Full Tik Tok Report

from August 2020
TikTok the new star on the horizon of social media platforms. With tremendous growth in users and slowly more and more celebrities adapting, it is becoming more dominant. The app is largely used to create, share, and view content based around lip syncing, dancing, comedy skits, and other physical activities.

This document is made to help marketers and leaders understand the situation of the platform, what it will turn into and how to act now and lay out options for execution. It is aimed to help answer the question whether to move at all and when to move.
1. Present Situation
2. The Algorithm
3. Future Scenarios
4. Relevant Industries
5. Taking Action

Executive Summary

TikTok is at the forefront of social media channels and a platform that can’t be ignored. Despite constant backlash due to privacy concerns it will become an essential tool in every digital marketers toolbox in the near future. While the content platform might not make sense for all industries the ad platform needs to be monitored as the age range on the network increases.

1. Present Situation

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese startup founded in 2012 based in Beijing. ByteDance raised $3 billion after one round of funding, making it now the world's most valued startup at $75 billion, counting Bank of China, Bank of America, Barclays Bank, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs among some of its investors.

While ByteDance operates a broad catalogue of high performing apps in the chinese market, like the well known news app Toutiao, it found its biggest success with Douyin which launched in 2016. One year later the division into two separate apps, Douyin for the chinese market and TikTok for the western market was made to capture the western market.

The launch of TikTok was followed by a big acquisition of the competitor Musical.ly, essentially the same app which found great success in the US market with 60 million monthly active users. This skyrocketed the US user base of TikTok followed by a large user acquisition campaign of $1 billion in 2018.

Generally speaking the main demographic of TikTok is between 16-24 year olds, although as seen in markets where TikTok is more established, 25-34-year-old users actually outnumber the 16-24-year-old demographic. So typical aggregation behaviour is to be expected that as the platform becomes more mature, established and adapted by figures of authority, this imbalance will even out.

Privacy Concerns

Ever since the growth of TikTok increased significantly the question of the chinese government enforcing censorship of politically sensitive content published on the platform as well as accessing users data arose.

Documents revealed by the Guardian in September 2019 lay out several censoring descriptions that seem in direct response to Chinese government policies. These concern “highly controversial” topics such as conflicts between ethnic groups, separatism or religion sects conflicts, mentioning foreign leaders or sensitive figures

ByteDance claimed the state of these documents as outdated while denying that any request by the chinese government has ever been made and responding by storing all us user data on servers in the united states, relying on content moderation in california, essentially moving the entire western operation to the states.

Shortly after the US government filed a national security review of ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly and introduced a bill known as the National Security and Personal Data Protection Act, which forces tech companies to store data locally, aimed to relieve influence of chinese government.

Following this, ByteDance has made efforts to regain trust by establishing better privacy operations, being transparent about content regulation and recently hiring Kevin Mayer, former Disney executive, as TikTok’s new CEO.

Both the content aspect of the platform as well as the ads tool of TikTok will be discussed in the following chapter.

Content on TikTok

By design the platform’s focus is set on viral, trending and sensational user generated content. When opening up the app you’re presented with the “Four You” page, an endless feed of engaging videos. This concept is known from the “Instagram Discover Feed” or “Facebook Video”

This excludes any quality or original content. As of now TikTok builds on purely user generated content, giving them tools to create these videos right in the app. There is no creative direction, curation or editorial behaviour.

The second tab, the “Following Tab” is where you’re presented with the videos of the accounts you follow. It’s important to understand the hierarchy that TikTok favors trending content over the accounts you commited interest to by following them.

This also suggests that the idea of the platform is not centered around friends and family. While TikTok is still a social platform with a messaging feature, that is being used, in contrast to Facebook and Instagram who take efforts to invest in your social circle by adjusting their algorithm to prioritize friends and family content over high performing content.

Hashtags play an important role on TikTok, being used to organize content, as challenges, jokes, and formats.

