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Reaching audiences on TikTok : here's what you need to know

Reaching audiences on TikTok : here's what you need to know

TikTok is many things to many people: a fast-growing social media platform, an “avant-garde” entertainment source for Gen Zers...and a challenge for brands unaccustomed to reaching audiences on a new platform. But it’s not all lip-syncing and music videos. According to a new report from the Harris Poll Brand Platform, TikTok can heavily influence purchase consideration, user-generated content dominates on the platform, and partnerships can help brands overcome weaknesses on the platform.

If nothing else, TikTok is impossible to ignore. The social media site currently boasts one of the fastest growing audiences in the U.S., with monthly active users more than quadrupling since 2018. Users reportedly view TikTok as “avant-garde,” the report finds, and the platform boasts a higher conversion rate of users from younger social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Snapchat users are among the most likely to be in the Trial (at 82.6% of Snapchat users) and Usage (88.8% of Snapchat users) stages of embracing TikTok, the report says.

Interestingly, The Harris Poll found that while Gen Z makes up a large proportion of TikTok’s user base, millennials are actually most likely to buy products based on TikTok’s influence. The report found that 57% of millennials have purchased something featured on TikTok, compared to 38% of Gen Zers. TikTok users also seem to be moving into product consumption, with 48% of TikTok users saying they’ve bought a product or service after seeing an ad for it on the app, while 47% of users say they’ve purchased something based on the recommendation of an influencer, the report says.

The rewards for brands from TikTok are potentially huge. The platform offers brands the most supportive audience compared to other social media platforms according to the report, with its own users ranking the platform highest in brand equity, which The Harris Poll says is essentially a proxy for popularity. The report measures brand equity as the perceived value of a company based on its reputation among consumers. Within the platform, brands on TikTok like RedBull and Xbox are seeing higher brand equity through TikTok compared to the general public. RedBull saw a brand equity lift of 15.7% on TikTok, with Xbox seeing a 13.5% lift. This means in-app content, influencer engagement or ads have resonated with the platform’s users, The Harris Report writes.

Authentic content played a central part of TikTok’s pitch during the 2021 IAB NewFronts. Brands can reach the most engaged audiences on the planet and truly be a part of culture, the company said during its presentation, touting the tagline “Don’t make ads, make TikToks.”

The trouble with user-generated content

User-generated content still holds the greatest sway on the app, the survey finds, and campaigns with user-generated content tend to be the most successful. Users were drawn to TikTok because of its creativity and a large community that can serve their interests, the report says. But brands may still be nervous about ceding control to creators, something likely unimproved by TikTok’s NewFronts advice to simply trust creators and give them more control and leeway over campaigns.

The Harris Poll says there are alternatives. “It’s almost sort of three pathways to emulate or copy that UGC popular with TikTok,” says a researcher with The Harris Poll. “Make it yourself, if you don’t want to do it yourself, use an influencer, but if you’re scared of that, use another brand partner.” Partnerships can help brands create content popular on the platform, even if they don’t have as much experience on TikTok, The Harris Poll says.

Brands trying to reach audiences on TikTok will also require more than simply creating a brand account. The survey found brand and music accounts are among the less popular types of accounts, attracting only 26% of all users and 36% of all users respectively. (The Harris Poll, however, notes brand account followers increase to 31% among daily users). The accounts that do attract large followings tend to be comedy accounts, attracting 71% of all users, and prank accounts, attracting 47% of all users. And surprisingly, while content like lip syncing and sing-a-longs might be what the app is best known for, only 36% of users follow accounts featuring such content, and only 26% have participated in a TikTok “challenge.”

“With Gen Z leading the way, it’s laughter, not music, that now drives TikTok’s growing user base,” The Harris Poll wrote in its report.

Another pitfall for brands is a possible mismatch between the perceptions a video creates versus perceptions of the brand itself. A McDonald’s TikTok video that promoted its new chicken sandwich was perceived as fun (51%), stylish (20%), premium (18%), simple and innovative, although the report also noted the video contrasted with brand perceptions of McDonald’s as good value (52%), dependable (33%) and corporate (28%) among the same audience.

Ocean Spray's viral video was resoundingly successful on TikTok, according to the report, and was perceived as moderately aligned with perceptions of the brand. Users found the video to be simple (29%), smart (22%) and trustworthy (21%) amontg other characteristics, compared to brand perceptions of being good value (32%,) trustworthy (25%) and simple (24%).

In contrast, a partnership between fast-casual chain Chipotle and e.l.f. Cosmetics that used influencers Trixie Mattel and KimChi Chic created a brand-video correlation of -2% according to the report. The video was perceived as fun (46%), stylish (31%), innovative (25%), unconventional and bold, compared to perceptions of Chipotle as good value (41%), dependable (28%), customer-centric (28%), fun and trustworthy. However, The Harris Poll points out that the partnership ultimately gave Chipotle a boost with users by tapping into an audience more aligned with e.l.f. The partnership shows brands a third way to generate user-generated content popular with users on TikTok: partnering with another brand.

“Although the video is not positively aligned with Chipotle, TikTok users recognize the stronger brand relationship between Chipotle and e.l.f. Cosmetics,” The Harris Poll writes in its report. “This gives Chipotle room to experiment with content that promotes the collaboration...the post hit a middle ground between the two brands.”

The report used information from an online survey conducted in March, along with data from The Harris Poll's Brand Platform from March to April. The survey polled 1,708 adults in the U.S. aged 18 or older.