Is TikTok the Most Authentic Social Media Platform on the Market?
Authenticity has become a key topic of conversation in recent months, particularly with regards to social media. This is mainly due to the rapid growth of influencer marketing, a branch of marketing that has created a whole new generation of salespeople.
THE INSTAGRAM INFLUENCER
Introducing the ‘Instagram Influencer’, a job title that requires nothing but an active social media presence and a decent amount of followers. Nano influencers tend to have between 1000-5000 followers; micro-influencers have up to 30,000, and beyond this is where paid influencers can make top money!
These individuals are often scouted by brands on the platform, who offer them both money and free products in exchange for content. Whether it’s a photo of a new product, a video of a product in action, or a new hot restaurant or service, the influencer will typically post a glowing review selling the brand to their followers – making sure to tag the brand’s account and relevant hashtags, of course.
Depending on the size of the influencer’s follower base, these posts can potentially be seen and interacted with by millions of Instagram users, giving the company and its spotlighted product a huge amount of online exposure.
A LUCRATIVE CAREER?
It’s not just brands that reap the rewards of these partnerships. Instagram influencers have the potential to make a pretty penny from commissioned posts, with ‘mega’ influencers (those with more than one million followers) bringing in an average salary of £11,050 per month. With the lure of a big pay check and bundles of free products comes the risk of breaking Instagram’s strict new guidelines, however.
Due to a growing number of complaints from regular users of the platform, the social media giant has been pressured to introduce more thorough regulations for those hopping onto the influencer trend. In accordance with these new guidelines, influencers must be completely transparent about which of their posts feature branded content. Any posts mentioning a business that the influencer is in partnership with must include a ‘Branded Content’ tag, which will notify other users that the subject of the video is in a paid partnership with the brand.
THE FAMOUS FYRE FESTIVAL FIASCO
Despite these guidelines, influencers are still being criticised for being disingenuous with their followers. Back in 2017 for example, a large group of famous Instagram influencers – including the likes of Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner – faced legal backlash after getting involved in the now infamous Fyre Festival scam.
Launched through a series of high-budget Instagram campaigns, the Fyre Festival marketed itself as an exclusive luxury getaway where guests could enjoy live performances from some of the music industry’s biggest stars. Charging up to £75,000 a ticket, the event promised gourmet food, luxury accommodation and the opportunity to relax on a private island. The so-called ‘five-star festival’ was revealed to be an incredibly elaborate scam, however, with ticketholders turning up to find partially built tents, rain-soaked mattresses, and food packages consisting of nothing but sliced bread and cheese. Oh, and no music acts!
In the following court case, it was found that stars like Kendall Jenner had been paid up to $250,000 to advertise the sham event on their Instagram accounts, all of which were followed by millions of users across the globe. Many of the influencers involved also failed to make their connection with the organisers of the event transparent, refusing to use the #ad hashtag or burying it amongst hundreds of other irrelevant tags.
PHOTOSHOP, FACETUNE AND FILTERS
In a study carried out by Case24, it was found that 71% of social media users edit images of themselves before posting them. Apps like Facetune and AirBrush have become essential downloads for many Instagram users, both of which give people the ability to manipulate their bodies and faces to appear more conventionally attractive. Due to an increased awareness of these applications, consumers are becoming more aware of instances where they are being used for financial gain.
SKIMS OR SCAMS?
Model and self-declared business mogul Kim Kardashian, who currently boasts a following of 282.9 million on Instagram, recently came under fire over allegations of Photoshopping in her latest Skims campaign.
A comparison of the final images to behind-the-scenes footage from the photoshoot quickly had fans questioning whether the influencer had edited the figure of model Tyra Banks to have a smaller waist and larger rear, both of which create a more dramatic hourglass shape. This has caused many fans to doubt the authenticity of the brand, which places body positivity and the promotion of diverse body types at the centre of its messaging.
Kim Kardashian isn’t the only influencer to have been accused of using misleading images to sell products, however. The increasing number of accusations being made against influencers across the Instagram community suggests that it’s becoming a bit of a pandemic.
With Photoshop scandals and paid sponsorships becoming an unwelcome normality for social media users, people are desperately craving authenticity in their lives. They want to see brands focusing more on building trusting relationships with their consumers rather than constantly bombarding them with sales pitches.
Enter TikTok, officially the most downloaded app of 2021. Launched in 2016, the social media platform recently hit the milestone of one billion active users and has since overtaken YouTube for average watch time in both the US and the UK. In its mission statement, TikTok claims that its main goal is to “inspire creativity and bring joy”, branding itself as a “home for authentic expression and integrity”.
“To be received well, TikTok content must appear unfiltered and organic, in keeping with the democratic, audience-led video algorithm, which doesn’t prioritise videos based on the creator’s follower count.’’ – Vouge Business
Over the course of the last two years, TikTok has launched several campaigns designed to inspire the next generation of users to make a difference, including #ForClimate and #EduTok. While the former aimed to raise awareness of climate change and its impact on the planet, the latter invited users to share their educational content on a diverse range of themes. The app also clearly labels when a user films a video using a filter, stopping people from presenting a distorted image of themselves without their followers’ knowledge.
TIKTOKKERS VS. INFLUENCERS
Ironically, many TikTok users have gained popularity by openly mocking Instagram influencers. Playing on people’s frustrations about influencers’ focus on product promotion and superficial content, TikTok users began posting videos posing as Instagram influencers, advertising fake products and sharing ‘How To’ videos for mundane tasks like applying deodorant and making toast.
BRING ON THE BRANDS
The lure of TikTok has attracted many global brands, most of which have exchanged influencer promotions for humorous video clips. Confectionary giant Oreo, for example, now posts videos from the perspective of its famous biscuit, reflecting on the stresses of being dunked in milk and being caught in a love triangle with another cookie.
Netflix has also jumped on the TikTok train, posting funny behind-the-scenes clips from its most popular shows and using them to create relatable memes.
Despite the majority of these videos not focusing on selling a specific product, they can work wonders for a brand’s sales figures. In a recent survey, 56% of users admitted to feeling more positive about a brand after seeing it on TikTok, and that content on the platform is “more creative” and “original” than its competitors. Clearly, gaining the consumers’ trust with relatable and ‘non-salesy’ content has become more lucrative than flooding their social media feeds with product plugs.
DON’T WRITE INSTAGRAM INFLUENCERS OFF
With cancel culture becoming a regular part of today’s society, many people are calling for an end to what they call the “toxic” culture of Instagram influencers. Before cancelling an entire generation of creators, however, it is worth asking whether social media authenticity exists at all.
Regardless of whether a user has 50 followers or 50,000, there is always a pressure to present yourself as perfect. For the most part, social media posts should always be taken with a pinch of salt, irrespective of which platform they’re posted on. Instagram is a rich resource of innovative and original content, which many creators spend hours perfecting for the benefit of their followers.
TikTok isn’t immune to ‘influencer fever’, and just like Instagram, is used by many brands as a sales platform. However, selling on TikTok seems to be a far more subtle art. Hashtags such as #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt are a far more digestible way of marketing a product, with TikTok’s algorithms directing users towards similar videos featuring products that they’re likely to be interested in. This makes users feel as though they’re the ones in control of their selling habits, as they’re not being told to buy products by streams of paid influencers.
Whether TikTok is the most authentic social media platform on the market is a difficult question to answer, particularly as these platforms are constantly developing. Given that consumer spending on TikTok increased by an incredibly 77% in 2021, however, it’s certainly worth exploring if you’re a business hoping to reach a wider market.