“To Understand The Appeal, Think Of TikTok As More Of A Social Game Than A Video App”

Muse Featured – Anthony Cospito, Head of Strategy

What would you say if a stranger approached you and asked, “Hit or miss?” If you’re one of the 500 million people using the short video app TikTok, you’d know and happily respond.

Kindergarten teacher Chaz Bruce decided to pose the question to his class. Surely, this conservative clutch of toddlers wouldn’t have a clue what he was talking about. But to his surprise, they did. In almost perfect unison, they instantly sang back “I guess they never miss, huh?” (also known as the #TikTokTest). Videos on the app showing the test in action worldwide have received over 70 million views. From Boston to Beijing (where the app is officially headquartered), TikTok has become a global phenomenon.

TikTok beat out Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the most downloaded app in the third quarter of 2018. Doubling in downloads from 92 million to 185 million in three months, the app formerly known as Musical.ly is growing up. Parent company ByteDance acquired the app in 2018, adding to its fleet of video, news and entertainment apps. Valued at $75 billion, the firm is now one of the largest privately held tech corporations in the world—second only to Uber’s $76 billion evaluation.

To understand the appeal, think of TikTok as more of a social game than a video app. Instead of just posting for likes or comments, users respond to challenges with videos of their own, resulting in something entirely new.

Case in point? The #pumplikethat challenge. Videos showing the popular camera-trick effect have over 50 million views, like this one of Kermit the Frog. The challenge has already been remixed with the #hitormiss challenge, birthing a whole new breed of meme. This collaboration cycle drives views and, more important, engagement—arguably the most important digital marketing metric for a brand. It’s also the metric that has practically disappeared from most social platforms in recent years. Essentially, this nuance is what makes TikTok tick. In a sea of similar apps, TikTok’s meteoric rise is uniquely powered by a perfect storm of timing, technology and tone.


TikTok is entering its growth phase as opposed to more mature social platforms, which have increasingly become pay-to-play platforms. This translates to a clear tactical advantage for TikTok, where significant organic growth is its raison d’etre. Users cite the “astronomical” views, supportive comments, and free-flowing likes as a huge incentive to create on the platform.

While Mark Zuckerberg is currently consumed with maximizing share price, TikTok is focused on building reach and engagement—opening a strategic window for brands to authentically connect with Gen Z. Currently, TikTok generates minimal revenue through virtual gifts and collaborations with brands like Guess, but the focus is on growth, not ads. What Snapchat was to millennials, TikTok has become to Gen Z, and with Gen Z being the largest generation of all time, TikTok has an unparalleled market advantage right now.


TikTok is unlike anything else because it’s an amalgam of everything that preceded it. A hybrid evolution of Vine, Musical.ly, Instagram and Snapchat, the app’s user experience centers around collaboration. Some of its most popular features allow you to do things like record a “duet” or add “reactions” to videos with a tap. The functionality is very simplistic, making it compellingly easy to participate. In-app filters and effects result in highly snackable eye candy, ready to be consumed.


Referred to as “the only truly pleasant social network in existence” by The New York Times and as a “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine” by the Verge, TikTok isn’t a place for bragging, bullies or trolls. The app has become a cultural gathering place for teens and tweens to express themselves creatively and without judgment—two of Gen Z’s most defining attributes. As its popularity grows, the normcore masses are starting to take notice as niche communities like nurses, the military and firefighters are getting in on the action. The entire ecosystem is predicated on open participation, embracing vulnerability and rewarding creativity.

Some of the most popular memes are family-friendly videos around science experiments (2 million views), finger dancing (592 million views), video games (25 million views) and the ever-popular magic tricks (3.2 billion views).

Innocent memes like the Gummy Bear + Adele videos are entertaining and safe for any audience. The HariboChallenge videos have gotten over 16 million views and feature the edible entertainers “singing” along to Adele’s “Someone Like You.” This simple premise is a great example of an entry point for consumer brands, especially those in the CPG, retail and entertainment spaces. The Chinese version of TikTok, called “Douyin,” has already seen paid activations from Pizza Hut, Michael Kors, Oreo and Adidas.

