advertisers to their TikTok videos that interact with the physical environment around them.

Ad Reporting

There may not be as many metrics to report on via TikTok’s self-serve ad platform; however, it’s important to keep in mind that TikTok advertising is new. The company will roll out more tools, and features in the future as it develops its service. As of now the ad performance data available is impressions, CPM, clicks, Cost-Per-Click, Click-Through-Rate, conversions, and Conversion Rate (via TikTok Pixel), and can be sorted by gender, OS, and dayparting.

TikTok in the News

Brand Safety Concern for Younger Audiences

Given the young demographic of TikTok users, many children's accounts have experienced inappropriate comments from adults, Parents have reported hundreds of sexual comments to teenagers, and child accounts.

  • The platform deleted most of these inappropriate comments when they were reported, while most of the profiles associated with said comments remain on the platform.

Lip-Sync/dance genre videos are some of the most engaging videos on the platform, to which young, and female users are constant victims of sexual commentary.

  • These videos are sexualized by older men, sending the young creators’ explicit messages, and in some cases, remixing the videos, and dancing alongside them in a TikTok feature called “Duets”.
  • The issue with this is that the platform facilitates this kind of behavior based on their in-feed algorithm, which is a curated feed of relevant content based on what a user engages with the most.
    • TikTok has addressed these concerns by incorporating human moderators, and internal training.

Data Collection and Compromised Data

During February 2019, TikTok came under fire, paying huge fines in the U.S. for collecting personal information from children under 13.

  • Around October 2019, the U.S. government launched an investigation into ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) over concerns about how they gathered data from users of all ages.
    • U.S. Senators have expressed concerns that the information could be used to spy on Americans, and influence political decisions.
    • As of October 2019, TikTok noted that information saved on the app is now secure.
  • Though the claim of compromised data has been presented for most social media platforms, what makes these data safety claims different for TikTok is their vulnerability.
    • As of April 2020, the app drew criticism for reports of a weak HTTP connection, which would deliver a faster user experience on the platform, but open itself up for manipulation, and interception. This would allow hackers to manipulate content, delete videos, and access personal information.
      • TikTok has addressed this, and provided a solution for these reports as of April/May 2020.

TikTok’s Alleged Political Censorship

TikTok has recently come under fire about political censorship on the platform. Ranging from BLM, Hong Kong politics, Muslim Camps, etc. – users from all over the globe have experienced issues with the platform removing their videos, as well as any hashtags that hold political meaning have been consistently removed.

  • The BLM community scrutinized TikTok throughout the recent BLM protests, to which the platform claims these were a series of glitches, and errors, though, no other type of content seemed to have been involved in the content removal argument.
  • Given the vocal nature of the platform’s core demographic, any brand currently showing negative connotations towards social justice matters have been front, and center in the face of criticism. “Cancel culture” has been a prevalent term across social channels, and TikTok has been no exception to this, as #CancelTikTok has been found across all other social platforms during the last few months.

Apple reports that TikTok tracks clipboard information

TikTok was one of 53 apps that security researchers previously flagged as regularly seeking clipboard access, in which the app would automatically read anything you copy into your mobile device’s clipboard.

  • Following the beta release of iOS14 (June 22, 2020) users saw notifications while using a number of popular apps, including TikTok. This was triggered by an iOS feature designed to identify repetitive, spammy behavior.
  • As of June 27, 2020, the app has released a notice that they have disabled the feature via an automated app update for iOS (this feature has yet to be enabled on Android).

Developing News Story

This week (w/o 7/6) TikTok has been the center of additional global discussion regarding withdrawing their operations from Hong Kong, and US concerns about the company. We will continue to monitor any developments.

POV for Brands

Although there has been heightened scrutiny over the platform’s targeting of kids, and privacy practices, from a media standpoint TikTok provides a great opportunity to expand brand engagement, and messaging with highly engaged audiences.

TikTok has a unique value, and will undoubtedly continue to roll out more ad products, and features. It is important to keep in mind that ads within the platform are rare by design, and CPMs will be higher than other social platforms. TikTok is most effective in meeting awareness objectives, and targeting a broader, younger audience, given its limited targeting capabilities. There are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your brand reaches a receptive audience, and gets the best results possible.

  • TikTok is a unique platform, and the creative for the platform should be unique, and authentic. The company reiterated this best practice on a recent presentation that had a tagline of “Don’t make ads, make TikToks” as repurposing Facebook/Instagram creative will likely result in increased costs from requiring a larger reach to generate longer views or generate traffic.
  • Music is the key before approaching TikTok Ads. Video content showcasing “behind-the-scenes” footage or bringing an ordinary aspect of your brand to life through music, and motion can create stand out campaigns that capture the audience's attention.
  • While aspirational content performs very well on Instagram, TikTok content is more intriguing, and funny where users don’t take themselves too seriously.
  • Your goal should be about engaging with the audience in creative ways, not solely pushing sales. The campaign needs to align with the nature of the app.