TikTok & The Democatisation of Virality

A levelling of the playing field – TikTok and the democratisation of virality

TikTok in 2017 was summarised as a lip-syncing / dance video platform for teenagers. In 2021, the conversation around the platform has changed drastically.


This social media platform echo’s the lifecycle of Instagram, which in 2011 would have been primarily summarised as a simple photo editing app for keen photographers. This is no longer the case. TikTok, just like Instagram, has proved that it is here to stay and is far more than its first impression.


Huge numbers of creators and marketers are growing enormous followings and achieving what, on other social platforms, would be unthinkable numbers of new followers and views.


One factor that unites almost all of the viral content that you’ll find on TikTok is that it’s all user-generated content (UGC) – authentic, unpolished and inexpensive.


This flies in the face of traditional media and advertising content and is a trend that is almost certainly going to stay. Traditional creators, artists, and marketers alike must adapt if they are to follow attention patterns.



What did TikTok do?


So, what did TikTok do differently? And why is it important?


TikTok, in short, democratised video content creation and virality. The democratisation of content creation was achieved by the cleverly designed video editing tools and features within the app.


The vertically shot format has been allowed users to create complex video edits without the need for a camera, laptop or editing software. Things that only 4-5 years ago were seen as must-haves for any content creator.


Equally important to the video tools, and the key foundation of TikTok was the successful integration of popular music into the content creation process. Something that Instagram, Facebook and YouTube failed to do.


Barriers to content creation are now zero.


Next, is the question of how TikTok democratised virality?


This is done with the TikTok algorithm. Unlike many other platforms, follower count simply does not matter on TikTok – if your video is good more people will see it. Mix this in with a weighted recommendation system based on user interactions, video information and device settings and you have a meritocratic content stream which is an even playing field.


Additionally, duets, stitches and discover pages all exist to show people trends and challenges helping to get rid of the pressure of publishing on the platform.


UGC now has the advantage and is more likely to succeed. Additionally, the unpolished nature of UGC shot phones is now perceived as being far more authentic and native.


How does this fit into a marketing/creative strategy?


The most effective organic content and ads feel native to the platform they are posted on.


Marketers going forward need to reconsider the approach to traditional campaigns. The larger budget, professionally produced and edited content posted and ran across several platforms is very unlikely to succeed on TikTok’s meritocratic platform.


Considering this, a movement away from the high budget productions and investment in understanding the platform, its tools, trends and community is the best way for brands to succeed on TikTok. As the platform continues to take eyes away from Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.


The content needs to feel native to the platform.

A small handful of Irish brands have taken to the platform with great success. Take a look at the success of Ryan Air for example. The Irish airline has amassed 592K followers (at the time of writing this article) with what appears to be a single employee, with their phone, posting content in line with popular for you trends. This was achieved primarily during the Covid-19 pandemic, a time when very few had travel at the front of their minds.

The content style and trends of TikTok are not limited to the platform itself. The most successful content on Instagram Reel’s (Instagram’s attempt to emulate TikTok within its platform) tends to be created on TikTok and reposted.


To sum it all up


TikTok has levelled the playing field for those looking to create short-form content. Production teams and professional videographers are not an essential element for content creators or marketers.


While there will always be a need for high production content. Creatives and marketers alike should strongly consider redirecting a large amount of their time and money towards strategy and researching how to make platform-native content if they are to succeed on a platform that is only going to become more relevant.

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