TikTok opens doors to NZ advertisers – should your company take the risk?

Pretty much any Kiwi business with a credit card can now officially advertise on TikTok, following the rollout of the company’s self-serve advertising platform in New Zealand.

Until now, only a select group of New Zealand companies and the Government have been able to slip adverts into users’ TikTok feeds.

Simon Connolly, the small to medium business lead for TikTok across Australia and New Zealand, described it as a significant milestone for businesses that want to connect with the TikTok community.

The self-serve advertising platform is not dissimilar from what businesses can already access via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but Connolly believes TikTok has a point of difference from the other players in the market.

“What makes us unique is that we are really an entertainment platform,” Connolly tells the Herald.

“This separates us from the other players in the market, which are closed-wall social media platforms that are about connecting with people or brands. What we’re really about and what’s at our core is discoverability.”

Driving this discoverability is the powerful TikTok algorithm, which quickly identifies what might interest you on the platform.

“I think this really appeals to SMEs because when you’re a smaller company, trying to get your name out there, a tool like TikTok can really help you get discovered both within New Zealand or even globally.”

As is the case with any social platform, the quality of the content will ultimately determine how well it does on social media.

Connolly says the most successful use of TikTok comes from companies that develop their content specifically for the platform.

This rule of thumb has also been stressed in regard to other platforms, where many brands still simply push standard television commercials through social media channels.

While the aesthetics are an acquired taste, the creative standards on TikTok are unique for a platform built on the bizarre dances and quirky lip syncs of its early content creators.

Connolly notes that brands have the power to see what’s resonating in real-time and evolve their content based on what works.

“You need to double-down on what’s working and then build that into your media strategy for TikTok,” he says.

The rapid evolution of digital media has shown time and again that FOMO and the desire to be on-trend are strong motivators capable of encouraging even major brands to give it a try.

But is the risk of experimentation worth it when it comes to TikTok?

Tim Dorrian, the managing director of marketing company Aro Digital, notes that Tiktok remains a niche social platform in this market.

As is customary among major tech companies that play in the New Zealand market, TikTok refuses to release any data on the number of users it has in the local market.

However, Dorrian references research showing that only around 26 per cent of New Zealand internet users currently dabble on TikTok each month.

The research from digital agency Mosh as part of its New Zealand Facebook and Instagram Report for 2021 shows this is far behind the 83.5 per cent of users on Facebook, 57 per cent on Instagram and 32.8 per cent on Snapchat.

Even business-themed social network site LinkedIn comes in ahead of TikTok at 36.7 per cent.

That said, TikTok has quickly caught up to Twitter, which remains only a whisker ahead at 27.6 per cent.

Dorrian adds that Twitter is even less popular among Kiwi businesses, of which only around 7 per cent have TikTok accounts compared to around 93 per cent on Facebook.

There are two things to take from this. On the one hand, Titok is an uncluttered space for businesses to occupy, but. on the other, it’s also an area most businesses won’t be familiar with.

“Because we’ve had no TikTok ads up until this point, we currently have no TikTok ad specialists in this market,” says Dorrian.

“The biggest risk for brands lies in producing cringe marketing – and that’s never a good place to be.

“I don’t think it’s the type of thing that would make or break a brand unless they really stuffed something up, but it could have a negative impact on the brand’s perception.”

Dorrian anticipates a period of trial and error as companies attempt to work out what fits on the platform.

The emergence of TikTok as an advertising platform also presents the opportunity for younger staff members to step up and help businesses navigate their way through the platform.

“It’s going to be hard for marketing and business managers to get their heads around how to create an effective ad on that platform and have it fit nicely into the feed,” Dorrian says.

“I think what it does though is present some interesting employment opportunities for younger New Zealanders who have had years using this platform.”

Magichollow founder Adam Thompson has been among the first companies in New Zealand to give the platform a test run and he’s impressed by what he’s seen – particularly when compared to other popular digital media channels.

“We started the business about nine years ago on Facebook, and owe it a lot to getting us where we are now,” Thompson says.

“[But] these days it’s a bit of a graveyard. Instagram was also one of the first platforms we used to market our brand and drive reach and engagement with our community
– we spent a long time building our community. Then, we got onto TikTok and started running ads and straight away our followers jumped up massively. We had over 1000 new followers overnight. TikTok is far more affordable and effective than Instagram for us.”

These metrics are great for a smaller brand looking to reach consumers on the younger side, but it’s questionable how much they’d push the dial for any bigger enterprises.

Johnson also stressed that brands need to be creative and focus on smart storytelling if they want to stand out on TikTok – which doesn’t come as naturally for other brands.

So far, the highest-profile advertiser on TikTok in New Zealand has been the New Zealand Government, which has used the platform as part of its Covid-19 messaging strategy to reach younger New Zealanders.

This shows the value of the platform in spreading awareness of important social messaging, but it’s a double-edged sword.

“You’ve got the digital equivalent of the town square,” says Dorrian, explaining tools that can be used for a socially responsible message could just as easily be used for something more nefarious.

TikTok’s Connolly told the Herald that the company has “robust community guidelines” about what will and won’t be allowed on the platform. He says that anything in breach of these policies will be removed.

But this is a line that we’ve heard from all the major platforms over the past few years, and we’ve seen time and again that moderation at scale is easier said than done.

Dorrian says that self-moderation – mostly conducted by users reporting inappropriate content – plays an essential role in keeping these platforms free of inappropriate content.

The problem, however, is that the line between appropriate and inappropriate is a tricky grey area that’s proving incredibly challenging for digital companies to resolve on a daily basis.

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