NEW YORK — TikTok doesn’t report user numbers publicly. Recent reports have pegged its user base at anywhere between 260 to 500 million, but those estimates may be low. “It’s not a billion, but it’s not half that either,” TikTok VP Blake Chandlee said cagily during a talk at Advertising Week in New York Monday. The audience giggled at the lack of clarity, but his comment indicates the video platform is more popular than many realize.

TikTok VP Blake Chandlee speaking with Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia at Advertising Week 2019and Snapchat, it’s more a platform to watch and engage with content than to connect with friends and family. Vaynerchuk pushed back on that idea, saying text messaging has become the place for friends and family for many consumers, while TikTok is very much a social network in the way younger audiences use it. I can attest to this in my own household: kids watch videos from other creators on TikTok, but they largely create, share and comment among their own friend groups.

Global growth, regionally managed

Chandlee noted TikTok has seen a lot of grown in India and other parts of Asia. TikTok’s global presence is managed by individual teams in their respective markets. And though the platform is owned by Chinese internet firm ByteDance, which bought Musical.ly in 2017 and integrated it into the TikTok app, Chandlee emphasized thatTikTok does not operate in China. “It’s autonomous from the Chinese side of the business. We run it outside of the Chinese market, and we run a very locally-centered business. The U.S. is run by teams in the U.S. The European business is run by teams in Europe.”

Early adopters will gain the attention edge

Vaynerchuk called on the marketers in the audience to think about the attention opportunity on TikTok now rather than getting wrapped up in concerns about what its lifespan will be. Now is the time content and creators can gain huge audiences and engagement really fast. “It’s not super complicated. It went really fast on Vine, too. It went really fast on Instagram when Instagram didn’t have enough creators making for it. This is one big game of supply and demand of content and the attention on the other side,” he said. “This is the one game played over and over again.”

He compared it to brands sitting on the sidelines watching podcast growth because the reporting mechanisms aren’t in place. “I mean, there’s no confusion that there’s an enormous amount of people listening to podcasts. But watching people not buy ads because reporting isn’t in place yet.” He argues even if and when a network like Vine goes away, brands that were on the platfom “take the brand equity” with them.

Mainstream brands are jumping in, experimenting

Chandlee said in the past month or so, brands have flocked to TikTok: “There’s been a real inflection point.” Many mainstream and powerful brands are getting on the platform, Chandlee said, and experimenting. “When I talk to leading brands, I keep trying to say is we want to be different. We want brands to be this first-class citizen in the graph, so that when people see the content, they actually engage with it.” In other words, they can’t try to repurpose what they’re doing on other platforms.

The NFL, the NBA, Nike, Burberry, Samsung, HP, Chipoltle and Walmart are among the brands Chandlee mentioned doing interesting work on TikTok. “At some point this conversation is going to evolve into, Is this doing anything for my business,” said Vaynerchuk. “And the only way to actually make that happen is to be a relevant storyteller …. And that takes strategy, let alone contextual output.”

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