Though TikTok is mired in geopolitical issues and is putting out several fires (though less so in the U.S. now), it remains a force. This carries strategic implications for reaching engaged users, and incorporating TikTok into the marketing mix. That goes for large brands and SMBs (more on that in a bit).

The latest sign of TikTok’s ascent is massive year-over-year usage growth. App analytics platform App Annie reports that average time spent per-user per-month on TikTok is up 325 percent.  Perhaps more notable than the raw figure is the fact that TikTok now exceeds Facebook on this measure.

Backing up, time spent per-month on mobile apps is up across the board, as sheltered masses amp up their digital consumption. But TikTok over indexes in annual growth in time spent, and outpaces nearly every app tracked by App Annie. It’s now on pace to reach 1.2 billion monthly active users by the end of 2021.

Overall, this growth brings TikTok to the top-ranked app for time spent, followed by Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger. Notably, Facebook holds four of the top five spots on this list, so adding up all of its properties outshines TikTok in monthly active time spent per-user.

Depth of Engagement

One reason for TikTok’s usage growth isn’t just digital consumption in a pandemic but the app’s inherent user experience. It has a natural depth of engagement which gives it an edge in this particular metric of time spent per-user. Though it trails Facebook in active users, it outpaces it in engagement per user.

This advantage happens on two levels. For creators, there’s ample time devoted to perfecting clips, which involves in-app creative editing. For users, TikTok has developed an addictive interface that applies a discovery engine and continuity mechanic for viewing clips. Some users woefully sink hours into it.

TikTok has also done an effective job turning this usage into revenue. According to AppAnnie, it currently ranks #2 in non-gaming apps in terms of consumer spending. As background, its revenue model differs from Facebook in that it focuses on in-app-purchases for various media adornments.

The big question is if TikTok will decide to monetize its engaged and growing audience in deeper ways by double-dipping into ad revenues. This is a likely path, as TikTok is compelled to diversify revenue and find new areas of growth as its core business model matures… a common path for any company.

Strategic Implications

As that happens, the strategic implications will start to unravel for brands and SMBs that want to use TikTok as a channel to reach deeply-engaged and potentially non-overlapping Gen-Z users. Even before that point, there are several organic ways that TikTok can be used for marketing.

These campaign tactics include inciting memes that feature a given product. That involves getting the ball rolling with a viral clip that is then shared & remixed in TikTok’s signature ways.  This has been demonstrated by several brands including Idahoan Foods and Vestaire Collection (see case studies).

Like any emerging marketing channel, this will start with large brands then trickle down to SMBs. Its applicability to SMB marketing could then follow the principles of Instagram Stories, which we’ve examined. Though different in media creation and UX dynamics, the opportunity is conceptually similar.

That means anyone involved in bringing marketing tools to SMBs should pay close attention to TikTok’s rapid growth and evolution. Getting smart about what it offers and where it’s moving could prime any SMB-focused marketing channels to pounce when the opportunity is right to bundle and deliver it.

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