Despite India’s Ban, TikTok’s COVID-19 Rise Still Matters For Advertisers

The biggest ‘winner’ of COVID-19 isn’t Purell or toilet paper, it’s TikTok. Usage of the social media app, which enables users to create, share and react to short-form music videos, is skyrocketing during the pandemic.

And while today’s news that India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, is an admitted setback, it’s too early to write the app’s demise. India previously banned TikTok in April 2019 and the restriction proved short-lived.

Take a step back into the broader landscape and the numbers are compelling: In Q1, TikTok received 315 million downloads – that’s more quarterly downloads than any app in history. The timing of TikTok’s success is pretty intuitive. As millions quarantine, social distance and spend much more time at home, TikTok offers an escape from depressing news, social isolation — and well, boredom. Combine these circumstances and it’s no surprise: TikTok boasts over two billion downloads.

Even factor in today’s announcement: India accounts for roughly 30% of TikTok’s total downloads and about 120 million monthly active users. Remove those from the app’s 800 million monthly active users and TikTok still surpasses many of the top social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Here’s more on why TikTok – the platform once dismissed by some advertisers as a wonky Gen Z pastime — is still a valuable marketing tool for business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies alike.

It’s an Upbeat Escape

TikTok’s website says its mission is “to inspire creativity and bring joy.” In a time when there is a barrage of intensely depressing news, users crave this upbeat escape.

This is notably distinct than some of the more traditional social media apps such as Twitter, which says their mission is “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.” With this purpose, it’s no surprise that users turn to the platform for ­real-time updates and news-sharing. TikTok’s short videos offer a markedly different levity.

That’s why TikTok is seeing traditionally serious and conservative users, such as the Uffizi Gallery, take to the platform. With 90% of museums in the world closed due to COVID-19, the Uffizi Gallery leveraged TikTok as a platform to engage prospective donors, visitors and a broader digital community by sharing a variety of COVID-19 inspired memes, including one of Botticelli’s Primavera, making light of social distancing.

It’s an Engaged Audience

“Content is king” is a fairly basic principle in the digital world so if people enjoy what they watch, chances are they will spend more time on the platform. The average TikTok user spends about 45 minutes on the app every day and U.S. users launch the app roughly 8 times every day.

Perhaps more importantly for advertisers, users are also spending on the platform. In fact, lifetime user spending on TikTok tops $450 million.

It’s a Massive, Global Audience

While 30% of TikTok’s total downloads are from India, it’s still available in 154 countries and usage is rapidly increasing in many of those markets, including the U.S. where users grew 5.5 times in less than 18 months.

In terms of revenue, China accounts $331 million of the app’s total, with the U.S. in second at $86.5 million and Great Britain in third with about $9 million.

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, also has a team based in India who will reportedly work with local authorities to address security concerns.

It’s Not Owned by Facebook

Facebook owns four of the six most downloaded apps in May 2020 (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger). The exceptions are Zoom and TikTok.  As advertisers grow frustrated with Facebook’s political advertising policy and potentially fatigued by targeting the same audiences audiences and spending in the same campaign structures, TikTok offers ripe opportunity as a new platform with distinct advertising capabilities, audiences and metrics.

It’s a Diverse Audience

Females on TikTok outnumber males nearly 2:1 in the U.S, whereas males eclipse females on the more traditional social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

TikTok is also a key driver in cultural movements, moments and celebrations. While the platform is not immune to technical fails (they encountered a temporary glitch with the Black Lives Matter hashtag and they were recently ‘Zoombombed’ during a Pride event), TikTok was still an important mechanism in driving conversation, support, creativity and safety during the Black Lives Matter movement and the app is a vital forum for the LGBTQ community.

TikTok needs to continue to double down on diversity and inclusion but based on a series of announcements, including a personal message from new CEO Kevin Mayer, the platform is serious about its commitment to equality.

It can Fix This

It’s been a rocky ride for TikTok but the app is still in its nascent stage – it was founded less than four years ago – and it can fix this. Yes, TikTok needs to address cybersecurity concerns and yes, TikTok needs to be more committed to equality among creators – but with focus from top leadership and collaboration with local governments, TikTok can still win. Ultimately, TikTok still has the two most important factors in driving a platform’s advertising success: a massive and highly-engaged user base.

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