How Did TikTok Transform into a Discovery Search Engine?
Late last year, it was reported here that TikTok.com overtook Google as the most visited domain in the world. While the app may be well-known for its video memes and dancing teens, it has surprisingly evolved into both a search engine and an e-commerce platform. With projected 2024 ad revenue of $23.6 billion and a growing user base that’s expanding beyond Gen Z, we explore why Facebook should be very concerned about TikTok.
Technology has showed us that the biggest threat to a business doesn’t always come from a direct competitor within the space, but rather from a small start-up that is looking to disrupt the old way of doing business by rethinking the business model. It may seem hard to perceive Facebook (aka Meta), Google or YouTube as old, but with users consisting of teens (Gen Z) and 58% of all users over the age of 25, TikTok seems to prove otherwise.
“Ad revenue for 2022 is projected to be to more than $11 billion, which exceeds the ad revenue sales of Twitter and Snapchat combined.”
Current active users have surpassed one billion, and as reported here, ad revenue for 2022 is projected to be to more than $11 billion, which exceeds the ad revenue sales of Twitter and Snapchat combined. What’s more, TikTok achieved this just five years after its global launch, or in just over half the amount of time it took Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to do the same, and three years faster than it took WhatsApp, which was further accelerated due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Transforming Discovery and Digital Search
The social and search platforms that we use every day are evolving, based on our needs.
As explained in this New York Times article, “TikTok’s rise as a discovery tool is part of a broader transformation in digital search. While Google remains the world’s dominant search engine, people are turning to Amazon to search for products, Instagram to stay updated on trends and Snapchat’s Snap Maps to find local businesses.” While Google has yet to be displaced as the go-to search engine, it is being bypassed by Gen Xers.
The same article shared this quote from Prabhakar Raghavan, a Google senior vice president, “Almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”
“Through the power of the TikTok community and an algorithm designed to keep people on the app, the app enables its users to crowdsource video recommendations, ask questions, or provide explanations on topics in under 60-second videos.”
The visual nature and duration of TikTok videos are far more engaging than Google, eliminating the need to scroll through pages of search results containing just text. Through the power of the TikTok community and an algorithm designed to keep people on the app, the app enables its users to crowdsource video recommendations, ask questions, or provide explanations on topics in under 60-second videos. However, users face the same challenges as they do on Facebook or other platforms when it comes to identifying and filtering misinformation and disinformation.
Connecting with Customers Through Authentic Content
Last year, TikToc had a message for advertisers: “Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks.” “When we invite brands to make TikToks, we’re challenging them to transform the way that they connect with their audiences, because we know that it has the power to transform their business,” said Blake Chandlee, President of Global Business Solutions at TikTok. The app is also transforming how users discover and buy products. As reported in this The Drum article, “67% of TikTok users say the platform introduced them to products they’d never thought of before, and #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over 4.1 billion views a testament to the scale of TikTok’s influence on shopping behaviors.”
“67% of TikTok users say the platform introduced them to products they’d never thought of before, and #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over 4.1 billion views a testament to the scale of TikTok’s influence on shopping behaviors.”
This same story also shared how the app is presently testing a feature to integrate e-commerce that allows users to purchase from the TikTok Shop while watching creators in real-time. These stats further demonstrate the power of the app’s ability to start a movement. “71% of purchases made after seeing something on TikTok are unplanned.”
“Little Moons posted a TikTok video that included a search for its mochi ice cream at a big Tesco supermarket and then an impatient customer waiting the requisite five minutes before eating the snack. The video started a movement, with users sharing their own TikToks about finding and eating the delicious treats. The brand’s Tesco sales increased by 1,300% and saw its biggest week ever in U.K. grocery sales across all retail partners.”
“TikTok users spent $840 million on its virtual “coins” currency, which can be used to “tip” creators and promote videos—up 40% year over year.”
Additional stats posted here demonstrating TikTok’s meteoric growth and its addictive features state how “the typical TikTok user spent 19.6 hours on average per month on the app, according to data.ai—equaling Facebook, the global leader in time spent by users on social media. For TikTok, this represents an almost fivefold increase in just four years, up from 4.2 hours in 2018.” Furthermore, “it emerged that TikTok is now the most lucrative app in the world for in-app purchases. In the first quarter, TikTok users spent $840 million on its virtual “coins” currency, which can be used to “tip” creators and promote videos—up 40% year over year.”
TikTok’s addictive nature was well summarized here:
- Unpredictability/Variety: Video content is serendipitous and randomized
- Brevity: Each clip is only 20-45 seconds, allowing you to scroll through quickly and get to what interests you
- Ease: Endless scrolling makes it easy to get sucked into the app
While the TikTok app is still relatively new, it’s clear that it has the undivided attention of users aged 13-25, its competitors and brands. Yes, the ability to filter disinformation and concerns about privacy issues and user data will continue to be debated and must be figured out.
I must admit that at first I was first skeptical about the app and its usefulness for brands, as I saw it as a more advanced version of the now-defunct Vine app. However, now I believe that if a brand can create the right content and algorithm, the ROI can be staggering. As B2B brands like Adobe, Sage Accounting Software and Shopify have demonstrated, I do think that, depending on the right audience, there’s an opportunity.
If you’re a consumer brand that has an affinity for the TikTok demographic, it simply has to be part of your social marketing strategy.
Do you have questions about using TikTok to promote your brand? Reach out to me here. As always, thank you for reading.
Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash