TikTok’s Smart Strategy Decoded – ‘Entertain Everywhere’
You may have noticed in the in-person conversations you are having, in the shares received in your iMessage or WhatsApp groups, embeds in media articles and the super quick trends within your workplace, the one common theme – TikTok.
TikTok has had an incredible journey from an unknown app to a lip-syncing app (Musically) to an entertainment powerhouse, ever since September 2016, it has been the app that approached usage differently and created a product that entertained segments of time.
At the end of December (2021) Cloudflare announced that TikTok has now overtaken Google as the most popular site online.
TikTok’s strategic steps are fascinating to trace and is the shining light into the modern world of time and the desire to remove boredom and turn creative people into creators.
Musically: By creating a new app that enabled you to lip-sync with your favourite song and share, the simple shift from photo first to video first proved the use case in the East and the West and generated the use case would work across multiple cultures.
Advertising: The TikTok team famously spend $1b in 2019-2020 to market the app in the US, this is almost unheard of.
Once critical mass was hit TikTok could reduce the high advertising cost.
Selecting Influencers: The TikTok team hand-selected a number of everyday young American’s using the app daily and promoted their content into the feed of millions of users, turning them into international superstars overnight.
Over 14 of the most followed stars have over 50m followers.
Many of the TikTok specific stars now post a lot less and entered into other pursuits, which suggests the power TikTok offers.
Product Rethought: Removing The Need For Follower and Friend Graph: Something that TikTok moved towards that many others are now following is the removal of the need for you to bring your contacts to the app and reducing the friction of needing a network to share your content to first. One of the biggest shifts in social media is removing the friction that you need an audience, whereas, TikTok serves content to the relevant audience based on usage. This is why the “For You Feed” is the default feed vs discover on other apps.
Remix Culture: TikTok’s remix culture is in my opinion the most powerful feature, enabling users to duet and remix others content natively on the app drives huge engagement and creates sharing loops and collaborations from its newest users to the celebrities joining the app. The remix culture is something so many other networks have struggled to enable and support safely.
Removing Boredom: Eastern apps are designed around time and time slots, not around traditional use cases, this allowed TikTok to capture specific times where they could serve different content and push different content to the users at different times of the day, morning commutes, lunchtime slots, evening commutes and endless scrolling at night.
Trump Bump Aka Potential Ban: President Trump famously wanted to ban the app in 2020, this was a cultural war that dragged on and was ultimately banned. Was this something that actually aided TikTok’s growth, likely and paired with how it created fear in the younger generation, it helped to create a fresh set of eyeballs on the app.
Timing: Coinciding with covid and lockdowns, TikTok really had the opportunity to reshape entertainment. TikTok allowed a creative outlet for all of its users and become an outlet for many expressing their views, whether that was positive or negative against corona, vaccines and lockdowns.
Sound As The Hero, Video As The Superhero: Unlike other apps, TikTok understands that the sound of the video creates trends, sounds are the magic ingredient to help start quick turnout trends and drives a huge cycle of content creation, in turn, this powers a huge amount of the videos being created.
Brands Pay From Day 1: Pay to play is almost unheard of from day 1 of an app’s popularity. Brands always look for ways to leverage new platforms and for free. Unlike other apps, TikTok understood that if you want ‘reach’ and engagement you pay for it in the form of hashtags and advertising.
Start Short Then To Longer Form Content: When others zig you are taught to zag, with stories content it has a short form time limit, while TikTok had everything between 15 to 30 seconds, it pushed to 3-minute content while the other apps pushed to shorter form content to copy and recycle their model.
Sponsoring Large Sporting Events: TikTok has become the brand that becomes the default sponsor or preferred partner, particularly making smart moves into football (soccer) and offering different challenges and look behind the scenes.
@england Reply to @alisarhan11 Jude Bellingham thinks he’s the king of FIFA 🤔👑 #AskEngland ♬ original sound – England
Becoming The Screen Of Choice: TikTok has sponsored large football (soccer) events, and large rugby events and now homing in on cultural calendar events like the Eurovision song contest. By partnering with such a big calendar event and becoming the screen of choice for the watchers, usage increases, users will log in and engage and there will be large coverage of the event across the world.
This move highlights the importance of being the canonical screen or the first screen.
Copy, Share, Download: What’s the secret sauce behind TikTok, knowing internally they do not have to be an app downloaded on the phone to know you are experiencing TikTok, being shared across Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, iMessage, WhatsApp etc while not having to leave that native app while the timestamp is on said content.
Many people know what TikTok is and can view copied links within the browser and highlight who the specific share came via highlighting the account that shared that video on the bottom left-hand side.
Everyone As A Creator & Influencer: TikTok worked out there should be a potential of any video to gain views and enable you to become a creator or feel like an influencer. On other platforms, this felt exclusive to the top %, on TikTok with one video it can make any of its users feel like an influencer.