Singing and dancing aside, TikTok isn’t right for every brand and its reach is currently less than its older peers. In the U.S. for example, the app has 100 million users, half of Facebook’s 200 million, though not far off from Instagram’s 104 million. Daily use of TikTok has some catching up to do as well. Currently, only 28 percent of users open the app every day, while Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are approaching the 95 percent mark. That said, daily use of TikTok increased 67 percent in the second half of 2018 alone.

What’s Next?

The next 12-18 months will resemble the early days of TikTok’s predecessors like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram when substantial organic growth was still possible. Bold CMOs with a mandate to engage younger audiences have a clear test-and-learn opportunity before them that can translate into deeper, more authentic relationships with the world’s largest generation of consumers.

Best advice for a brand exploring the platform? Embrace the weirdness, keep things authentic and be willing to cede some brand control in exchange for Gen Z relevance.

“Since The Dawn Of Social Media, We’ve Grown Accustomed To The Feed”

Adweek Featured – Anthony Cospito, Head of Strategy

“Since the dawn of social media, we’ve grown accustomed to the feed. We were fine with our FOMO-fueled vertical scrolling—until stories came along and changed the game. Even the most resource-challenged CMOs are realizing the need to develop their story strategy, a decision supported by three key drivers: engagement, visibility and insights.

If there is one metric that drives all digital marketing, it’s engagement. No other indicator contributes as much to online success. Higher engagement rates directly impact how the algorithms rank brand accounts on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. When followers engage more often, they deepen their relationship to the brand, which has been quantitatively proven to drive growth.
Since early 2016, use of stories has increased 987 percent across Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook and Messenger, according to a report from Block Party. Stories have also seen a highly engaged growth rate 15 times higher than feeds. But what sparked this change in the first place?
As with most innovations in recent memory, we have smartphones to thank. Back in the early days of social, feeds were designed for desktops, but stories were born in the camera culture. Our phones became content collectors that empowered us to craft full-screen digital experiences through combining photos, videos, audio, gifs and text.
Snapchat launched stories in 2016, and Instagram popularized the format soon after. With over one billion social accounts now creating stories daily, they are becoming the bridge between social content and leaving the feed to fend for itself.
Although 81 percent of Snapchat users engage with stories compared to 60 percent on Instagram, Instagram has the advantage going forward. One-click distribution across the Facebook ecosystem and a substantially larger user base make it an unfair fight. While Snapchat leads in innovation, Facebook and Instagram have the reach and cash to scale at the speed of digital.
A brand with better rankings from the algorithms is seen by more people. Higher visibility leads to increased awareness, follower growth and organic brand reach. Using as much platform-specific functionality available (GIFS, stickers, polls, questions, songs) also ranks an account higher. In other words, don’t be afraid of a little digital bling.
Leaders are emerging within certain sectors like news, beauty and sports. Their stories include video, photos, questions, polls and GIFS that deepen interest and spark sharing.
The New York Times often uses Instagram Stories to add depth to their reporting and give readers a way to connect beyond the headlines. Their pieces range from emotional vignettes about immigrant families being reunited to empowering profiles of those impacted by the #MeToo movement.
Innovative beauty brands like Glossier haven’t missed a beat when it comes to stories. The highlight icons on their Instagram profiles strategically lead to stories like “Mixtapes,” where you can hear the songs playing in the Glossier showroom. Their stories also include downloadable wallpaper designs, product content like Zit Stick and Haloscope and a History option that tells the backstory of their flagship location. Even in stories, Glossier is leveraging their omnichannel advantage.
Sports teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Sounders and San Francisco Giants got into the game early and see stories as a way to huddle up with fans. Some teams even cast their stories to stadium jumbotrons, driving massive visibility.
Considering that stories can (and should) be interactive, they are also a powerful way for brands to learn from their followers. Identifying top stories with high completion rates, including polls, asking questions (via stickers) and mining responses are simple ways to gain insights from these valuable connections.
The direct-to-consumer shoe brand Allbirds uses Instagram Stories to answer customer questions, get feedback on new product concepts and introduce new collaborations like its new Shake Shack shoe (free Hokey Pokey shake included).
These are the early days in the growth of stories. Innovations within the format are constant and increasingly add richness to the experience. Most recently, Instagram added the ability to shop from stories, creating a new way for brands to drive revenue. Given the rise of dark social, platforms like Giphy and Emogi are becoming effective distribution channels for branded content that builds awareness across millions of consumer-created stories.
While the feed served our need in the early days of social, stories are evolving the narrative. Strategic brands should embrace the opportunity and use it to tell their most engaging tales.”

