It’s nearly 2020 and social media has been a thing for more than a decade. So it should surprise no one that social media trends come and go. There was MySpace, Vine, Meerkat, Google Plus , Friendster and … so many more platforms that have faded after promising starts that it is hard to remember them all.
Picking which new platforms are worth the time to learn and develop is a serious question for communications professionals, including those at state DOTs. There are only so many hours in a day, and smart managers have to understand their abilities and anticipate trends worth pursuing and those to ignore.
And that is why I think most state DOTs are going to skip TikTok, even though it is one of the fastest growing social platforms.
Don’t worry if you don’t know about TikTok. Formerly known as Musical.ly, the app was purchased by a Beijing-based ByteDance in 2017. The app collects 15-second videos of people lip syncing and dancing. Like other short video apps, viewers can “like” videos.
The app is infectious and it is easy to lose track of time, which could explain why its popularity is growing exponentially with more than 1.5 billion global downloads (122 million U.S. downloads). Typical users spend more than 52 minutes a day on the app.
Axios reported this week that TikTok has surpassed Facebook in popularity with “young” teenagers, age 13-16. Still far behind some of the biggest social platforms, the upward trajectory for TikTok has intensified focus from social media practitioners.
(editor’s note: The dramatic growth of TikTok and its Beijing-based ownership has drawn the scrutiny of federal elected officials concerned about the potential for censorship.)
For now, brands that have chosen to create TikTok content seem to be playing along, waiting for the platform to mature into a more traditional marketing environment. From Walmart to Guess to Calvin Klein, retailers are jumping on board. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has an account. Even the Washington Post has a popular TikTok account.
Why would a news organization that still produces a daily printed newspaper – something few young teens have ever read – want to make fun creative 15-second videos on TikTok?
Dave Jorgenson, the Washington Posts social media expert, said in an interview with Washingtonian Magazine that, “The long-term plan has always been that we’d use this as we use any other platform at the Washington Post.”
But at this point delivering news content on TikTok is foreign to the platform’s culture, so Jorgenson’s strategy, according to the Washingtonian article, is to “jump in and be part of the fun.”
At this point, the rapid rise of TikTok does not mean it will sustain itself. Other promising apps have not had the staying power. Some have evolved from organic user-created content into something else altogether. We cannot say for sure what TikTok will become in the next few years.
And that’s where state DOT communications teams will face their moment of truth. Even if a critical mass of young people are gathering on TikTok, or any other emerging social platform, communications pros will have to decide whether they have the time and resources to “jump in” and join the fun. Or, potentially, miss out.