High Profile Users: TikTok became the new platform for many high profile celebrities and artists to join and be part of trends.
Status: TikTok’s removal of needing an audience of friends has created a whole new status game unlike on other platforms. Creating new a status create a new set of rules to play in and creates new (potential) opportunity for creators.
Allowing anyone to feel like an influencer or expert has worked for TikTok (however many companies have struggled under the pressure of driving eyeballs to footfall.
Product Breakthroughs: Whether this was deliberate or something the algorithms enabled was specific products and cooking recipes went viral in certain Toks (bubbles).
Serve Skippable Ads: Once TikTok hit critical mass and north of ~300m worldwide users they added a skippable ad as soon as you opened the ad. Great for views data and great for brands who need a large number of views of their brand for awareness of a product or service.
Next? Appearing In Google Search Results: Something Google struggles with walled social networks is surfacing the content within their search engine result pages, Google is plotting to surface TikTok videos right inside of Google result pages. This move for Google is smart but this plays into the ‘entertain everywhere’ mission TikTok is on. Serving trending content within one of its indirect rivals is a critical play in a distributed play.
TikTok On TV: In the US TikTok is now a TV app, enabling TikTok to be enjoyed on the bigger screen, a genius move to connect more devices and a device that still controls the shape of the shared living space. TikTok’s biggest win is becoming a platform that multiple eyeballs enjoy at once, this may seem like an older approach to distribution however building connection and affinity around its app is a strategically smart and creative move.
Pre Built For Scale: Many apps and websites struggle with scale, not TikTok. TikTok doesn’t suffer from outages, it doesn’t suffer from lack of content, it can serve content from many different Tok’s (self-selected subcategories within the app) and learn from your entertainment levels.
As of the start of 2022, TikTok has 1b users (The Chinese version of TikTok is named Douyin and works slightly differently), the average time spent is the highest of all apps and despite only having around 10% of users as creators it is driving 90% of passive (aka lurkers) to spend more time and engage more frequently. These elements are core learnings for many new companies and existing businesses needing to step up and grow their usage or user base.
If you are looking to take inspiration from TikTok’s strategy “Entertain Everywhere“, here are 12 elements you should consider:
- Culture: Understand the new cultural element you can provide – understand the cultures you are going in to and the news cycle in those markets. For instance knowing TikTok’s mechanics would have worked in the Western world, whereas many of the Chinese features in Douylin would not work.
- Hold Firm On Vision: Entertain everywhere is something I created as a guiding principle (vision for the company to build around), if TikTok had changed their vision they would have been shaped far more and would have become a very different offering in 2022. By playing in SERP’s, by serving content across different platforms (away from walled gardens of Facebook & Instagram) and on TV TikTok becomes the entertainment void for many instances.
- Evolve Don’t Pivot Quickly: Unlike other entertainment and social networks TikTok evolved from short to long form, they didn’t pivot or restructure their app or mechanics. Longer form helped shift metrics from time to engaged attention
- Easy To: Make the app consumption = easy to learn, easy to use, easy to share, easy to personalise, this allows users to work out if the app is for them on the first two uses. Learn that your site or app has to be sticky and serve entertainment or use cases.
- Rethink To Reshape: Look at rethinking the x of you business vertical. In TikTok’s case; they rethought entertainment in time slots and developed out content to serve and worked out what entertained you
- New New: Rethink the core concept of serving content in the way everyone else does – reframe it or offer it differently. Instagram is slowing and becoming less used because it just cannot recycle product features from all of it competitors.
- Duet & Remixing: The web moved from reader mode (access to content), to writer mode (anyone can add content with a low barrier to entry), to creator mode with video (and importantly, ease of editing) remixing and editing other people’s content was vital, a copy and paste approach works for most products, learn from behavioural economics, something that is started already is far more likely to be completed.
- Spend On Marketing & Advertising: Look to advertise across the board and be smart in targeting, TikTok took a huge bet on mass advertising (to everyone, everywhere) knowing it would pay off as the product was sticky enough and served the right content and learnt from it users to make it something important
- Social Proof 2.0: Use social proof from your users to enforce or approve the content shared. Know that your users will want to share content across where their network is, why not add the stamp and their profile name and imagery. Think about how products and services actually spread.
- Hero: Consider how you help to make every user the hero of the product, whether they are a creator (poweruser) or a passive user (lurker)
- Sidekick: When users decide to share help them to appear as a sidekick – TikTok made the content become the hero and the sidekick is the person who created it or shared the content
- Partnerships: Partner with brands that naturally resinate with your target demographic and customers. Be proud of the partnerships and ensure you gain traction and positive association from said partners.
- Plan & Centre Around Long Term: Have grand long term plans – think 5 years ahead, plan 3 years, action 1 year, TikTok has delivered important updates to its app continually since it’s inception