“To Start, An Experiential Event Shouldn’t Be Contained To The Event Itself”

WWD Featured – Quynh Mai, Founder & CEO

To start, an experiential event shouldn’t be contained to the event itself; rather, it should include a carefully planned social and content strategy that touches the consumer before, during and after the event in a consistent, thoughtfully orchestrated way. From the beginning, invites before the event should entice consumers with an ephemeral experience. The invites themselves should be Instagram-worthy. Once arrived, every detail that goes into the activation should feel consistent with the brand persona and ethos. > READ ARTICLE

3 reasons you need to rethink your social media strategy


With ad costs rising for brands to reach their fans and followers across social media, forward thinkers are switching strategy – and going direct.

Organic reach is waning on two of the largest social platforms, Facebook and Instagram. Core to their model, Facebook offers paid options to reach more fans, as does Instagram. We’ve hit the pay to play threshold.

After reaching critical mass with 1 billion DAU (daily active users), it’s no surprise that Facebook is ramping up monetization. The problem is that organic reach on Facebook isn’t just slowing – it’s in free fall, down from 16% in 2012, to 11% in 2015 – and project to dip to 7% in 2016 according to AdWeek.

Instagram growth is also down 93% with engagement plummeting 70% in 2015, according to a study by Locowise.

With the average Instagram user now following 400 to 500 accounts, any kind of interaction is fleeting at best.

The age of “build your social network for free” has transformed to “pay to engage fans at scale” – platform owners win big, brands get squeezed. Understandable in the capitalistic grand scheme of things, you can’t make the rules if you don’t own the room. Unless you do.

One company out to change the game is Mightybell, a SaaS customer community platform, purpose built for direct customer engagement. Led by social networking visionary Gina Bianchini (co-founder of Ning), Mightybell leverages the ubiquity of smartphones to connect brands with 100% of their base, not a declining percentage.

Brands like Intuit QuickBooks and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took notice and launched their own niche networks on Mightybell in 2013. Intuit, for example, has created OWN IT, the most active social network for small business owners and the self-employed with 100,000 members on the platform. The benefit is that members are building relationships with each other, not just the brand.

This quality of customer engagement at scale can generate network effects that spark innovation and help brands stay relevant – especially true for Millennials and Gen Z.

Mightybell screens

Customer communities on Mightybell, Intuit’s OWN IT community shown in center.

These customer platforms aren’t new and have evolved quickly with the rise of mobile. As early as 2002, I worked on CPG customer community projects where participants were extremely high value customers (high spend/high frequency), first in their peer group to try something new, most likely to share new ideas, and would often brainstorm new products. A dream segment for any CMO.

The community approach delivers three key benefits over a standard Facebook or Instagram strategy:

Build vs. Buy – Building a customer community gives brands a chance to own the room and learn from all their customers, anytime needed. It’s a platform that focuses on customer interests, needs and opinions. Without limits on reach, brands can more easily deepen loyalty and engage in an ongoing dialog.

Whitespace vs. Whitenoise – The rise of content marketing and social media as a whole makes it harder for a brand to be heard. Communities offer a way to co-create new products with top-tier customers and tap opportunity gaps before the competition. Deep community engagement drives more ROI than standard social media postings.

Value vs. Vanity – Growing customer lifetime value is critical to long term survival. Brands need to go beyond superficial social media stats and care more about bringing high value customers into the fold, involving them in everything from product development, to packaging, and marketing.

While Facebook and Instagram still have a role in a brand’s social strategy, their roles are changing and the customer community is rising.


Anthony Cospito is Managing Director of Popbox Digital 

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