TikTok-ing The Internet

November 22, 2022by Hiebing

On average, users of all ages nowadays are spending at least 2.5 hours per day scrolling through social media – with 95 minutes of that time spent endlessly scrolling through TikTok, according to SensorTower’s Power User Curve. The time spent on this platform is significantly higher per day in comparison to the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Marketers are now asking how TikTok is keeping audiences engaged longer in a way other social networks just aren’t?

We can find these answers in the early days of the internet, where platforms like Twitter and Facebook laid the foundation for the online marketing topography we now traverse. While no two social networks are the same, the main graphs and algorithms that populate feeds with content have traditionally been mapped around people you may know – also known as a social graph.

Experts explain the concept of “social graphs” in relation to the internet as a web that draws a line between the places, people and things you interact with online. When we interact with something of interest on a social platform, the web expands and fine-tunes the algorithm so the “graph” can then group people together to create a proper network. Digital strategies for brands are based on the understanding of where and how to engage with audiences on those networks.

TikTok is saying goodbye to the networking part of social and instead populating feeds rooted in socio-interest graphs. The algorithm serves up videos that feature adjacent topics or showcase similar content creators and influencers that you are likely to enjoy. So instead of connecting with content because of someone you know, you’re connecting with people you don’t know because of the content itself. The ascent of TikTok and its interest-based community is destabilizing the social graph and triggering an evolution of the internet as we know it. Here’s how.

New Engagement Models

Although some social features are built-in (e.g., likes, comments, share and so on), the main attraction to the TikTok model is that it creates a robust firehose of content without the need to painstakingly network. To get to the heart of what users really care about, TikTok is serving up content that audiences are interested in by people they view as trustworthy and authentic – because they’re just like them.

Rejecting the social graphs of pioneer platforms like Facebook and Twitter and pivoting toward communities built by interests allows TikTok to compete for the attention of users in a more immediate way. Instead of taking the stairs to reach the peak type of content audiences care about, TikTok is taking an elevator. This continuous rise in favorability to the interest-based model has prompted a transition in social-driven platforms toward short video and personalized “for you” recommendations to stay relevant.

Between this shift in basic algorithmic graphs and the internet-wide deviation from third-party data, brands looking to forge meaningful connections with their target have an opportunity to invest in collecting first-party data. The benefits of first-party data, or data collected by a company from a consumer directly, provide deeper brand insights into who your audience is and what their interests are. This can serve as an alternative to networking and can produce more meaningful content – and the content is key.

Content can serve as the new word of mouth, holding sway on product discovery and probability of purchase by everyday users who can vouch for a product or service. Further subverting traditional internet norms, TikTok is impacting the fundamentals of how we find content on the internet.

Google Feels the Pressure

“Google it” is so ingrained into our internet speak that we forget there are other ways to search for what we need. Surprisingly, TikTok falls into that category. Powered by a quickly evolving algorithm focused on the latest internet obsession, Gen Z and beyond are turning to TikTok to find information on a specific topic. By TikTok’s estimation, 58% of users discover new brands and products on the platform – a 14% increase in discoverability compared to other platforms.

Gone are the days of wading through pages of Google search results. The future lies instead in watching a few short videos that map the way to the content audiences really need – positioning TikTok perfectly to becoming a contender in the SEO world. TikTok’s rise as an alternative to Google, YouTube and other heavy hitters in this domain is indicative of a larger transition in the realm of digital search.

Historically, hashtags have been useful in grouping content together. TikTok is streamlining hashtag search by hosting pages for top videos under that hashtag and a page where you can source the number of views generated by a specific tag. Optimizing your content with relevant hashtags so that users may more easily encounter your brand when searching for answers has renewed importance.

While Google remains the number-one search engine, it is now having to adapt its trends and methodology to mimic TikTok by incorporating short-form video content in search results. Wielding its extensive video catalog on YouTube, Google launched a beta called YouTube Shorts in 2020, an attempt to stay relevant in vying for the attention of the younger crowds – most of whom are spending significant amounts of time on TikTok instead.

Paying Content Creators

Be it a socio-interest or social graph, there is no denying the power of influencer marketing. Now a pivotal extension of many marketing strategies – with brand spend in the billions – TikTok is forging new paths for creators and influencers to get their due.

Social content creators are typically paid one of two ways: brand sponsorships based on audience reach or monetized content. TikTok and brands investing in this space profit from feeding the content beast and garnering awareness among the never-ending scrollers.

By introducing new features like the Creator Fund, Creator Marketplace, live gifts and even a “tips” feature, TikTok can continue to offer a space for brands to join forces with these trusted influencers. The Creator Marketplace provides a sort of Yellow Pages for companies to find influencer partnerships based on interest and follower count – a huge advantage to influencers ready to make their mark. The Fund runs in tandem with the Marketplace, adding per-view revenue for ads that run simultaneously with regular brand sponsorship payments.

TikTok is keeping creators exclusively on their platform by adding additional revenue streams that empower them to generate TikTok content. Users can donate “gifts” using TikTok coins (bought with real currency), which can be converted into a real revenue stream, or users can tip a creator directly with 100% of the tip going to the creator. Other platforms are also pushing into these spaces to retain influencers who primarily promote on their channel. This requires brands to hand over more control to the creators to unlock the massive potential that the platform has to offer.

As TikTok continues to advance the payment formats for content creators, brands are beginning to consider shifting ad spend and influencer spending toward the TikTok content machine empire that is taking over the internet.


If you’re wondering what these fundamental internet changes can ultimately mean for your brand digital strategies, here are our key takeaways.

1.) Investing in first-party data as we shift to new graphs and algorithms can be a useful accelerator to building an alternate socio-interest network.

2.) Optimizing opportunities to get discovered is critical on TikTok. Use a handful of relevant hashtags for #SEO. Consider taking an extra step to update hashtags on TikTok content for further awareness.

3.) Influencer partnerships and the content they create are key to any digital strategy. Review how you’re investing in these partnerships to garner favor among audiences they connect with.

Looking for a partner to help you assess which social channels are right for your brand and build a strategy to suit? Hiebing can help. Email Nate Tredinnick at ntredinnick@hiebing.com to set up a call.

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