TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms in the world. Clocking over one billion downloads since its launch in 2017 and more than 500 million active users worldwide, it signals a new age of content consumption – one capitalising on a repetitive, highly engaging micro format to keep users glued to their screens.

What actually is TikTok?

TikTok (no relation to Ke$ha) is a Chinese smartphone app that allows users to create and share micro-videos between 15 and 60 seconds long. Think Vine with seven seconds more playtime and the potential for content to go viral at warp speed. Its interface allows content to be uploaded with incredible ease, including the ability to record video on the spot, using a self-timer or in segments, in portrait orientation only.

Once recorded, clips can be remixed with music, filters and other ‘fun’ features. ‘Fun’ is in ‘air-quotes’ because TikTok is what the ‘kids’ are on. In 2018 it was recorded that 66 per cent of TikTok’s half-billion users were under the age of 30; in the U.S., more than half are between 16 and 24 according to Mediakix. At this stage, the Australian market is relatively untapped, but we assume similar trends apply.

Videos are displayed on an ever-rotating newsfeed divided into a ‘Discover’ feed, with a list of trending hashtags, and a ‘For You’ feed, curated from the people you follow. That could mean anything from whipped cream filled crocs to gummy bears singing Adele, with most content fitting neatly in the category of meme culture. Food-centric content ranges between satirical recipe videos (Dorito avocado toast, anyone?) and imperfect kitchen scenes where novelty factor is favoured over finesse and mistakes are encouraged (even celebrated). Similarly to Instagram and Facebook, users can follow each other, like and comment on videos, and send direct messages. At this stage, the app is free with only a scattering of ad content.

What does this mean for brands?

In a content-driven world, TikTok allows each user to generate video clips designed to be shared, remixed and meme-ified. At the moment, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for polished paid content, with users holding a strict preference for non-sponsored, unstaged and original videos. Anything that feels high production or budget is swiftly struck down with Zeus’ lightning bolt in the comments.

TikTok has focused on expanding its user base rather than e-commerce opportunities, meaning marketers on the platform are few and far between for now. We have no doubt the platform will move towards a pay-to-play model as Facebook and Instagram have, but in the meantime, it’s a decidedly ‘sunny corner of the Internet’. This presents an interesting challenge for brands. How do you engage an audience in just 15 seconds? How can you create an authentic brand experience without overtly sales-driven messaging?

Before you invest, investigate
Spend 10 minutes on TikTok and you’ll notice a pattern. Content that performs best feels organic, authentic and fun. It’s spontaneous, light on the production and most of all, extremely entertaining. Brands interested in TikTok should seek to integrate their content within social culture using humour, realness and personality as lifebuoys.

Experiment with editing
TikTok offers a suite of editing tools allowing for chopping, changing and remixing recorded content, allowing for looping videos, short clips and boomerang-style imagery. To create engaging content on this platform, play with the editing function to cut clips into segments and rearrange them in humourous ways, using boomerang-style imagery and looping video to keep users watching.

Method to the madness
TikTok videos have a largely formulaic structure with a plot-twist occurring around the 7-second mark. According to some analysts, this captivates viewers and keeps them looping the video. More views means higher engagement and priority on the feed.

Move towards micro-content
TikTok pays dues to the rumours about the shift in our collective attention spans (are you still even reading this?), favouring micro-content i.e. small bites of captivating video that tells a story or communicates a message. We produce micro (and macro) content in all forms at Buffet. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Be alert, not alarmed
The platform’s ad offerings – from native video ads to biddable ads and interest-based target – are only available to select agencies as part of a beta test. That means a wealth of potential for paid brand building later down the line.

Go viral.
If you’re considering a TikTok account, prioritise messaging that feels unpolished and true. Do you have an awe-inspiring dish with an aspect of novelty? Are you working with particular produce that might not have been seen overseas before? Hone in on quirk, show something surprising and embrace the platform for all its viral potential.

The perfect social storm

TikTok defies definition. It’s moving so quickly, growing so exponentially that even writing this feels out-of-date. We’re in an age of ‘fake news’ fatigue with attention spans that make the singularity look extreme. TikTok is primed for these conditions, taking advantage of our 15-second attention spans as well as new tech developments that allow for the capturing and editing of higher quality video content by every person with a smartphone.

As an advertising platform, TikTok has a long way to go. Rather, brands should use it as an avenue for creation and dispersion, targeting a younger demographic with binge-worthy content. Food itself has incredible viral potential. If it feels right for your brand, consider creating content that celebrates novelty, jumps on the humour bandwagon or portrays a very real or amusing part of life.

At the end of the newsfeed day, TikTok’s seemingly random (yet successful) algorithm connects people through obscure yet universal experiences. The result is something that sheds a light on a shared human condition; connecting, inspiring and making us #lol. Call it the silver lining to the perfect social storm.

If it all feels too much, get in touch. We help brands communicate their messaging via micro-content every day at Buffet. Make sure you sign up to the Buffet newsletter for more tips and tricks on content creation.