TikTok. Have you heard of it? If not, then you might want to read-up, and fast. Why? Because TikTok is being hailed as the next big marketing platform for brands.

I had the pleasure of recently attending a Mumbrella Masterclass: “TikTok for Marketers”, where I was able to learn all about the world’s fastest growing social media platform. I walked in, admittedly, not knowing much about TikTok, or having even downloaded it onto my phone, but definitely aware of it as a current craze. After a couple of hours’ discussion, I left with a better understanding of where TikTok fits in the social landscape and how marketers and agencies can capitalise on it.

However, working in healthcare presents unique and varied challenges when it comes to traditional direct-to-consumer marketing. And when we talk about ‘brands’, we’re often talking about life-saving drugs for cancer or cystic fibrosis, not your average toothpaste. So I started ruminating on whether healthcare is ready to navigate its strict regulations and adopt this video sharing sensation.

In a relatively short space of time, TikTok has experienced meteoric growth at an unprecedented velocity, with 525 million users worldwide in just a few years – already surpassing Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat. With its creative short-form video content and sophisticated algorithms driving content recommendation, TikTok seems to be the perfect time-filler, consumption hub and content binge for screen-obsessed Gen-Z’s.

Australian users are particularly enamoured – spending an average 46 mins per day consuming content, the highest of any market globally, opening the app on average 8 times a day, which has led to 1.6 billion video views.

One example of where TikTok has created a real cultural moment is with Lil Nas X. You’ve probably heard his song ‘Old Town Road’, which was number one on the US charts for 19 consecutive weeks – making it the longest number one in the history of time. And its success must be credited to TikTok.

The platform clearly has genuine momentum. And with low barriers to posting, an opportunity for creative expression and a constant hunger for new content ideas, TikTok appears to be the perfect platform for brands to take advantage and capitalise on a captive audience.

Brands have already begun to take note of TikTok’s engaged user base and rapid growth. This has been done organically by brands creating their own #challenge, building influencer relationships, or leveraging TikTok’s wide range of ad formats. Early adopters, such as Fanta, Washington Post and BMW have made a decisive move to embrace TikTok to gain competitive advantage, and may potentially reap the rewards as the platform continues to grow.

One company who took a leap of faith were US restaurant chain Chipotle. With almost half of their customers being Gen Z, social media is integral to their marketing efforts. But they didn’t follow in the suit of their competitors and wait to see how TikTok faired, they steamrolled ahead. To mark National Avocado Day, they created a very simple challenge, the #GuacDance, where viewers were encouraged to show off their avocado-themed dance moves inspired by Dr. Jean’s “Guacamole Song.”

The challenge generated 250,000 video submissions and 430 million video starts in six days, and became TikTok’s highest-performing branded challenge in the US to date. These are pretty impressive engagement stats, resulting in Chipotle’s biggest guacamole day ever, with more than 800,000 portions served. Taking something synonymous with the Chipotle brand and creating a fun participative activity was very smart.

But the reason brands like Chipotle have found success is because their brand can easily lend itself to the ironic, comedic and ephemeral nature of the viral content on TikTok which resonates with Gen Z. More and more we’re finding that Gen Z do not take themselves overly seriously. And we know Gen Z like to consume music. Like, a lot. In fact, they lead the way in terms of audio consumption out of any generation. So creating content that’s fun and light-hearted, linked to music, is crucial.

And so we come to healthcare. Complicated, serious, emotional and heavy healthcare. Given the above, it might seem like an immediate no for TikTok, but I challenge you to journey back. A viral participative movement is something healthcare can and has used to its advantage before – the ALS ice bucket challenge. More than 17 million people took part and raised over $220M worldwide for the disease. And it’s not just about the money that’s so impressive. Visits to the ALS association website were averaging 17,500 per day before the challenge, and peaked with 4.5 million visits on 20 August, so it’s fair to say (albeit crudely) that the ice bucket challenge encouraged genuine education and awareness.

However with TikTok, comedy and music rules the land. It’s clear that some industries won’t feel at home on this platform, and ethical healthcare could be one of them. Perhaps I’m being small-minded, but something about healthcare and TikTok just isn’t sitting right. Getting people to do some kind of viral dance challenge to raise awareness of a muscular disease could work for a moment, sure, but would it cause real long-term change? With fast-scrolling Gen Z on a continuous hunt for the next piece of content, I’m not so sure.

Is TikTok destined to be just another flash-in-the-pan social media sensation? Will the arrival of marketed content dull the originality of TikTok and its initial luster?

For me I would say that there are too many uncertainties now. With some brands courageously stepping out and delivering on TikTok, bravo. But with an industry that’s still finding its feet on the likes of Instagram, perhaps it’s one social media platform at a time.

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