Image for TikTok Offers Channel to Reach Young Viewers
President Biden is using TikTok to reach young voters by collaborating with the Jonas Brothers on a White House video and recruiting potential influencers.

TikTok Influences Choices for Lipstick and Political Views

Short, snappy TikTok videos appeal to young viewers. President Biden is using the app to appeal to young voters.

It’s an ironic channel choice since TikTok is banned at the Biden White House for security reasons. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, which US officials believe is too liberal in sharing personal data with the Chinese government. A columnist for The Washington Post called described Biden as “walking a strange tightrope between relevancy and national security.”

The app is the fastest growing social media channel with more than 1 billion active users worldwide. Two-thirds of American teenagers say they use the app. Many of the influencers who have found success on TikTok are teens or young adults. Biden has invited some of these young influencers to the White House with the hope they will be his messengers on the app.

He has had professional help. The Jonas Brothers collaborated with the Biden White House to recreate the viral “Joe Byron” TikTok video. Shot in various rooms of the White House, the Jonas Brothers rap about being vaccinated and ask “Who is the president? Byron! Byron!” The end scene shows Joe Biden stepping into view holding the smartphone that captured the video.

TikTok has spawned a stream of your influencers who advise their followers on cosmetics, dating habits and public health issues.

Biden is hardly alone in exploring how to employ TikTok to reach an impressionable audience. A Penn State University analysis of TikTok says, “As a persuasive channel, TikTok has the ability to give success and positive public opinion to nearly any concept if given the proper marketing, making it an important tool for brands to incorporate into their future communication plans and marketing strategies…. Besides being a source of hours of entertainment, TikTok has the ability to persuade its users to purchase, use or consume any number of products if the video gets enough views.”

TikTok influencers have successfully promoted bathing suits, jeans and makeup. A 17-year-old girl with 100 million followers turned a video of her sipping a special cold brew coffee into an overnight boom for Dunkin’ Donuts that sells it.

TikTok can channel public information
The Penn State analysis touts TikTok “as a persuasive channel to be used in PR campaigns”. “The short video format is snappy, attention-grabbing and caters to younger audiences’ shorter attention spans. Because of this, videos have the capacity to go viral very quickly, even if they are not from influencers with audiences of 100 million followers. With the use of the right hashtags, videos from any creator could end up on the recommended For You page and get shared rapidly with friends and family.”

The app has the potential to spread informational messages in fun, creative ways that appeal to young people. Public health organizations turned to TikTok to inform young people about the value of social distancing and how the coronavirus is transmitted.

As Biden’s effort foreshadows, researchers are examining TikTok to evaluate its ability to engage young people on political issues and express their views about political figures. Think of it like a gigantic focus group in a fun house.

Unlike one-way advertising, TikTok videos invite interaction, which could be measured content and intensity. “Harnessing this power can be a useful tool for brands looking to gain a larger and newer consumer base, raise awareness for important causes, create a positive brand image and keep a loyal following.”  If Biden had his way, TikTok also would nudge young people to vote.

After all is said and done, social media is as much battlefield as playground.

Beware TikTok”s dark side
There is a dark side to TikTok in the form of deep-fake videos. Innovative video editing allows users to manipulate content. Showing a runaway cheetah chasing a TikTok user is amusing and harmless. It’s less amusing when users make it seem like Biden is singing “Baby Shark” or a crowd is booing Jill Biden at a Philadelphia Eagles game appearance in support of cancer cures. Donald Trump has been portrayed in TikTok videos conversing with Harry Potter and performing with Marilyn Monroe.

Manipulated videos can appear on other social media platforms, but they thrive more on TikTok because it is a video-sharing platform that encourages creative, quirky subject matter. Experts warn that deep-fake videos can reinforce conspiracy theories and traffic in disinformation.

The potential dangers lurking on TikTok shouldn’t dissuade users from playing to its strengths and a channel uniquely aimed at younger viewers. The jeopardy may be greater for public information and political messaging than for brands. The smart bet is to put in place effective tracking to detect any manipulation and respond appropriately. If the fake is a creative addition that attracts wider attention, it’s a positive to leave alone. If the fake corrupts the message with falsehoods, a more aggressive course is required to counter it.

After all is said and done, social media is as much battlefield as playground. Use it with caution and forethought. Know the opportunities and the risks. Be wise in what you post and vigilant in ensuring it isn’t corrupted.