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Our most popular webinar of the last 12 months was by far “What Marketers Need to Know About TikTok,” and for good reason. New research shows that TikTok has leaped to third place among teens’ favorite social media apps, passing both Facebook and Twitter.
Other evidence is also compelling. One of the entries I was asked to judge this year for the Shorty Awards was an impressive one from Chipotle on TikTok. They received 111,000 video replies to their #LidFlipChallenge in the first six days, resulting in 104 million video views. That’s impressive. It also won four Shorty Awards, so naturally, marketers are intrigued by such success.
When footwear brand Crocs launched on TikTok, it gained more than 100,000 followers within a single week and saw 45,000 videos featuring its #ThousandDollarCrocs hashtag created within 36 hours.
During stay-at-home orders, TikTok usage soared as well, becoming the second most popular app in Apple’s App Store, after only Zoom.
But despite all this good mojo for TikTok, there are also good reasons for brands to be cautious with long-term investment strategies for the platform. Here are three reasons to be cautious:
1. Here Come The Competitors
If you’ve noticed the rise of TikTok, you can be sure that Facebook, Google and the other giants of technology have as well. Remember in 2016 when Snapchat was growing like a weed? Facebook-owned Instagram launched its own Stories and dramatically slowed Snapchat’s growth.
While Snapchat is now up to 229 million users as of Q1 2020, it’s morphed over the years into a very popular group messaging app more than a traditional social network. An excellent response, but a fundamentally different place for marketers than it used to be.
Google’s YouTube has already announced plans to go after TikTok consumption time by creating “Shorts,” a new feature within its existing app. This could do to TikTok what Instagram did to Snapchat. Facebook, Twitter (which let Vine die) and others will likely also react. These younger social networks always seem unstoppable until someone stops them.
Given the uncertainty, brands would be wise to experiment with 1-2 campaigns now, but perhaps hold off on long-term investments in building a branded following that might not have value in a year.
2. Privacy Concerns
TikTok is owned by the Chinese firm Bytedance and allegations surfaced in December of 2019 that the app included Chinese surveillance software. All U.S. military members and TSA are banned from using TikTok because of cybersecurity concerns. This could worry some brands immediately and could become more important for others if additional allegations surface.
While these allegations aren’t yet settled, the UK military followed suit in April 2020 by banning TikTok for its members. TikTok responded that same month by adding a new security officer who has pledged compliance with world standards and more transparency.
3. Brand Unfriendly Terms Of Service
In accepting TikTok’s terms of service, anyone uploading content gives TikTok unlimited rights to reuse and repurpose your content, including in the form of TV advertisements. While Facebook and other social platforms have similar terms, those networks clarify that the intent of these terms is to be able to show the content on their services. TikTok makes no such clarification.
This isn’t just hypothetical, as TikTok has already taken user-generated content and turned them into ads without notifying the creators. This is their right under the terms, but brands suddenly seeing themselves in TikTok TV commercials might not be pleased by the implied endorsement of the platform.
Ways To Dabble In TikTok
If your brand isn’t quite ready to invest in another brand-owned channel, but you’re enticed to dabble on the platform, influencers could be an excellent way to do it. Just make sure you are aware of the unique characteristics of TikTok. Challenges and duets, for example, thrive on the platform and often spread quickly, even when they are branded.
You may also want to work with an agency that has access to TikTok’s beta creator program. It could save you a lot of headaches and speed your learning curve. Ensure that your agency is aware of the average cost per impressions on TikTok versus other social channels and what options exist for brands that want to drive traffic for e-commerce.
Will TikTok thrive like Instagram, morph like Snap, level off like Twitter or disappear entirely like Vine? It’s too early to tell, so a smart brand may want to hedge its bets.
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Author: Jim Tobin, Forbes Councils Member