TikTok won’t save you

Looks like the only social network we’re talking about today is TikTok.

That’s where Gen Z is. It’s growing exponentially. Agencies and brands invest resources in TikTok to the exclusion of all others. Every other social network tries to be TikTok, investing in short videos at a breakneck pace, trying to emulate the addictive algorithm that keeps so many of us scrolling all day.

Should your brand be on TikTok? Most likely. It is growing, especially with younger and desirable demographics. It’s a dynamic storytelling tool and an opportunity to reach new audiences with smart, relatively crude video.

Let’s take a careful look at the past before trusting TikTok.

Upworthy’s Downfall

Upworthy was one of the fastest growing media companies of all time. Known for its viral social content aggregations and titles that relied heavily on emotion and “you won’t believe what happened next”, the company experienced explosive growth in the early 2010s, fueled in large part by by organic distribution via Facebook.

Then the algorithm changed.

Within a year, the company’s average number of unique monthly visitors fell from 68 million to 20 million, NPR reported in 2017.

Facebook said the change was because when users clicked on Upworthy content, it bounced back quickly. It wasn’t a quality experience, Facebook said, because titles were overpromised and underdelivered. The Upworthy CEO insists Facebook wanted to push its own content instead.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

The company is still in business, but it’s a shadow of its former self. Their almost total reliance on Facebook has made them completely vulnerable to any changes from the social media giant.

This is not an isolated incident. Look at any algorithm-based social network and you’ll find similar sad stories. Watch Instagram with food companies, or go to TikTok itself to see little artists and creators crying because TikTok built their business — and with an algorithm change, destroyed it overnight.

To diversify

These are obviously extreme extreme cases The success of social media has built many of these businesses in the first place. I hope you are not dependent on just one stream of income.

But even if you’re looking to allocate your time, attention, and budget to public relations and social media, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially a basket you don’t own.

Yes, you have to be on social media these days. It’s non-negotiable in almost every business. But be sure to invest at least some of your time and resources in the platforms you own, whether it’s brand journalism or blogging on your website, a solid plan email newsletter or a creative events strategy. Even mainstream media relations, while independent and unpredictable, should at least cater to real people, not strings of anonymous numbers analyzing your every online desire.

It’s also a reminder that an influencer strategy can be a way to get on a platform without having to spend a huge amount of time building your own audience and content. Especially if you’re unsure if TikTok is right for you, partner with an influencer who speaks to your audience. Let them use the algorithm for you. The finite nature of these partnerships allows you to get involved and be seen on trending platforms without needing to reorient your entire strategy.

The future

All signals point to TikTok being a dominant player for some time to come. It fundamentally changed the way the internet works. However, with questions about ties to China and surveillance and the inherently volatile nature of social media, nothing is certain.

Protect your organization. Don’t put your eggs in one basket. Better yet, create your own shopping cart.

Allison Carter is the editor of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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