There's always some new social media app on the market, some rising platform or tool which is destined to become 'the next big thing'.
Most end up falling short. Remember 'Peach'? 'Ello'? What about 'Vero' or 'Meerkat'? Some of these platforms are still going, but they've not gone on to become the Facebook challenging players they were once touted as.
But TikTok feels different. Backed by Chinese corporation ByteDance, TikTok is growing fast, despite being similar in style to the various Stories tools already on the market. Filling a void left by the demise of Vine, TikTok is not only providing an alternative outlet for creative expression, but its also rolling out features in western markets that it's been able to try out among its large Chinese userbase first, giving it a solid testing ground.
And it may well become the next big social platform - but will it also develop into a relevant consideration for brands?
Seemingly overnight, TikTok became the social app of the moment late last year.
Everywhere you looked, people were posting clips from TikTok, mentions of the app were rising online. Just as Snapchat had done previously, TikTok became the app that you had to see, that people had to share with their friends.
That momentum is reflected in the download stats - according to Sensor Tower, TikTok has now been downloaded over a billion times, with 663 million of those downloads coming in 2018. By comparison, Instagram, currently the fastest growing social app, saw 444 million new downloads in 2018 - so TikTok is now actually growing with greater momentum than the Facebook-owned image platform.
More than that, Sensor Tower's figures don't include installs from China, so the total download figures for TikTok are actually likely far higher than this.
After replacing the Muscal.ly brand in August last year (ByteDance purchased Musical.ly in 2017), TikTok has gone from strength to strength, particularly in the US market, where it now has more than 26 million monthly active users, who are spending, on average, 46 minutes per day in the app. For comparison, data from SimilarWeb released last year showed that U.S. Instagram users were spending nearly 53 minutes per day in the Android version of the app, while Snapchat users were active for 49.5 minutes per day. TikTok is still a long way off both in terms of overall users, but those engagement figures are relatively close. You can see why social analysts are paying attention to TikTok's rise.
And beyond this, TikTok is already looking to monetize, using its experience in the Chinese market to launch its first ad offerings. And brands are no doubt paying attention - but are there really opportunities to reach younger markets through TikTok, or will ads slow the app's momentum, and turn people away?
TikTok for Brands?
As Digiday reported recently, TikTok has already started testing ads in the US, with GrubHub being among the first to try out the platform's launch screen ad units.
As you can see, the ads dominate the full-screen of the app, and open within the initial app launch flow, not within the regular usage process. TikTok is still experimenting with the best ad options, but as noted, it already has some experience on this front, considering that its Chinese version - called 'Douyin' - has more than 300 million monthly active users.
Douyin launched in China in 2016, and brands have been experimenting with ad approaches on the platform ever since. Douyin even offers agency certification for those looking to provide assistance with Douyin marketing, and advertising packages for increased promotion. Given this, TikTok isn't starting from the same base as other new players in the social landscape, it already has an ad infrastructure and plan. That is based on the Chinese market, which is, of course, very different, but the app's starting from an advanced position, which could see it capitalize on its revenue opportunities faster.
The question, then, is how users will respond to TikTok ads - as recently highlighted by this tweet:
ok yeah tiktok is cancelled now pic.twitter.com/9thCK6mMhC— ???????????????????? (@round) February 24, 2019
It was Gary Vaynerchuk himself who noted that 'marketers ruin everything', and the rapid influx of social media 'gurus' and ads could kill off the cool factor that TikTok now sees.
And that being the case, it may not end up being a viable ad platform for your brand. It depends on your target audience, of course, and on how you approach the platform, how creative you can be. But it's difficult to tell, at this stage, what the benefits will be for general marketers.
But where TikTok's experience, through Douyin, is most evident thus far is through the development of its platform, including the introduction of tools designed to keep users safe from harassment and misuse.
TikTok has already launched an option to filter out comments by keyword, and offers a range of controls over profile and content privacy, including the ability to define who can comment on your videos, who can 'duet' with your content and a setting to enable/disable downloads.
In addition to this, TikTok has also recently launched a new video series to help educate users on how to ensure safety within the app.
TikTok Tips: chat ONLY with the people you know ???? pic.twitter.com/MLKhYzAkxR— TikTok (@tiktok_us) February 27, 2019
Most platforms have only implemented such tools as an afterthought, after hitting critical momentum, but TikTok has learned from both its own past experiences and broader social trends, and is developing its tool in line with such requirements. Part of that push, it's worth noting, has been exacerbated by an FTC investigation in the US, which has forced to company to re-work its processes in relation to younger users, but TikTok has made such tools a focus all along, and is constantly evolving its systems on this front.
It's another indicator that TikTok is different, that it's more advanced than others have been. Of course, it may well be recency bias, it may feel like TikTok has more capacity for expansion because it's the platform of the moment. But it may well be worth watching TikTok's growth.
As noted, it remains to be seen whether users will welcome ads within the app, or if TikTok can maintain it's growth momentum and reach levels achieved by, say, Snapchat. But indications, at this stage, are positive - and if TikTok can grow, and expand its market appeal, it could become a more relevant consideration, and attract ad spend for those looking to connect with younger markets.