The true power of TikTok: How the social media platform has changed the trends cycle and what’s coming next
In 2022, TikTok was the world’s most downloaded non-gaming app with an estimated one billion active global users. And according to market intelligence and analytics firm Sensor Tower, users spend more time on the social platform than any competitor platform – an average of 95 minutes a day.
The app witnessed the highest growth in US advertising spending in Q3 2022, with an impressive +29% QoQ increase. According to technology research company Omdia, its ad revenue will increase from $13 billion in 2022 to $44 billion in 2027.
The ground-breaking impact of TikTok
“The true power of TikTok first became clear to us back in 2020, when an organic post featuring The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution went viral,” said Dionne Cullen, chief brand officer for DECIEM – a beauty company that has seen strong results from the platform. “We saw a 427% lift in units sold and noticed a very significant increase in new customers. This really changed everything. We had always been very attached to our trust in word-of-mouth endorsements, but with the capability to bring testimonials to the world in such an engaging way, TikTok took this to the next level.”
Just as TikTok offered organic, word-of-mouth influence on a global scale, it also altered the entire trends cycle, and as a result, marketing strategies.
“TikTok has arguably sped up the beauty trend cycle, challenging brands to keep up with what consumers want,” said Lia Neophytou, senior analyst at Global Data’s consumer division. “Beauty brands are leveraging user-generated content and reviews to self-promote and build trust. TikTok’s algorithm has enabled smaller beauty brands the opportunity to go viral, irrespective of their following size, highlighting the app as an appealing tool to extend brand reach and drive traffic.”
Entertainment value beats audience size
The magic of TikTok is that it’s not about how many followers a brand could drum up, which is why it was a game changer for indie brands and start-ups. ‘Reach’ on the platform was determined by the strength of the content created and shared; the entertainment value it provided became a key e-commerce driver for beauty brands.
“TikTok stands out as a trailblazer due to its sophisticated algorithm, which curates a highly personalized feed for each user based on their likes and interests,” said Jillian Robinson, director of global communications at social media management platform Dash Hudson. “This highly personalized approach leads to the rapid spread of new trends and ideas, as users are more likely to engage with content that is tailored to their preferences.”
Dash Hudson undertook a collaborative study with NielsenIQ, which analyzed the top beauty brands on TikTok and benchmarked how they performed in their first six months of joining the platform. This revealed that brands with a high Entertainment Score (a proprietary Dash Hudson metric) garnered stronger sales growth. Those with a score greater than five grew sales by 51% on average, while beauty brands with an Entertainment Score less than five grew by just 17%.
The thirst for ‘lo-fi’ content
Robinson believes that the platform's short-form, vertical video format also plays a role in its trend-setting capabilities, as it makes it easier to consume and encourages users to create and share their own content.
“Within the beauty industry specifically, there is a mix of both hi-fi and lo-fi video content being used,” she said. “Beauty brands see a significant spike in effectiveness when using lo-fi video. Lo-fi videos see a 22% effectiveness rate, while hi-fi videos sit at 17.8%, on average. When looking at average video views, lo-fi content towers over hi-fi content with a 70,000 view-increase. This proves that social prowess is not dependent on budget size, but also that everyday beauty enthusiasts are primed to take part in trending moments with their own lo-fi take on trends and products.”
For Cullen, TikTok has become a micro-marketing platform. “TikTok can create icons out of products overnight,” she said. “The comment section allows for impactful conversations to be held directly with consumers and this can be treated as a micro-marketing platform, given the time people spend reading, liking, and engaging with comments.”
TikTok marketing tips for 2023
According to Robinson, to make the most of TikTok in 2023, brands should start by being experimental: “By having the permission to break away from traditional brand standards and content calendars, brands will be primed to find what works best for their audience, but to also provide the kind of relatable, authentic and entertaining content consumers are craving at the speed of social.”
She believed it also helped to adopt an entertainment-first strategy.
“Prioritize the goal of entertainment over the goal of virality,” she said. “A 2022 study by Dash Hudson found that user engagement significantly decreases after the first 250,000 views of a TikTok. This demonstrates that a brand’s most optimal audience is reached within that first 250,000 views, thus proving that developing and distributing entertaining content provides the strongest return on investment.”
Cullen was a fan of creator seeding. “If you have a product that gives visible results, creator seeding can be hugely powerful,” she said. “An organic post, that was secured via seeding, for our Lash & Brow Serum has over 10M views. Sometimes the return of a single post can outweigh the cost of an entire seeding program.”
Robinson also shared a tip for working with creators: “Target creators who live and breathe your brand ethos, leverage content syndication, and grant influencers freedom to be themselves.”
Cullen advised fully leveraging the community aspect and direct consumer feedback that can be attained. “People use TikTok as a search engine, meaning you have a platform that can directly deliver messages to your consumers' most commonly asked questions in an engaging way. Look to the questions the community is asking through search, or in the comments section, and deliver content that focuses around those themes,” she said.
But just as easily as TikTok can catapult a brand into stardom, it can also shatter its reputation. So, what can be done in this instance?
“Brands must be prepared to respond promptly if a negative product review goes viral to minimize the potential impact on reputation and sales,” advised Neophytou. “Engage with the audience to provide tips that can improve their experience with a product to ensure they remain engaged.”
Potential bans in the US and EU
There had been speculation about potentially banning TikTok in both the US and the EU. So, what would happen if this occurred? Neophytou believed other platforms are waiting in the wings. “Consumers will continue to crave authentic product reviews and beauty inspiration from their peers online. Alternative platforms like Instagram and YouTube would likely replace TikTok as a key source of inspiration for beauty trends and purchases,” she said.
Robinson agreed: “In the unlikely event that TikTok was banned, the appetite for short-form, entertainment-led content would remain high. Instagram and YouTube are likely candidates, as they already have a large and established user base and have a current short-form video offering.”