The organic reach on TikTok is incredible compared to Instagram. Instagram’s Head, Adam Mosseri even acknowledged this in an interview, stating that Instagram is really good at making someone big who has a small audience. However on TikTok users gain exposure much easier, making it easier to grow from nothing to a wide audience.

TikTok Ads

However ByteDance takes leaps into capitalizing the businesses that are using their platform. At the moment there are four ad types on TikTok:

1. Brand Takeover - Full Screen ad when opening up the ad
2. In Feed Video - ad in content feed labeled with a “sponsored” banner
3. Hashtag Challenges - Video Challenges that are linked to a identification hashtag which are featured on the discover page
4. Branded Lenses - lenses created by ByteDance that are available for a set time

The two branding formats Hashtags Challenges and Branded Lenses can both only be booked through TikTok itself or a partner agency. The cost of Branded Lenses range from $80-120k. The Hashtag Challenge has a flat fee of $150k for six days.

An ads manager has already been established, that works quite similar to Facebook's ad manager. While access to targeting variables such as interest, demographic, location are all not deeply developed and detailed, it’s ad platform is nevertheless important to test.

A new feature the “shop now” button has just been tested to link together Influencers and advertisers which TikTok has shown multiple attempts to connect with their Influencers. That is a rather new approach compared to the gray-zone Influencer market on Instagram or Facebook. Never before did a platform recognize their Influencers by directly getting in contact with them.

Here it’s said that TikTok is taking a 80 % cut of the generated revenue which is a new  approach to tap into revenue that previously was shared between advertisers and creators.

2. The Algorithm

TikTok, in contrast to Facebook, is more transparent about their algorithm. Engineers of TikTok spoke to chief marketing officers to help them create better content on their platform.

There are essentially three important parts of the algorithm: Distribution, User Preference & Account Grading.

The algorithm being an important part of the platform, will determine your reach therefore the success of your content that’s being published.


When a post is being uploaded all it’s relevant info is being assessed and labeled. “Artificial intelligence powers all of Bytedance’s content platforms” as a spokesperson said. A combination of Computer Vision (AI analyzing and labeling objects visible in the video) Natural Language Processing (a transcript of the video's audio) and the sheer
metadata (description/hashtags).

Next the post is pushed out to a small audience. From the data collected in the assessment of the post, the best potential audience is being predicted. In this testing phase following metrics are being monitored:

Rewatch Rate, Completion Rate (per user engagement rates)
Shares, Likes, Comments

Higher importance is put on user engagement rates, than shares, likes or comments. These metrics are calculated per user, preventing the use of like farms or similar abusive activities. This performance rating determines the outcome of the future distribution of the video. If the rating meets the bar distribution gets increased as long as the rating doesn’t meet the required score any longer leaving it dying off.

Sometimes the algorithm randomly picks some of your older content and pushes it out back to a small audience set. That concludes that timeliness is not an important variable to the platform. Users don’t see when content was uploaded when they’re scrolling through the for you feed.

User Preference

The algorithm monitors the entire usage of the app of a user. The minute people open the app for the first time it starts to collect data about the users engagement. After a while the algorithm gets better at understanding the user preferences, by building a profile against your activities on the app that predicts content the user enjoys.

Account Grading

The beginning right from the creation of your account is key to your success of wide distribution and other positive effects. When a new account is created it gets an authority ranking. This tells how much this account is acting like an influencer.

Essentially this diversifies between someone being a consumer or producer of content.
The first 5-10 videos you create determine your authority ranking.
The first 10 videos need to be highly curated
and shouldn’t be some “testing” ground of figuring the app out for the first time.

Recently created accounts get categorized by three different tiers.
There is tier 1 account, tier 2 (most people), or
tier 3 account where your first videos get an average of 10-20k views.
A teer 3 account will result in high authority ranking, serves better in the long run.

The algorithm wants to categorize your account. So if the first few videos are meme videos you “are” a meme account. Moving into a new category means new authority evaluation.

