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Should Your Brand Be on TikTok: Unpacking the Pros and Cons of Gen Z’s Favorite Social Media Platform

“Should we be on TikTok?” 

If we had a dollar for every time we’ve been asked that question, the On Target team could get some sick Christmas bonuses. But, despite the high volume of this query, it’s a valid question for each person who has asked us. 

The answer to “should we be on TikTok” is never the same from company to company. Some businesses would absolutely thrive on the platform, and we’ve seen everyone from doctors to libraries use it to make their information more accessible to younger generations. But we’ve also seen companies get blasted by users who fled to the app to escape thinly veiled corporate messaging they experience on other platforms. 

Let’s first unpack TikTok as a platform, what makes it so popular, and then cover the highly nuanced checklist of pros and cons to one of the biggest social media platforms. 

What is TikTok?

When I first heard of TikTok in mid-2019, my first thought was “I love that Kesha song!” And when Millennial Me was informed that TikTok didn’t refer to the 2009 banger of the same name, my knees cracked and I found yet another grey hair. 

For those of you who share residence with Patrick Star or haven’t left Facebook, TikTok is a video-based social media platform. Creators can make videos from a second to a minute in length, use hashtags to sort the content out, and share with followers or hope to be on someone’s “For You Page” (or FYP). 

For TikTok users who are more interested in consuming video media, the FYP allows people to scroll through full-window video clips. FYPs include content from accounts someone follows as well as what the algorithm recommends they follow based off of similar videos. For example, I love dogs. I love dogs on the internet. As I engaged more with TikTok accounts from WeRateDogs, I got a lot more dog-related videos on my FYP. TikTok feeds me what it thinks I’ll engage with. 

Over the last year, largely due to the pandemic and quarantine restrictions, TikTok boomed — outperforming nearly every other platform in engagement metrics, app downloads, and nearly every other trackable statistic. TikTok also became a place where a variety of influencers from other platforms found a fresh home, and it even created a slew of new app-specific influencers

For marketers, the TikTok algorithm seems relatively easy to understand; if people like your videos, they’ll like or comment on them. That engagement data is typically what drives someone’s chances of being shown more on a FYP. However, marketers struggle with success on TikTok because no video needs to seem “polished” in order to get millions of views. Also, corporate accounts that take themselves too seriously are getting roasted on the platform by users. To excel at TikTok, you’ve got to first understand why on earth video snippets are helping absolute “nobodies” snag million dollar brand deals

Why is TikTok so popular?

This could be for any number of reasons, but as users ourselves, here are some of our observations: 

  • It’s the least “corporate” of the social media platforms. 
    • While ubiquitous, Facebook is in no way the “cool” social media platform anymore. That’s fine; most Americans over the age of 40 (who make up the majority of Facebook users) accept that they don’t care about being cool and have used Facebook for so long, they wouldn’t know what to do without it. Despite its constant information scandals, fights with Apple, and political narrative interference, Facebook won’t go anywhere anytime soon. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and aggressive cross-population of the two in 2018 unfortunately also tainted Instagram’s reputation. TikTok continues to bypass US-based corporate acquisition attempts, keeping its “independent” appearance intact. 
  • It’s the youngest of the platforms. 
    • TikTok (or ByteDance) launched in 2017, but it boomed after acquiring the dying (and’s 80 million subscribers) in 2017. Novelty keeps people intrigued, and that novelty meant anything was possible. Users didn’t have to bow to expectations of being an “Instagram model” or being equal parts nihilistic and funny like on Twitter in order to succeed. TikTok was a fresh space, and Gen-Z made the most of the app to create a vibrant, irreverent and irresistible platform. 
  • It has the youngest average user demographic. 
    • TikTok is made for Gen-Zers, and tweens/teens/young 20-somethings make up the majority of its user base. However, they’re not the only users. Millennials clinging to what’s left of their youth and parents of teens who are trying to stay “in the know” are also on the app. But the presence of older users isn’t exactly welcomed by Gen-Z; teenage users absolutely roasted Harry Potter/side parts/skinny jeans, and millennials panicked, claiming the careless comments were starting an internet war. (And y’all, that faux generational war is a whole different blog entirely.) Like all things trendy, the shine of TikTok will eventually fade. However, with Instagram adding Reels to its platform in order to imitate TikTok, we don’t think TikTok will be going anywhere anytime soon. 

Signs You Should be on TikTok: 

We still haven’t answered the question yet, but like I said, the answer is complex and will vary depending on how your brand connects with customers and your audience. So, if you’re nodding along with any of what I say below, consider at least downloading and experimenting with TikTok: 

Your target demographic is under the age of 30. 

