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TikTok, with more downloads globally than Facebook, enters 2020 with big plans for publishers and advertisers

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TikTok has surpassed 1.5B downloads on the App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower. The app reached an all-time high of 220M installs in Q4 of 2019 (a 24% increase over Q3 2019).

It became the second-most downloaded app worldwide in 2019, after WhatsApp, and ahead of Facebook and Messenger. Sensor Tower also reports that TikTok’s revenue grew by 540% YoY in Q4 of 2019.

Source: SensorTower

“It’s captured the zeitgeist”

The app continues to record high engagement levels as well. “On average, a user opens the app about nine times a day and spends more than 45 minutes on the platform,” says Eric Jacks, Chief Strategy Officer for Los Angeles-based studio Collab, which has helped brands jump-start their TikTok accounts.

“In our seat, you’ve got one or two decisions to make: You can continue to fight the Facebook algorithm or continue to look for new greenfields,” says business news publisher Cheddar founder and CEO, Jon Steinberg. “Engagement on TikTok has been great – reaching 173M views last month (December 2019).” 

Cheddar notched up 1M followers eight months after joining TikTok, reports Digiday. Comparatively, it gained 800,000 followers across multiple Instagram accounts over four years.

It’s captured the zeitgeist and usage of this massive teenage audience like I’ve never seen before.

Jon Steinberg, Founder and CEO, Cheddar Inc.
One of Cheddar’s most popular videos on TikTok

For 2020, TikTok has multiple initiatives at work that will benefit publishers and advertisers. “We are growing pretty aggressively and rapidly, so for 2020, we are looking to sustain the momentum by building a more diverse ecosystem with our content creators,” TikTok’s User and Content Operations Manager, Doreen Tan told AsiaOne.

“Opportunity for all users to see widespread distribution”

The Financial Times reports that TikTok is considering the introduction of a curated feed of content. While TikTok hasn’t provided any insight into how its distribution algorithm works, Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content and Social Media at Social Media Today, writes, “the theory is that TikTok is more reliant on the quality of each individual video upload, as opposed to weighting reach based on the uploading user. That, theoretically, opens up more opportunity for all users to see widespread distribution, as it’s about the content itself.”

The benefit of a dedicated, curated content stream could be that it both provides a showcase for top content, which could be popular in itself, and could also provide extra reach for top creators, keeping them active in the app. While it would additionally facilitate a brand-safe stream for advertisers.

Andrew Hutchinson, Head of Content and Social Media at Social Media Today

The move according to the FT, would also allow TikTok to “charge higher advertising rates to more premium brands than in its existing feed of short videos, following in the footsteps of rival US social media group Snap.”

Snap’s Discover section features magazine-style editorial content from publishers like Condé Nast and the Wall Street Journal. It also features original mobile video shows from publishers like NBC and CBS.

Ads on this section are more expensive compared to elsewhere in the app. Snap reports that it has over 100 Discover channels with a monthly audience of 10M and time spent watching the feed has risen by 40% YoY.

Apart from better revenue prospects and exposure for publishers, the addition of a curated feed would allow TikTok to ensure that ads do not run alongside unsuitable content. 

The company has also been developing better tools for advertisers. It has begun sharing more audience and performance data with creators and marketers to compete with analytics tools offered on other platforms, like Instagram and YouTube.

The company is expected to rollout a self-serve ad model sometime next year, reports Digiday. The feature, currently in beta testing, will allow businesses to buy ads directly without going through an account manager. 

Ellie Jenkins, Influencer Innovation Manager at the marketing firm Mavrck, is one of the beta users. She told Business Insider that the tool has made it easier to find relevant influencers on TikTok. “They have really helpful audience insights, so we’re able to look at a creator from a pretty granular level,” she said.

“It could disrupt social commerce”

TikTok also has something in the works for publishers reliant on eCommerce revenue. It is allowing selected users to add links to eCommerce sites (or any other destination) to their profile biography, and offering creators the ability to easily send their viewers to shopping websites, according to TechCrunch.

TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh writes, if TikTok “retains these features, it could disrupt what many industry figures call “social commerce.” Social media companies and messaging apps in recent years have lured customers through their core services and introduced shopping features.”

In many markets, such as China, Southeast Asia and India, which happens to be one of TikTok’s biggest markets, social commerce is increasingly becoming popular and beginning to pose a challenge to “traditional” e-commerce players such as Amazon.  

Manish Singh, Reporter, TechCrunch

In an interview with the FT, TikTok’s VP of Global Business Solutions, Blake Chandlee indicated willingness to introduce a shopping tool that allows users to buy directly from the app, just like Instagram. “If we found that our consumers are engaging with content and they want to buy products within that content, we will enable that as quickly as possible. We will do a single-click through [for purchases],” he said. 

“Key winners of this new social media phenomenon”

Further, in India, the company is also making forays into e-learning. It is working with a number of content creators and firms to populate the platform with educational videos under its Edutok program.

“These bite-sized clips cover a range of topics, from school-level science and math concepts to learning new languages. The social app is also featuring videos that offer tips on health and mental awareness, and motivational talks,” reports Singh. 

Speaking to Singh in October last year, Sachin Sharma, Director of Sales and Partnerships at TikTok said that more than 10M educational videos had been created and shared on TikTok in recent months. And that they had amassed over 48B views. 

Timothy Armoo, Co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Fanbytes says, “It’s increasingly obvious that they’re (TikTok) going to be a major player to look out for in the market. Brands who are able to effectively tap into the magic of TikTok now will emerge as the key winners of this new social media phenomenon.” 

TikTok is a platform based on the idea that with a bit of creativity and ideation you could end up soaring up the follower charts and that is a very appealing thing to anyone who may not see themselves as an uber celebrity.

Timothy Armoo, Co-founder and CEO of Fanbytes

He suggests, “As a brand, therefore, one of the most important things you can do on TikTok is to develop content that gives people the chance to show off – as more people join the platform, this “show off” style content is going to be hugely important as a way to differentiate users.

“The brands who provide opportunities for people to do that are those who are going to win on TikTok in 2020.”