Rami Zeidan, Head of Video and Creative at TikTok, explains how the platform has grown well beyond lip-sync and funny videos.
What is TikTok today?
TikTok is a short-form video platform for people who want to showcase their creative expression. [Initially,] creators wanted to react to certain songs or movie clips; that got us into lip-syncing and dancing. But we evolved as other creators started showcasing their fashion styles, their food stories and recipes, their sport interests, etc. Now, we’re actually doing learning – there are people teaching English and Arabic now on TikTok.
The final gameplay here is that we’re a two-year old company that was able to provide an environment for the Gen Z generation and to attract a larger audience of 25K+ in MENA, which helped us diversify and grow.
How do you differentiate yourself from social media platforms?
Everyone is in the content and video screening game right now. The thin line becomes on the mode of delivery and the context.
Our content infrastructure is defined by creative expression, not daily logs of what you’re doing. This is about everybody having the ability to create a video across different categories, in a format that is homogenous across the feed. You’re always entertained by the sequence of videos in the feed itself – that’s how people get hooked. There’s no break; you don’t see a full video, then news, and then something else. The mood is always about people giving you a story, with a start and an end.
Once you have that volume of content and that diversification of subjects, the product becomes extremely important. Number one is personalization. The main page of TikTok is called “For You,” because it’s meant to show you content that you love, not the content of the people you follow – there’s a side page for that.
And today, as an ecosystem, the value proposition that we’re putting to the market is also unique. Do not come to TikTok to become famous; come to TikTok to promote what you do. We have a dedicated team working with creators to help them, develop them, nurture them and level their game up. That’s why at the beginning of the year, we launched the TikTok Creative Academy. We obviously help them monetize and generate revenue as we grow that model.
So, the value proposition to creators and the specificity around videos created by human beings on your personalized feed, is what makes us unique today.
How is your audience structured and growing in the region?
Across all markets, Internet penetration and video consumption [rates] are very high while the attention span is low. All of that is allowing us to have accelerated growth. So, although we do not necessarily show actual numbers, you can rest assured that, in line with the global trend of 1.5 billion downloads, we see similar trends across the region.
The beauty about our audience in MENA is that it’s very well balanced in terms of age groups – Gen Z and Millennials – and genders. Our user base is representative of the population. And we’re starting to see the adoption of the platform by celebrities, government bodies, corporations, publishers and broadcasters.
The old 1-9-90 model – 1% create, 9% engage and 90% consume – is no longer the model here. Everybody’s creating, everybody’s engaging and everybody’s consuming at the same time.
Do you engage with influencers differently from regular users?
Our mission and what we stand for is inspiring creativity to bring joy. This means we want everybody who has an idea to do something. The differentiation comes in a creative capacity. There are some talents that go over and beyond to create original content. We identify the 1% who are putting more time, more effort to create more engagement and more unique content; we engage with them and we create that pool that hopefully will grow. The end goal is to create a value ecosystem for creators that will allow us to help them do what they do.
How do you engage with brands?
Brands have been stretched between traditional advertising content and influencer marketing. Now, we’re a solution for them to tap into a wider creative pool to create stories. A recent case study with KitKat had us create a campaign that got one billion views in MENA. This was a game of finding the right music developer to create a song; the right narrative to create different stories around “Take a Break, Take a KitKat;” working with a storyteller, a producer, a dancer to bring the story to life… People related and it just picked up. We use the ‘super creators,’ if you want to call them that, to help instigate and inspire more.
Three key pillars are extremely important in this experience. Number one is content environment. We first educate clients on what’s on TikTok. Number two is safety. It’s extremely important for us to showcase the safety measures that we put in place and to keep the market updated with our latest developments in technology, moderation and features – like Family Pairing that allows parents to control their kid’s account when it comes to privacy, private messages, screen time, etc. Your brand is safe in this well-controlled environment that only allows creative expression and that is well moderated. Thirdly, it needs to be a journey. Every company has a different strategy. Some have a fixed formula and some are daring, wanting to try something new. You’d be surprised how many government entities have been jumping on challenges. We worked with His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Global Initiatives last year to promote Arab Hope Makers. We’ve done “Create for Good” with Red Crescent. We’ve had partnerships with WHO and UNICEF recently around covid-19 education.
Many people come to us saying they don’t know what to do and our answer is: Tell us what you want and we’ll tell you how you can do it on TikTok. We’re not reinventing the wheel. All we’re saying is that there is an evolution in consumer desires when it comes to content formats. We’ve just been lucky that we hit the sweet spot when we created an environment that excludes live blogging and includes creative expression in a way where virality comes by design, not by chance.