TikTok’s Coming-of-Age Into Mainstream Quarantine Culture

By: Hilary Bergman

Let's look at how TikTok has and will continue to shift our perspectives of what influence looks like, and the opportunities for brands to effectively connect with creators to amplify their message.

As quarantine and stay-at-home orders have kept us indoors for months, our entire routines have been upended and we’ve had to adjust and adapt to a new way of life. We’ve found new ways to make connections, exercise, learn, teach or just stay occupied, which has meant, most recently, having some fun on platforms like TikTok. As a result, what was once considered to be an app for teens has now quickly found its way onto all of our screens.

We can all find comfort, entertainment, and creative inspiration through TikTok – whether by scrolling through a random selection of videos, curating a group of creators that interest you for a customised feed, or participating in challenges made viral by TikTok stars and celebrities. If one thing has become clear, it’s that trends started on TikTok have transcended the app, creating and shaping “quarantine culture” as a whole. 

TikTok in the era of quarantine

TikTok can be perplexing, considering how quickly it has exploded in popularity worldwide. The allure of watching strangers, many of whom are in high school or college, performing the same dances over and over again may not seem appealing on its face, and many of us simply haven’t had the time to actively take part in a way that might elucidate the appeal.

However, in this era of quarantine, as many people of all demographics have found new-found gaps of time in their days, they’ve not only begun spending more time on the platform but have also started taking part. In the process, the platform’s wide net of users, and a growing list of brands, are realising the distinct differences and opportunities of the platform when compared with other social media apps.

TikTok reality vs. Instagram aesthetic

TikTok influencers with huge followings have emerged to be more adept creators, establishing a foothold as master directors, editors, comedians, and dancers earning recognition and followings for their ingenuity, relatability, and craft. They are creating videos that are engaging and intended to be real and true to who they are and what they bring to the table.

Influencers and the power they wield over consumers continues to exist across all social platforms but in unique ways. Whereas over on Instagram, building your followers from the ground up takes time and requires both a clear strategy and time to curate and then edit aesthetically pleasing and aspirational content. Ultimately, you are building yourself as a brand, remaining true to your identity, and creating consistency with what you choose to post.

Is TikTok the antithesis of Instagram?

In many ways, TikTok is the antithesis of Instagram. While consistency remains important, instead of working to curate picture-perfect content, it’s a place where you can get inspired, create, be raw, relatable and – if you’re lucky – go viral. This is a huge part of TikTok’s allure – you don’t need a huge following to have a broad reach.

Whereas on Instagram a user’s feed is filled with content by the accounts you follow, TikTok’s default “For You” feed is populated with accounts that the user does not necessarily follow yet – determined by an algorithm most are eager to crack. From there, it appears to be a snowball effect; the more people who see and engage with your video, the more likely it is to be seen by even more people.

As TikTok has rapidly expanded while we have all been in lockdown and brands have less options available for productions, there has been a surge in the number of brands partnering with TikTok creators who have amassed a large following.

Brands are becoming more and more involved with hashtag challenges, providing great opportunities for awareness and upper-funnel KPIs (compared to Instagram’s lower-funnel metrics).

For example, Reese’s Puffs’ #eatemup challenge garnered 2.2 billion views on TikTok. Whereas Instagram often involves very specific briefs, TikTok requires brands to provide influencers with a great deal of creative liberty to bring the idea to life in a way that’s true to the creator’s specific craft.

Cross-platform influence

While Instagram and TikTok vary greatly, their influence has proven to not be exclusive. And it doesn’t need to be. While an influencer can reap success on one platform, their approach on the other could be completely different. It is critical for a brand to have a solid understanding of their objectives on each platform, as well as what works and what doesn’t.

Addison Rae is a great example of an influencer who has cross-platform influence. She went viral and became famous on TikTok after just starting to post videos last July; in addition to her 33 million TikTok followers, she now has 12.3 million followers on IG and a widely-viewed YouTube channel.

Conversely, Daisy Keech became famous on Instagram as a fitness influencer and then found popularity on TikTok because of the ability to leverage followers on one app to the other. The inherent difference between social platforms is proving to be beneficial, creating a unique place and role in the social universe for each, allowing influencers to leverage each uniquely.

Brands engaging on TikTok

For brands looking to engage on Tik Tok, the diversity of influencers you work with must be richer than ever, as each brings a different approach to bringing an idea to life in an easily digestible and fun way. There is no video mold on TikTok, so brands have to increase their risk tolerance by embracing chaos, flexibility, agility, and creativity in this social format. This means broad briefs that give creators the flexibility to put their own spin on the idea, consistent with their own unique brand.

If one thing is clear, it’s that TikTok is not going anywhere. Its influence on our lives is vast – whether we’re active on the app or not. To be successful and impactful there, brands must be willing to go in with an open mind and regularly monitor the swiftly changing trends and interests along with the rising TikTok stars as frequently as its users are in to make the biggest, most resonant impact.

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