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TikTok moves the clock – and worlds

Part of the secret of TikTok’s success is its ability to create a “world of worlds”, Greg Bailie tells ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.


In the digital era, when the establishment rails against the counterculture, one can be certain that the counterculture will soon become the establishment, or at least part of it. TikTok is a classic example, seen initially by adults as a dance-obsessed expression of youth culture, and now by Western politicians as an existential threat. Despite the US government banning it from employees’ phones, however, the video-sharing platform continues to thrive, and continually embeds itself deeper and deeper into all aspects of society.

In South Africa, it is now the second most popular social network, after Facebook. According to the SA Social Media Landscape 2023 study produced at the end of June by World Wide Worx and brand intelligence company Ornico, 30% of South Africans aged 15 and above use the network. This compares to Facebook at 56% and third-placed Instagram at 27%.

This means that the impact that TikTok is making globally is not lost on this country – and that includes the manner in which it has created almost a new economy globally.

TikTok is credited with single-handedly – or perhaps single-networkly – rejuvenating reading worldwide, thanks to a simple hashtag: #BookTok. So powerful has been its impact, that entire sections of bookstores, in South Africa as in other countries, are devoted to books recommended on TikTok. The BookTok sections of Exclusive Books and Wordsworth stores are symbolic of a reawakening of reading among youth.

Such rekindling of interest in traditional activity is now a hallmark of TikTok and its growth, says Greg Bailie, who heads up and manages agency partnerships for TikTok in Sub Saharan Africa.

“We talk about a world of worlds in TikTok. We’ve seen the rise of communities and digital campfires. We’ve seen the rise of BookTok, SkinTok, BeautyTok, you name it. There’s toks on toks. Essentially it’s communities congregating around their various passions or their interests and it’s brought them together.

“We’ve seen this community amplification, where the users come in and review products and brands that they use and love every day. The great example is BookTok, which has had about 165-billion video views globally. It’s revolutionised book sales. Book sales globally are at an all-time high.

“It comes down to this community amplification, which is so unique. Users are coming back in, reviewing the books that they read, and then driving that online and offline purchase behaviour.”

The impact in South Africa has gone beyond bookstores.

“We’ve seen it across all industries, from consumer packaged goods all the way through to financial services. From the rise of FinTok all the way through to businesses driving online and offline sales.”

Bailie acknowledges that people come to TikTok mainly to be entertained, but says that it is increasingly used to discover new products. This in turn drives consideration of the product, and ultimately conversion. The emergence of FinTok is as surprising as that of BookTok.

“FinTok is essentially the rise of financial-geared content, which is centered around financial savviness and financial education. What we’ve seen in particular is younger audiences turning to the platform to drive up their savviness around finance, savings, investing, you name it. We’ve seen a lot of the financial services (providers) tap into this and create content around it.”

The strength of TikTok, says Bailie, lies not only in its entertainment factor, but in “edutainment”.

“Users are there to be educated at the same time as being entertained.”

One of the drivers of this trend is the fact that, globally, the platform’s biggest growth audience is between the ages of 25 and 44.

“As an older audience comes onto the platform, you see this massive diversification of content, which leads back to the rise of all the various communities and the rise of the world of worlds.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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