TikTok was the most downloaded app during the first quarter of 2018, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it.

Just like so many platforms that creep up unawares, TikTok looks set to take the social media world by storm. In fact, many would argue it’s already doing just that.

So, if you’re into making viral videos or run a small business, is TikTok really a platform you can rely on to reach a big, engaged audience?

What is TikTok, exactly?

We’ve put together a great guide to TikTok, but it’s worth delving into its origins again before we explain its merits and downsides.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that’s been around since 2012. The app is an amalgamation of an original app created by ByteDance and the relatively well-known Musical.ly service, which the company bought in 2017 for around $1 billion.

Following the lead of other video sharing platforms, TikTok allows users to create 15 or 60-second video clips and soundtrack them to music. Filters can be added thereafter, but the beauty of TikTok lies in its simplicity.

It definitely has a musical edge, but, in truth, can be used for all manner of purposes by influencers, brands and people who just want to get creative with short video.

Have the big brands jumped on TikTok?

If you sign up for a TikTok account today (which, incidentally, is free), you’re unlikely to be flooded with too many adverts from brands.

That’s a comforting thought as a user, but if you’re a small business owner, does this mean TikTok is unlikely to be a platform that’s right for you any time soon?

Not necessarily. Despite the rather small number of adverts (the ad platform is still in the works, according to reports), big brands are on it. ASOS and Gymshark, in particular, are tapping into TikTok’s cost-effective way to get influencers on board – with or without the help of a video production agency.

With TikTok sitting highly in the app charts for both iOS and Android, it’s reasonable to expect that more big brands will jump on this bandwagon – particularly when the advertising platform starts to take shape.

Who’s the audience?

This is a little harder to define – partly because TikTok is still in its relative infancy compared to platforms like YouTube.

However, it’s fair to assume that a large portion of the TikTok user base will be made up of Gen Z and people who are particularly inspired by music.

This is a worthwhile audience for many brands and small businesses, but it’s important to remember that there isn’t currently a way to target that audience with advertising unless you’re a super brand. (at least at the time of writing, but we’re expecting more advertising options to be available soon)

It’s difficult to predict exactly what ByteDance will do with TikTok’s advertising approach, but the ability to pick and choose your audience like you can on Facebook Ads is probably some distance away.

Is it useful for generating leads?

One downside of TikTok for ‘regular’ business users at the moment is the inability to link back to your website. Therefore, even if you decide to sign up for an account and experiment, you will not be able to drive traffic to your website.

Some of the big brands appear to be getting around this, such as Nike, who have links to their website on their TikTok content – although those links still open within the TikTok app.

So, unless you get particularly creative with your videos, TikTok shouldn’t be seen as a lead generating machine – just yet.

Conclusion

You might think we’ve concluded that TikTok isn’t worth the time and effort for small businesses at the moment… but you’d be wrong.

Despite the lack of advertising options for small businesses, TikTok is still a video sharing service that demands the attention of most businesses.

We recommend getting signed up, observing what others are doing and having a play with your own content. Like any social media service, the sooner you get on board, the sooner you can benefit from the advancements they make for brands further down the line.