Why TikTok matters right now

The values of TikTok – characterised by a search for authenticity, individuality, creativity and open dialogue within a like-minded community – should help us when we’re creating content for all audiences, whatever their demographic, argues CPL’s Martin Bewick

We need to talk about TikTok.

No, not because it’s time to jump on a bandwagon, but rather because it provides a virtual – and vertical – window through which we can reassess the content we create for clients on all channels. And yes, because it is also an increasingly useful platform for reaching an audience that might be interested in your services or products. And no, that audience isn’t restricted to lip-synching Gen-Zers. At CPL it’s now a channel we’re engaging with for clients, too.

But let’s note a word before we go on – we’ll come back to it later: authenticity.

Okay, by now most of us are familiar with TikTok content, its tropes and stylings, even if we’re not active on the app itself. Content created for the platform often leaches into other channels, turning up on YouTube, blog posts, news and magazine websites and TV shows. It’s the ‘fun clip’ medium du jour and it’s already colouring our expectations of what contemporary content can look like and achieve.

What does it look like? Well, first and foremost it’s framed vertically. In ancient terms that means its default is ‘portrait’ orientation, rather than ‘landscape’. While other social media apps make use of vertical video, on TikTok there’s no other real choice of format.

Creating a dialogue. Driving peer-to-peer engagement. These phrases resonate beyond TikTok. Indeed, they’re foundational for much of the work we deliver for clients here at CPL

Historically, most movie-making has been set to landscape format, which provides a widescreen view of the world. No one wants to watch The Lord of the Rings in portrait mode. So why switch to vertical? The answer is ‘you’. And ‘her’, ‘him’ and ‘they’.

Portrait mode is about putting people up front, hence its name. Vertical video is the perfect format to focus on – and engage and interact with – real people. In vertical, real life fills the frame. You fill the frame. This is important, and it’s where that word returns: authenticity.

TikTok, with its homemade feel, is in many ways about a search for individuality and authenticity. Its memes and challenges are games for exploring what it means to create playful versions of what might be termed an ‘authentic self’ – a self that doesn’t always get its moment in the sun during school hours or the working week. This is why it’s beloved of young people. In fact, it’s why all the latest social channels are always beloved of the young – because it says to everyone else that this is the place ‘we can truly be us’.

Keep it authentic

Of course, sooner or later every social platform matures as it grows. Some of the early individuality is lost in the noise. But in the early curve of the hype cycle it’s a place where early adopters ‘keep it real’ – ‘keep it authentic’.

TikTok has matured at pace. Bands arrived, and so did the oldies (anyone over 24 in TikTok terms). But there are also a couple of ways TikTok still differentiates itself. For that, over to Alex Lamb, digital producer at CPL: “With TikTok you can’t fake it so easily,” he says. “With something like Instagram, it’s simple to edit photos to provide a fake or enhanced view of reality. With a moving image, all that’s much harder to achieve, which means that with TikTok a level of authenticity remains.

“There’s also real engagement and interplay between its users, across its challenges and memes. It prioritises person-to-person interaction, where people are inspired by and respond to the creativity of others. It’s about dialogue more than monologue, and that means it’s a participatory more than a broadcast platform.”

Being authentic. Creating a dialogue. Driving peer-to-peer engagement. These phrases resonate beyond TikTok. Indeed, they’re foundational for much of the work we deliver for clients here at CPL, whatever channel we’re creating content for. Think of it like that and TikTok is less the leap of faith for content marketing that it sometimes appears to be.

Make me a hero

One recent TikTok trend should give us further pause for thought. Over the past year of the pandemic, TikTok users have responded to the platform’s #maincharacter hashtag, creating tongue-in-cheek videos in which they re-envisage everyday situations as if they are a main character in a Hollywood movie. Content for the #maincharacter hashtag has received more than 5.2bn views.

During a time when many young people have been feeling isolated, it has been a way to playfully #romanticise (another popular hashtag) everyday life, and feel a little bit more like a hero than the day-to-day allows.

So here’s the takeout. Let’s remember that the early-days honesty of a social channel – characterised by a search for authenticity, individuality, creativity, by a desire for creative play, and by engaging in open and honest dialogues within a like-minded community – are values that help us support all audiences, whatever their demographic. Many of these audiences are asking the same thing: surprise me; delight me; understand me; interest me; be honest; connect me with others; and make me a hero.

It’s what all good content should aim to do.

Martin Bewick – CPL Content Marketing Strategy
Martin Bewick
is content strategist
at CPL

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