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Why COVID-19 Will Destroy TikTok

Forget Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Pinterest – they’re old news. These days the buzz is all about TikTok. With 800 million users and most of them under 30, businesses are in a frenzy of excitement over this platform’s access to the all-important youth demographic.

“We need to get on TikTok,” CEOs are thundering in boardrooms throughout North America. “We need to be cool with the kids.”

Let’s be clear – TikTok is having a moment.  If you’re over 30, you might not get TikTok. That’s ok, it’s not really for you or me. It’s basically Vine brought back from the dead, somehow even more vacuous. But it’s fun and playful, no wonder people like it.

The story of TikTok began in 2017, when the Chinese internet company ByteDance bought the app Musical.ly and then relaunched it as TikTok. The content is mostly middle school variety show quality, with short form videos of original content and so very much lip synching. And more people should probably be concerned about the privacy and censorship implications of its Chinese owners.

As an ad platform, it has a long way to go before it equals the carpet bombing reach of Facebook.

Influencer marketing might be useful but most branded content is extra cringey, and these are early days for other ad units. So, it’s difficult for brands to establish a meaningful presence unless they are willing to make some bold creative choices.

One of the weirder second order consequences of the COVID-19 crisis was the uptake in TikTok by parents. Many Moms and Dads moved on from Facebook and Instagram to TikTok and did choreographed dance routines with their kids during the quarantine period.

The arrival of the olds can only mean one thing – TikTok will no longer be cool. The kids will move on to the next thing. COVID-19 has infected TikTok, and the prognosis doesn’t look good.

But such is the circle of life in social media. Facebook began as a service only for university students. It was cool. Now 2.5 billion people around the planet are regular users but it’s less cool. The kids, in North America at least, moved on to Instagram, Snapchat and, of course, TikTok. Of note, many teens are still active users of Facebook, they just use it in different ways than you and me.

Should your brand be on TikTok? Maybe.

But do it for the right reasons, not because your CEO read an article about it in Forbes. Commit to it and be prepared to take smart creative risks to make your content stand out. The normal corporate blah, blah, blah won’t mean much on this platform.

And don’t give up on established platforms like Facebook. They are extraordinary marketing channels, even if they aren’t cool anymore.

Allan Gates

Allan Gates is a partner with Bonfire.