Social Savvy: Key TikTok takeaways for today’s business leaders - April 2023

By Irene Williams

At the time I’m writing this article, the potential for a federal ban on Chinese-owned ByteDance’s TikTok app remains in play. Already, some states and universities have banned the app from being downloaded to state-/institution-issued devices.

With more than 138 million active users in the U.S. (and an estimated one billion+ users globally), who spend an astounding 95 minutes or more each day on the app, TikTok is ubiquitous. The social platform burgeoned in popularity in 2020; as the world went into pandemic lockdown, people turned to TikTok for entertainment and engagement. Even at that time, the federal government attempted a ban due to concerns over China’s access to U.S. user data. Now, nearly three years after that attempt failed, legislators continue to pursue a ban.

What does any of this mean to you as a business leader in the digital-social-mobile marketplace? Regardless of your professional or personal use of the app and apart from the outcome of attempts to ban it, here’s what you need to glean from the meteoric rise of TikTok to enhance your business goals.

• Short-form video wins by ‘popular vote.’ Create accordingly.

TikTok epitomizes the consumer’s preference for quick clips. Per the data, people’s taste for short videos of 15 seconds or less is solidified and here to stay. Even traditional broadcast content is following suit as advertisers shrink the length of commercials. Certainly, this dovetails with findings of recent studies in which people focused an average of 47 seconds on any given screen before diverting their attention elsewhere.

I invite you to embrace the short-form video if you have not already. This is not just a TikTok phenomenon. Brevity and motion are keys to connecting through today’s marketing channels. Think ‘short video’ for your brand’s social networks and website-even sales presentations and email marketing. Consider not only creating your own quick clips but utilizing gifs and video memes to add personality and punch to communications.

• Gen Z loves TikTok. Use this sensibility to reach next gen consumers and employees.

Whether time’s up for TikTok or not, the nature and style of the app represents the way your next generation of consumers and employees interact, become informed and are entertained. Sixty percent of TikTok users are Generation Z. Gen Z is the largest generation in U.S. history and its members have come of age, entered the workforce and are greatly impacting economic trends.

As you recruit new employees, establish internal communications and create marketing and customer service strategies for the short and long term, bring the sensibility of TikTok into the mix. You can do this by integrating more direct-messaging tools, adding humor and personality to email messaging, and editing materials to ensure brevity and interest.

• You’re essentially just renting space on social media channels. Prioritize digital assets that you own.

We’ve long advised business leaders to focus first and foremost on the online properties they own and use social networks to promote and point people back to those owned assets. Your profiles and pages on social networks are really like rented spaces. On a whim of a network’s leadership or a ban by the federal government, you could lose access to the audiences you’ve worked so hard to build on any given social platform.

Commit anew to growing your own email list, optimizing your website and inventing unique modes of customer connection that will benefit you regardless of whatever social media is popular. Never divert all your efforts and energy to third-party apps and tools. Back up your data. Make certain you have reliable ways to be and stay in touch with your customers directly.

• Change is the only constant. Stay awake, aware and always ready to pivot.

The digital-social-mobile marketplace changes fast and frequently, and that requires us to be extremely intelligent, intentional and nimble in our marketing and sales approaches. Just ask any marketer who went all in on MySpace back in 2005! Social media and marketing tools don’t just ebb and flow; they ignite and fade. To be viable and grow your business, you must be consistently awake to determine what’s now and what’s next.

Being intentional and nimble in the ever-evolving market is not about trying to keep up or chasing trends. There’s not an iota of “we need to be there because everyone else is” in this approach. As a matter of fact, this approach will guide you to skip anything that won’t propel you toward your goals, and that will empower you to streamline and operate with future-focus.

Back in the day (‘the day’ being four years ago or so), I veered clients away from Snapchat for marketing. I assessed the app was not on target for brands I was working with in the flooring business. However, I found TikTok shouldn’t be ignored, not so much for its popularity but because it exhibited undeniable, measurable effects on how people communicate today. Based on research and anecdotal observation, I concluded the TikTokification of modes of messaging was essential to address and participate in.

How do you and your team stay apprised of customer preferences and priorities? When’s the last time you assessed and addressed your sales and marketing strategies? Dial up your efforts to acquire intelligence and refresh your modes of messaging accordingly.

• Data collection is a big deal. Operate your business with transparency and integrity.

The news about TikTok reveals issues that are much bigger than the app itself. We’re miles beyond the threshold of data collection and activity tracking. On the screen, people are laughing at 15-second dance challenges; behind the scenes, the apps are collecting data. However, the ability to track and collect data isn’t exclusive to apps; you can acquire all sorts of metrics on your customers through your website, email marketing and social platforms, as well.

The questions swirling around TikTok’s use of data can serve as a bellwether for all of us in business to operate with full transparency and integrity. When you clearly convey to your audience the methods of and purposes for data collection, you can proceed with confidence. It’s actually mutually beneficial to seek and apply audience insights in order to better serve those who may want to work with you or buy what you’re selling.

Be sure you’re operating in adherence with all required disclosure standards regarding data collection, terms of use and privacy for those visiting your website, subscribing to your emails and engaging with your business online in any fashion. Turn to a dedicated, knowledgeable professional to ensure all website functionality and stated terms and conditions are in compliance. Integrate regular communication touchpoints with your subscribers to make sure they wish to continue to be in touch with your company.

Let the clock ticking for TikTok be your business’s wakeup call to more meaningfully and openly connect with customers and your team. There’s lots to be learned-and applied-at this unique time.

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