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By Stefan Pollack

Gen Zers have embraced TikTok, but why? Agency president Stefan Pollack dissects this question and more in a recent Q&A session. The agency also wrote about TikTok in a recent article on Forbes.

Q:  You mention that Tik Tok being the first network for the Gen Z Generation – why do you say that? How do they interact with social media platforms in a different way to, say, millennials?

A: While we don’t have data from TikTok directly, we know that teens use it just as much as Facebook or Twitter and younger members of Gen Z use it even more. The platform is fundamentally different than other social media platforms, because it does not rely upon the users’ followers to see content. TikTok serves up content based upon its algorithm. Therefore, users are connecting with each other based upon whether or not they like the content, not necessarily based upon whether or not the content creator is popular. This approach strips away many of the popularity contests on social media and in many ways democratizes the community, so that anyone can reach anyone, no matter what their following is like.

I think the democratization of social media appeals to Gen Z, because they feel it is a far more authentic experience–real people joking around with real people–then the more manicured and “produced” media on Instagram or Facebook.

Q: You say this generation wants ‘real, raw, honest’ content – can you set out some of the specific ways in which TikTok delivers this? Or is it less about the intention of the platform, and more the way it has happened to have evolved?

A: Because TikTok serves up media based upon an algorithm and not based upon followers, it is engineered to be fleeting. There is less pressure to present yourself as well-produced and professional. It allows for people to be who they are and makes interactions feel more real, because they are emergent. This has fostered a culture of sharing and re-sharing and deriving content, but with one’s own personal spin or mark on it.

We see this in the re-iteration of comedy sketches, or dance routines–users are building off of one another’s creativity and have the opportunity to do so because of how content is distributed on the platform. In brief, the answer is both. The platform is created such that Gen Z can be who they are and build off one another without having to worry about how many followers they have or how to build and cultivate an online community.

Q: Is this authenticity a symptom of a relatively new platform? I.e. will it shift to the more ‘filtered’ content of Instagram in a few years do you think?

A: There are already influencers emerging on TikTok and even though followers aren’t as important, they can still cultivate a following there. Influencers will learn (and are already learning) how to be more effective on the platform and so are necessarily producing their content to be well received. In a way that is a way of filtering as well. At some point the platform will mature and while TikTok will have its charm, the content will likely be more manufactured and feel less authentic.

It would be good, however, for TikTok, other platforms, and marketers to take note of what Gen Z wants from this. They want real experiences with real people and the less it heads down that way of filtered manufactured content, the better.

Q: You suggest that adopting the same level of authenticity is the best way for brands to partner with TikTok in campaigns. In an age of cynicism from consumers, cynicism that extends to the concept of authenticity itself, how can brands achieve this on TikTok?

A: The first step is to listen to your audience. If you know that your values and brand identity match them, then you can and should have an authentic interaction with them simply by being yourself and being present where they are. However, if you come in attempting to be something you not, you’ll violate the audience’s trust. The fact is, TikTok isn’t for everyone. Either it fits your brand identity or it doesn’t. My advice is to embrace it if it does, but don’t go there if it doesn’t.

You can still reach Gen Z without being one of the crowd–tools like influencer marketing, content marketing, and conversion-focused marketing can reach them too. The important thing is to be true to who you are as a brand and authenticity is a natural product of that.