TikTok is not a social media platform, according to TikTok
“Audiences that like and build and create and connect with TikTok, they say they check Facebook, and they check Instagram and they check Twitter and they check Snap and they check things. But they don’t verify TikTok. They tell us they watch TikTok.
That’s how Khartoon Weiss, head of global agency and accounts at TikTok, described the app in his keynote at the Gathering marketing conference last week – as an entertainment platform, not a social network. .
It’s fascinating to hear firsthand how the short video app is stacking up as it continues to grow in popularity. With 1 billion monthly active usersTikTok takes the top spot as the most engaging social app, with an average user session of just less than 11 minutes. This level of commitment has earned the company $821 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2022 only.
But is TikTok really a place where users sit and consume content, a social network where people share their views to connect with others, or a combination of the two? This definition is important to clarify because TikTok has an undeniable impact on global culture and commerce. Businesses and consumers need to understand how the app is used and how the business operates to take advantage of its benefits and be aware of its drawbacks.
Driving the narrative that TikTok is an entertainment platform, Weiss argued that “you can’t TikTok and…” – meaning users can’t simultaneously TikTok and text, TikTok and Zoom, or TikTok and TV, due to the sound-on, video-centric experience, unlike Instagram or Twitter, where it’s easier to scroll through those services and multitask.
And while one of the key features of a social network is the ability to connect directly with others, data shows that only 15 percent report the use of TikTok for the purpose of direct user-to-user communication.
“TikTok is so much more than social media. It’s a place where creators inspire, educate or entertain,” says Mario Moreno, a creator on TikTok @followmario and former marketing manager at H&M and L’Oréal. “There are so many subcategories in TikTok and watch time shows that people on the platform are consuming content not from a social perspective but from an entertainment and discovery perspective. “
What’s surprising is that the content that drives viewership only comes from a small subset of TikTok’s user base, a statistic similar to YouTube. Alone 33.9% of TikTok users post content on the platform, compared to 69.9% of Instagram users who post their own photos and videos.
“I believe TikTok is a social media platform. It’s a platform that relies on user-generated content,” says Sam Dey, social media consultant and LinkedIn Learning trainer. “There’s also the ability to build an audience and become an influencer which are attributes that I think are important for social media platforms.”
Netflix and Hulu provide entertainment for their subscribers, but are not considered social networks because their audiences are unable to produce content or react to content on their services.
Features allowing two-way communication on TikTok certainly puts the app more firmly in the social media category as there are more opportunities for interaction and dialogue.
“There’s so much negativity and negative connotations to being categorized as social and a social network, that it doesn’t offer the many benefits of being categorized as that. So it’s no surprise that TikTok and other prefer you to think of them as entertainment,” says Matt Navarresocial media consultant and industry analyst.
Another reason TikTok might avoid the label is that the company is likely trying to market itself to advertisers as an entertainment destination and a safer bet than social media, he added. Pinterest tried declaring it wasn’t a social network before, a similar move that didn’t work.
A more realistic way to describe and categorize TikTok is that it’s a combination of an entertainment platform and a social network because you have the ability to create even though most people just prefer to watch .
“I think it’s the two things. And those are the two things for most people,” says Navarra.
Like YouTube, it’s fair to say that TikTok is an entertainment-focused social network considering all of the network’s features that fall under both categories and its variety of use cases.
A final point to consider is how TikTok plans to scale. Weiss mentioned in his speech that becoming a great app is probably an avenue the company will explore.
Super apps like China’s WeChat allow users to chat with friends, make payments, buy products and more, all from a single service, which TikTok wants to emulate.
It’s unclear how this will play out, but working to shift the perception of the app to a broader category like entertainment is a logical step towards expanding TikTok far beyond social media.
Brian Honigman is a Marketing Consultant, Adjunct Professor and LinkedIn Learning Instructor.