How Can Brands Tap into TikTok and Gen Z?

November 6, 2019

“vsco gurl” TikTok by Charmie

Once again, we’re entering that perplexing period where a burgeoning social media platform is seeping into the broader cultural consciousness. In this case, middle schoolers and high school kids are already deeply enmeshed, while the rest of us (well, bar Will Smith, Jessica Alba and other pop culture-savvy celebs) are standing on the edge and peering down into the void.

Welcome to TikTok.

If you’re not familiar with this short-form video-sharing app, you can read about it here (beware: by clicking that link, you’re basically confirming you were born before 1980). While you’re doing that, brand marketers are taking what they’ve learned from Instagram and Snapchat and trying to understand TikTok’s reach across that covetable 12-20 demographic. TikTok has expertly revived app-based video sharing (RIP Vine), but turbocharged it with capabilities that empower users to create better interactive content. Gen Z is the content generation, and the potential for brands to get a foothold early on is enormous.

TikTok’s algorithm is transforming the emotional and cultural existence of social media. What users see is not based on who they follow, but what content they ‘like’. Not only does this give users a wide-open field of entertaining content to directionlessly peruse, but they can also they can create and share content that showcases their own unique personality.

"If I wasn’t falling, the ‘dress’ was!! Ugh!! Will I ever get it right?! 🤣” TikTok by @MinnieAndTink

We all know that generational cohorts use the top social media platforms differently. And while Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z may have some overlapping motivations, what we enjoy seeing and what we are willing to share is vastly different. Not surprisingly, it’s hard to pinpoint whether the platforms inform the culture or vice-versa, but what is evident is that the values of each generation are amplified in their social media usage.

While Gen X’ers and older Millennials are now brand-centric and concerned with social capital (think the Kardashians, or just about any fashion influencer over the age of 30), this wasn’t always the case: with the advent of Facebook, we (yup, I’m one) had a digital repository in which to barf a personality. It was the wild west—no curation, no expert staging, just us saying stuff like “I’m making chili sans beans and sans pants” and uploading any and every picture we took. These were less complicated, primitive days and the potential consequences of oversharing were not yet evident.

Instagram is responsible for diverting the Millennial focus to ‘experiences’ and overly curated personalities. This platform provided the tools we needed to create the facade of who we wished we could be. But, in just a handful of years, the falsehood of influencers is crumbling under an oversaturation of branded and sponsored content on this platform. We may still be living in it, but the reality is less opaque and a desire for authenticity over curation is flourishing.

"#eyeslipsface my errryday look #honestbeauty #cleanbeauty” TikTok by @YoMama

With this in mind, Gen Z has shifted their attention to TikTok as it easily allows them to express themselves in fifteen seconds or less. As vanity metrics lose meaning and usefulness for brands, the content-centric culture of Gen Z can help inform the next iteration of marketing metrics as they are the ones dictating the direction of TikTok. Gen Z sees passive engagement as boring and legitimately not cool, so brands need to deliver exceptionally creative experiences and tools on this platform in order to authentically speak to this powerful audience.

"Spooky season #CountdownMovie #FYP #ForYouPage #Okie #Scary” TikTok by @Ashwini

The use of tools like branded AR effects are changing how we measure the ROI of social media campaigns—‘play time’ is the metric marketers need to watch. At the time of writing, only two branded AR effects in the US have been published on this platform; however TikTok is slowly opening up effects publishing in select countries. Brands should plan on creating AR experiences that allow platform users to enhance their original content while using TikTok’s straightforward ad formats to reach the right audience.

TikTok’s hashtag challenge plus shopping capabilities in conjunction with branded lenses will have a massive impact on brand engagement. In-feed native content and branded takeovers must not crowd the space, but should offer users branded tools that empower them to create, share and engage other their own audience.  Gen Z has enormous purchasing potential, but how, when and what they purchase will be contingent on the alignment of the proffered message with their value systems. Marketing, branding, and commerce can be boiled down to “we get you, we know your needs, and we’re delivering.”

The pace at which brands have to keep up with new user behaviours is faster than it’s ever been before. Companies like AccessAR are built on being agile and adaptive and are ready to help brands tap into this demographic. With that said, if you are reading this and think you’ll have time to get around to promoting your brand into the platform, you may well be too late...

Looking to learn more about social media AR? Check out our full list of resources here.

"My legs felt like putty after this. 🎥@samplertimes” TikTok by @WillSmith

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