Want to know the TikTok Code?

To understand how to create content that works on TikTok check out our Guide to the exclusive TikTok Code that ensures vitality.

Get the TikTok Code

3. Future Scenarios

TikTok’s growth in active users in the next quarters will tell how much people are invested in content that’s purely entertaining. Are people just not as invested in viral content as they are into their friends and family? This question also asks: will the trend die off?

Design Decisions TikTok - change

Acquisition of big talent - latest: new CEO

Demographic evening out show numbers and graphs of youtube, twitter, instagram, facebook

While user generated content is currently native to TikTok, content of upcoming key players will determine how quality content plays out on the platform.

Even though ByteDance has taken multiple efforts to relieve privacy violation claims it still is to come whether governments trust in the chinese company.

One of the biggest potential success factors for TikTok advertising platform will be determined by how user behaviour will be transformed into targeting audiences for advertisers to market better.

4. Relevant Industries - Businesses

Currently, based on the main demo on TikTok, brands with a young teenage target audience are at best hand. Understand that this will evolve as the demographics even out over the next quarters.

TikTok because of its global way of content consumption and distribution is not preferred for local businesses.

Following criterias make you worth considering joining TikTok:

Your products are engaging, highly demonstrative and visually appealing
The majority of target customers are younger than 35
Resources are accessible to take on a new marketing channel, even tough budgets are low and production budget is close to zero
The brand is trendy and fun, with a cool kid vibe

5. Planning and Taking Action

Marketers should test these two areas:

On Content:

See how TikTok can play in your overarching social media strategy. However don’t slowly start trying out. As mentioned account grading and hierarchy are important for the future success of your page. So before publishing anything the content pipeline should be full.

Let the content creation team get familiar with content on the platform. This is as easy as just scrolling through the For You Page for a couple of hours. Next up let them experiment with the camera and all the features.

Another option to understand content creation and best practices on the platform is to collaborate with a small TikTok Influencer by inviting him to a dinner to explain to your content creation team the mechanics of the platform. Notice here that the Influencer will be young and might not be able to explain the issue. Therefore lead the meetup by staring of with your team asking questions, than create 5-10 post together with him. Practicing on the spot is the quickest way of learning the platform

As the first 5-10 videos determine the account authority a really easy and impromptu way of testing your content is taking a small test user group preferably of the target demographic.
If a page has already been created and not used, it’s best advised to delete the page and re-create a new page.

Marketers should get an idea on these following questions:

How do you establish your brand on TikTok by staying true to the brands messaging but concurrently adapting to the entertaining jargon of the platform?

How big is the budget you’re willing to spend for testing out a new platform?

Three recommendations for Execution:

Low budget - have employees play around with it
Mid budget - get influencers
Big Budget - test out a big campaign

Best Practices for Content Creation:

Don’t log into an account on multiple devices.
Best Practice: burner phone.
Don’t create quality content.
Smartphone videos, candid,...

Taking influencers to create content for your brand on tik tok.

Testing out content.

What marketers need to stay aware of:
> Monitor statistics of the demographic getting older/evening out
This low stake metric should be monitored quarterly as it will show domination of TikTok increasing. While it’s inevitable that more mature generations will move to TikTok keeping an eye on this metric will ensure the right timing

> Look for important design changes that determine future of the platform
An example of an important design change is the addition of a group messaging feature on the platform as it shows a change in strategy to take on bigger competitors like Snapchat or Facebook. Like detailed before TikTok is currently not for friends and family and any new design changes or feature additions might signal a possible change in strategy.

> Watch out for Influencers tapping outside the entertaining realm
Staying on the Lookout for new content types being used on the platform will help you inspire new ideas to test.

> Check news about government banning TikTok
While there is no evidence of the chinese government interfering with data running through TikTok recent events show the importance of staying at the forefront of government concerns as it will impact the use and effectiveness of the platform as an advertising tool.

> Look for talent being acquired, to predict direction of change in the platformw