I could’ve said 13-18, but honestly, so many younger millennials are using the platform to try and cling to youth that I expanded the age gap to include them. TikTok is for “the youths,” and thus, if your audience is youthful (and what you’re selling doesn’t cost a ton of $$) you’ve got a decent chance of getting engagement. Just keep in mind that, like all ephemeral marketing, TikTok is a launching point for brand awareness, not driving direct sales or acquiring leads. 

You’re already using video content more than once a month. 

Think of TikTok as a platform for video memes. The content is borderline ephemeral; by the time you see one trend on your TikTok feed, it’s already halfway out the door. To have success on TikTok, you need to have familiarity with churning out video content fast. The plus side of TikTok is that you don’t need fancy cameras; your iPhone camera gives you all the tools you need. 

You can strike a balance between “informative” and “trendy.”

TikTok has the shortest shelf life of any platform on the market today. For those who are familiar with Vine (RIP, old friend), you’re used to having 2 seconds at most to grab someone’s attention. TikTok content doesn’t have to be educational; in fact, it works best if you can balance education with entertainment. Even text-heavy videos use a currently trending song or dance to improve its chances of performing well in the algorithm. 

Signs You Should Avoid TikTok 

Now for the red flags that you don’t need the platform at all…

Your goal is lead generation rather than brand awareness. 

With TikTok’s flash-in-the-pan video format, it’s a lot harder to build a community of support than it is with, say, Instagram. (In fact, you’ll see quite a few TikTok influencers telling viewers to follow them on other social platforms for this exact reason.) For some brands that sell things like press-on nails or water bottles, TikTok is a great way to get younger audiences to buy stuff. But if your goal involves more than pushing product, don’t expect much out of the platform. There’s virtually no room for linking to anything on TikTok beyond the link in your profile’s bio. 

Your target audience is over the age of 40. 

I’ll be bold and say it: anyone over 40 is on TikTok because their kids are on TikTok. (Unless you’re Hank Green, which is an exception and relates back to the “target demographic being under 30” discussion.) I’m not saying what keeps people over 40 on TikTok is their kids; parents fall down rabbit holes of dog content and trends like their offspring. However, if your target audience is over 40, they’re likely not headed to TikTok first for their social media of choice. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are still the primary social accounts for that demographic. 

Video is a pain point for your brand. 

If you’re a company that struggled with YouTube videos or refused to ever make a Facebook Live, TikTok won’t be any easier for you. TikTok offers in-app video editing, but it still takes time and comes with a learning curve if you’ve never worked with video before. If you’re absolutely desperate to try the video trend, at least start using Instagram or Facebook Live. But if people in your company rolled their eyes when you asked to host a webinar, TikTok likely won’t get the support it needs to take off. 

You’re struggling with building an audience on existing social media. 

“They’re 15 second videos! How long could that take?” The highest performing 15 second videos that break through the noise can take hours to produce. We’re not exaggerating. We cannot stress this enough: do not expend energy on another trend if you can’t get the basics of social media down. And what are the basics? Regularly posting. Knowing your audience. Being able to engage with your audience online. Organically growing followers. Having messaging specific to social media. There’s nothing sadder than abandoned corporate accounts, and we’ve seen plenty. 

You had to Google “what is TikTok” within the last year.

“Ouch, Shelby, you’re going for the honest truths today.” Yes, I absolutely am, but it’s for your own good! I cannot stress this enough; if you or your team don’t natively engage with a social media platform on its own, it’s not for you. You should already be where your customers are. If TikTok hasn’t naturally made its way into either your 1) customer profiles, 2) customer research or 3) internal discussions, you don’t need the app. The whole point of TikTok is “organic irreverence,” and trying too hard is almost frowned upon. If it doesn’t feel natural to you, it won’t feel natural to your customers or the audience on TikTok seeing your brand for the first time. 

The answer you’ve all been waiting for… Should you be on TikTok?

TLDR: Yes, but only if: 

  • Your audience is under 30. 
  • You’re trying to promote your brand image or product — not drive leads. 
  • You have someone on your staff who is a native user, ideally is also under 30, and has the time to make TikTok specific content. 
  • You’re not afraid to get a bit irreverent. 
  • You’re already using memes and humor in your marketing.

Shew that was a lot, and I’m winded. I’m going to sit down and swipe through DogTok for a few minutes. We’ll be transparent: we *don’t* use TikTok as an agency (for a combination of reasons), but we definitely see the benefits of it! If you need social media help, reach out to us. We’re here to help companies find messaging that works on platforms they’ll actually be heard. Give us a call at 407-830-4550 or fill out a form and we’ll be in touch