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Why brands should treat TikTok more like a search engine than a social media platform

Originally published on The Drum

TikTok promises new opportunities for content engagement and paths to purchase, particularly when brands effectively leverage the platform’s search capabilities, writes Kirsty King of Nativex.

Gen Z has yearned for a more organic, user-focused approach to internet usage. TikTok has been able to accomplish what other media platforms up til now have not – and that’s to create a community where user input isn’t just encouraged; it necessitates the platform. With this community comes loyalty and a space where information sharing is becoming increasingly more common. 

With this, TikTok may have inadvertently stumbled across a massive digital gem – search. Recent news that almost 40% of Gen Z internet users are not using Google Search products for discovery has given even more credence to TikTok’s immersive video approach to the internet.  TikTok thrives off trending content, and its search functionality is no different. Accounting for and analyzing trends will be a key differentiator between a brand’s Google and TikTok search strategy. Including your brand in the TikTok discussion will blur the lines between social and search and make it easier for user product discovery.

So how can TikTok provide better ROI and keep your brand front of mind?

TikTok’s main draw is its ability to maintain and engage users organically. It’s apparent throughout the platform and its ad products – from user-generated content to the hashtag challenges that have become a staple to companies looking to boost brand awareness. 

Purchasing decisions 

One of the most powerful ways to fuel marketing growth on TikTok is by engaging throughout the path to purchase. TikTok drives purchasing decisions differently, diverging from the traditional linear approach to purchase and instead opting for a self-described ‘infinite-loop’ – one where search, reviews, and participation can all have an equal impact and opt-in rates. It’s crucial for brands to understand this and not simply allocate resources to media buying. Furthermore, community building will be vital as users can quickly become brand advocates through hashtag challenges, ‘how-to,’ or reviews. Prioritizing participation is an established post-purchase marketing tactic, but it has rarely been utilized as a tool for discovery and ‘buy-in.’ New marketers to TikTok can harness this with the right approach. 

Diversify your marketing mix

Recommendation-based marketing is changing and now relies more heavily on engagement, so prioritizing engaging content doesn’t have to be costly. Working with influencers can be a cost-effective alternative to Google Search or Shopping if you understand the audience and the influencer’s niche well enough. Small, Gen Z-focused brands are succeeding with this strategy – especially in competitive verticals such as beauty and fashion. 

Although TikTok continues to surge in popularity, it’s important to remember that relevance will be a better metric for success than reach. Here, micro-influencers will better resonate with your target audience as users look for authentic, localized content. Localization is especially important for brands with specific location or language requirements as it will help you identify relevant keywords and hashtags during campaign planning. 

In conclusion

TikTok search discovery will allow brands and apps to diversify their marketing approach on TikTok. Creator-driven content strategy has already opened the door for brands to better engage with users, and with TikTok’s renowned recommendations algorithms, search will provide more user touchpoints for conversion.