The Rise of TikTok

The Rise of TikTok

Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant 



          Back in early March, I was planning on writing an article about the growing popularity of TikTok, but then the virus hit and I decided to delve into that instead.  Now, I’m feeling compelled to circle back to that TikTok conversation because what we thought was impressive then is nothing compared to the explosion that is happening right now.


        Social media use as a whole is surging right now.  It makes complete and total sense, as for many of us in lockdown it is one of the few ways to interact with other humans.  Additionally, with more time spent idling, it is often too easy to just pick up the phone and start scrolling mindlessly through our feeds.  We know all too well how quickly one can fall into the social media black hole.  Lots of users also turn to social media as their primary news source, despite the heap of misinformation out there, but more on that some other time. 


            WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram enjoyed a 40 percent mid-March usage spike as direct a result of the coronavirus.  LinkedIn saw a 55 percent engagement increase.  And according to eMarketer, social network users will spend a daily average of 1 hour, 22 minutes with social networks over the course of this unusual year.


           TikTok is experiencing an incredible boost due to the pandemic.  It was already on a significant growth spurt since October, but more time inside meant more people on TikTok.  Take a look at the numbers in eMarketer’s chart below.  They speak for themselves.  In the 2 months between January and March in the US, the short video platform saw huge growth in both unique visitors and average time spent per visitor.  There were 12.2 million unique visitors from February to March alone.  The average time spent per visitor for the app and websites combined was 476 minutes (nearly 8 hours) for the month of March.  By comparison, US visitors to Instagram spent an average of 319.5 minutes (roughly 5 hours) on the app and websites combined in March.  



            But what exactly is driving this increase?  What makes TikTok so popular?  Is it simply the novelty of it?  Maybe.  But eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson points to 3 possible factors:


  • Teens and young adults spending more time at home.  TikTok has proven to be very popular with a younger audience.  With schools and colleges closed, these demographics have more time to spend on apps.  Although, people of all ages are starting to clock-in some pretty serious TikTok time.  Plenty of my “mom” friends have been doing their fair share of creating and sharing TikTok videos… 
  • Broad distribution of TikTok videos. TikTok videos can easily be shared to other websites and apps, such as Twitter or Instagram. There’s also no need to create an account or log in to view a video, so the number of visitors can easily add up.
  • Live streaming.  TikTok has started putting more muscle into its live stream capabilities; in late March, it introduced #HappyAtHome: LIVE!, a nightly series available only on the app.  Live streams have the potential to greatly increase time spent on social platforms. 


            TikTok certainly has a lot going for it and it has a lot of opportunities to offer to advertisers.  Although it still new, it may be a good time for brands to experiment in this channel with different marketing tactics.  Consumers may find themselves flocking more towards a platform like TikTok due to its fun and humorous nature.  We all know everyone could use a good laugh these days.  Katie Puris, managing director and global head of business marketing for the company, thinks TikTok prides itself on these characteristics.  She says, “Brands have helped people stay safe by communicating ways to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 in fun and viral ways, allowing them to join in on some lighthearted fun.”


            Brands are also using TikTok for cause marketing, which really strikes a chord with people at this time.  People are eager to help where they can and contribute to charitable organizations.  For example, in April, Mondelez International’s Oreo brand launched a hashtag challenge campaign, #CookieWithACause, asking TikTok users to place a cookie on their forehead and then creatively demonstrate how they get it to their mouth.  As part of the campaign, Oreo said it would make a donation to Save the Children after 1 million videos were uploaded. 


            TikTok has the potential to really claim its place among the top social media platforms during this time.  It offers the perfect type of fun, light escapism to effectively draw in consumers.  Any marketing team that is not currently utilizing it should seriously explore what they might to establish their brand’s presence on TikTok.  Give it a go – what else are you going to think about when you can’t sleep at 3 AM? 



Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting.  She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments.  She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, three lovable little boys and a snuggly Golden Retriever.