How do brands and businesses receive and perceive TikTok as the new, hot social media platform? The answer is, it may not matter. Technology is not about, nor has it ever been about, what a company wants the world to be like, or how they wish the world were different and better for them. What matters is that TikTok has already moved through the technology adoption lifecycle from the early-innovation phase to the late early-adoption phase. Marketers who do not embrace this new medium for the benefit of their businesses and personal brand, when it aligns with their marketing strategy and target market, are going to be left in the dust as expectations change around them.
When TikTok was made globally available in 2018, it was generally perceived by United States users as somewhere for Gen Z teenagers and some Millennials to make silly videos as a way to get attention. It seemed outrageous to many that the platform was valid enough to be worth a billion dollars and would likely never have any serious applications for businesses to successfully market their brands. This is an effusion of the longstanding and long-lamented respect and culture gap of perceived superiority by older generations, to which they are entitled to believe, but to which no one else is required to subscribe. The notion that today’s young people are addicted to technology, lack proper social skills, expect too much from companies, and cannot communicate professionally is reflective of how every generation since the beginning of time has criticized its successors.
In reality, the ripple effect of the Gen Z population in the workforce is expediting the rate of adoption of technology across the board that advances loyalty to brands that reach consumers and other businesses through authenticity. Such a shift in marketing practices has been on the rise for a decade as businesses have had to become more creative with their messaging and show more of their organizational philosophy to engage with their primary target markets. A TikTok “star” can arise from thin air by doing something fun on the platform and elevate to global celebrity status overnight.
Nathan Apodaca was longboarding to his job, having a few sips of Ocean Spray juice on his way when he decided to make a TikTok video because, why not? People started emulating his activity, bringing Ocean Spray major publicity and brand awareness. Now he has a new truck, a house, sponsorships, and a huge following for future activity. The audience identified with Apodaca’s video in a way that resonated to bring notoriety to the platform and resulted in a completely changed life for Apodaca.
TikTok user _taintedlyric_ began by posting videos of himself in different hats and different personas, sharing goofy moments of his family, singing, and other silly, fun things. Why? For the same reason every TikToker TikToks. One day, a soldier sent him a letter explaining how he was so appreciative of Tainted Lyric’s content for helping him get through the personal challenges of his deployment. He even wanted Tainted Lyric to have a patch that he had won during his service. Tainted Lyric was floored by the gesture and made a special, authentic, non-branded post in hopes of reaching this soldier to thank him. The change in depth of these messages is staggering and speaks to the value that TikTok has to offer the world.
TikTok allows people to elevate their everyday life stories. That is valuable to businesses that want to reach real people who will be advocates for what they believe in. When brand values and personal values align, an opportunity arises for the brand and the influencer to collaborate. Ready or not, this shift in marketing strategy has arrived.
Rebecca L. Silva serves on the board of AMA Houston as a director for the Job Forward Group and has been an AMA Houston member for six years. Employed by STEM staffing firm Computer Futures, Rebecca carries out authentic branding and marketing strategies to raise the standard of acceptable transparency and service in the technology industry. She holds an MBA in Management & Strategy, and a BBA in Marketing. Her inspiration to write this piece came from her desire to provide unemployed marketers with a competitive edge in the changing landscape of professional marketing, as related to social media and content strategies.