TikTok's rise: reshaping the future of search and discovery

Tapping into TikTok’s 'infinite-loop' of search, reviews, and participation can unlock a treasure trove of community engagement for brands. But to do this requires a strategy that goes beyond traditional creative and advertising spend.

While TikTok's allure grows, brands must be wary of not mistaking sheer reach for genuine engagement, warns Yikai Li, General Manager of Europe & North America at Nativex.

In the ever-evolving digital age, Gen Z is reshaping how we consume content, gravitating towards platforms prioritizing authenticity and community-driven interactions. TikTok stands out in this regard, distinguishing itself from other media platforms by encouraging and actively requiring user input. This dynamic has fostered an unmatched sense of loyalty and transformed TikTok into a primary hub for information exchange.

The rise of video content 

People's digital consumption preferences are undergoing a seismic shift. The video format, especially in search results, is seeing a rapid surge in popularity. Users are seeking a richer and more dynamic approach to information discovery, and platforms like TikTok offer an added layer of personal touch and interactivity to complement traditional search results.

TikTok's search functionality is a sophisticated blend of intuitive design and user-centric features. Unlike traditional platforms, where keywords dominate search dynamics, TikTok infuses an immersive experience into discovery. Hashtags, for instance, become more than mere categorizations – they evolve into challenges, themes, or narratives of trending stories. And it doesn't stop there. The platform offers the unique capability to search based on sounds or music clips. A single trending track can catapult to the centerpiece of countless videos, and a user's search for that melody can lead them to a diverse array of content – from dance routines to parodies. Even without a specific query in mind, TikTok ensures discovery remains central. Simply tapping into the search tab reveals a buffet of trending videos and topics, underscoring the platform's commitment to spontaneous content exploration.

This is particularly evident when considering TikTok's unique approach to discovery and the unparalleled organic user engagement it generates. The platform's hashtag challenges have become a brand awareness staple not just confined to user-generated content. What sets TikTok apart from its competitors is its active engagement ethos. Users are passive consumers and active participants, often diving into trends, challenges, and duets. Such initiatives create a rich, communal atmosphere that distinguishes TikTok from platforms like Instagram, which, while emphasizing engagement, still predominantly relies on more passive interactions like likes, comments, and shares.

Discovery and personalisation  

Regarding discovery, TikTok's "For You Page" is a tailored content hub capable of propelling even new creators to virality. On the other hand, platforms like Instagram, though offering personalised suggestions, take a more expansive view, showcasing trending and popular content, thereby offering a more diversified discovery experience.

TikTok's spontaneity in design ethos extends to user behavior as well. The platform thrives on real-time content consumption, often blurring the lines between mere viewing and active participation. Enticed by a trending dance challenge or a viral theme, users can instantaneously join the wave, making their content part of the larger narrative. But TikTok's genius doesn't lie solely in its large-scale trends. The algorithm's precision in surfacing content from budding influencers or everyday users means that discovery is perpetually fresh and diverse.

This democratised approach ensures that while big names hold sway, the next viral star could be anyone. Interactive elements, such as duets or stitches, further amplify this sense of community-driven discovery. Users are passive consumers and collaborators, shaping and reshaping content narratives daily.

Brands and TikTok 

Engaging users throughout their buying journey is a core tenet of TikTok's approach. The platform's 'infinite-loop' strategy ensures that search, reviews, and participation are intertwined, pushing brands to focus more on fostering community engagement than just on advertising spend. The significance of recommendation-based marketing, especially on a platform like TikTok, highlights that brands can no longer rely solely on traditional search methods. Collaborations with influencers offer a more budget-friendly and impactful alternative, especially if brands can efficiently leverage the influencer's dedicated audience.

However, while TikTok's allure grows, brands must be wary of not mistaking sheer reach for genuine engagement. In the world of TikTok, micro-influencers, with their authentic, localized content, can often be more influential than major celebrities. This nuanced approach becomes especially relevant as the platform contemplates integrating external search links, which could amplify the importance of localized and genuine content.

Looking Forward 

TikTok is undoubtedly revolutionizing how brands approach search and discovery. Its unique content strategy, coupled with sophisticated recommendation algorithms, presents a myriad of touchpoints for user conversion. As the contours of the digital search landscape undergo a transformation, the onus is on brands to stay agile, recognizing and capitalizing on these nascent opportunities.

By Yikai Li

General Manager of Europe & North America