Have you taken part in the ‘pose challenge’ yet? Or ‘dressed like a watermelon’? If you have no idea why I’m asking you these questions, it is likely that you have not got yourself onto TikTok, the short-form video sharing app that is taking China by storm, and looks to be the hot-topic for student marketers in the coming years.

Why is Tik-Tok so hot right now?

TikTok really hits the mark for Z’ers in 2019. Its short form video format allows users to create content and show off their talents, post tutorials and join online crazes. With prompts for AR filters and ready-to-use music clips, the barriers to participation are relatively low and a contrast to the polished world of Instagram and Facebook.

TikTok rapidly became a viral sensation upon launch and amassed 100 million users within its 2016 debut - an early hint at how popular it would become. Users love its alternative vision of online sharing. Simple. Goofy. And irreverent.

TikTok often features everyday people generating guerilla style content, doing something cute, funny or informative. Often with the acknowledgement that, yes, this is part of some bigger internet joke.

GenZer’s lapped it up, fuelled by early adoption by celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel (check out the Tumbleweed Challenge below), and the most recent statistics point towards over 500 million active daily users, from across 154 countries. Estimates indicate that two-thirds of users are either teenagers or in their early twenties.

It’s an exciting platform that all student specialist marketers should have on their radar.

What are the opportunities?

TikTok is becoming the new home of absurdist humour, which really resonates with Z’ers. And brands can jump on the hype with authentic content that can freely abandon traditional comms and have a fluid identity.

As well as generating the lol’s, challenges allow people from all over the world to connect and participate in a wider conversation about a global topic. If you’re running a campaign that aligns your brand with a global cause, like this brilliant example from the University of Hull, then TikTok could unlock a whole new audience who can connect with your institution on a totally new level.

Kendall Jenner Pepsi

If you’re already marketing on Snapchat and Instagram Stories, you could apply these assets to TikTok as long as they fit with its unique culture. But with a rapid, off-the-cuff feel to the content that does cut through, and a platform whose success is so reliant on irreverent parodies, it’s a challenge for brands that would typically seek total control over their messaging. The risk of being parodied at a later date by the sometimes-savage audience means that you might look twice before you leap into the world of TikTok. Noone wants to be the next Pepsi - Black Lives Matter inspired - campaign, featuring Kendall Jenner.

Yeehaw, where do I sign up?

(That was a bad TikTok joke by the way, just checking to see who’s got their finger on the pulse - check out the Yeehaw Challenge)

OK, hold your horses. Let’s start with some of the challenges. Pin-pointing a ‘typical’ TikTok user isn’t particularly easy. A recent exploration of users in the US found “an American user base is a diverse composition of subcultures, roughly construed as gamers, cosplayers, troops and teen influencers”. A report from The Washington Post found that the platform was popular with firefighters and army personnel, keen to show off their physical skills and sense of humour.

More empirically, own Student Media Insights Survey can really highlight how popular the platform is with the student audience in the UK specifically.

Uniquely Natives, the Student Media Insights Survey is the industry’s leading data source into the channels student use, how they use them, and why. Our expert student specialist media planners use these insights to formulate media acquisition strategies that drive enrolments.

Our most recent survey found that whilst TikTok is not yet widely adopted, it is growing rapidly. We found at the end of last year there was almost zero adoption, but now 5.6% of UK prospective undergrad respondents are using the platform regularly and an additional 7% were using it, albeit infrequently. Looking at the prospective postgrad audience, 6.7% of respondents are using TikTok regularly and 6.7% are using it infrequently.

All of this needs to be taken alongside the context that the same research found that 92.1% of prospective undergrad respondents were using YouTube frequently, with just 1.1% saying that they never use YouTube. We see similar findings when looking at the prospective postgrad audience - 90% of respondents are using YouTube regularly and just 2.8% say that they never use YouTube.

So whilst TikTok is one of the most exciting platform developments in years, as student specialist marketers you might wish to bear all of this in mind before you commit, perhaps already stretched, resources to a Key Opinion Leader strategy.

What are the advertising options?

Although the company hasn’t officially launched any ad products, rumour has it (according to a leaked pitch deck published by Digiday last month), TikTok does have native advertising on the cards. The pitch deck suggested the platform has been working on four ad products to sell in the Europe region: a brand takeover, an in-feed native video ad, a hashtag challenge, and a Snapchat-style 2D lens filter for photos.

Further to this, some users have seen glimpses of TikTok testing in-app advertising, but, with absolutely no connection to Facebook, Google or Amazon, ad tracking is also a big question.

At Natives, we are watching all the developments from TikTok with eager eyes. We think it is a very interesting development for student marketers and one to watch. Make sure you sign up to our newsletter and don’t miss any news, or if you would like to know more about TikTok, then get in touch.

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Article by

Rich Campbell

Head of Marketing