Marketing & Communications

“We live in the age of participation”– a conversation with Sylwia Chada, General Manager for Poland and Central Europe at TikTok

Małgorzata Obielak, from the Performics performance marketing agency: “The possibility of the more and more precise selection of recipient groups, easier measurability, quicker feedback, growing reach and time users spend in social media, as well as the possibility to create creative content thanks to various applications, are some of the many advantages of social commerce. Recent developments due to COVID-19, have contributed to the increase in time spent in apps and online shopping, and even the surge in mobile payments has further enhanced it. How does TikTok – a platform still relatively new in Poland – fit into this trend of social commerce development?

Sylwia Chada, General Manager for Poland and Central Europe at TikTok: To better understand what TikTok is and what role it plays in our daily lives, it is worth taking a closer look at the situation we have been facing since 2020. The pandemic has changed the world as we knew it, bringing us closer to the reality we have known until now through futuristic visions. New technology is the sector that has definitely felt this wave as the hardest of all industries. The McKinsey & Company COVID-19 Digital Sentiment Insight report shows that in the CE (Central Europe) region, 12 million new users of on-line services have appeared since the beginning of the pandemic, and interestingly enough, 70% of these new users say they will continue to use these services. There is perhaps no better proof that something in our society has changed and it’s not just a change in the business world, but a change that affects the daily lives of millions of people. During the pandemic, as may now seem quite obvious, the e-commerce market has grown significantly. According to Euromonitor, in 2020 the value of this market was estimated at PLN 71.1 billion (increase by 42% y/y). The number of active users of social media platforms also grew intensively (+10.5%), as well as the length of time we spend on social media. This time currently averages 1h 59m – which is a really impressive result. All this data tell us a lot – and above all, it shows that the world is changing intensely, that it is moving in a digital direction, and when we combine, for example, the information on time spent on social media with a study from the UAE (Business Live Middle East) in which 46.5% of young adults surveyed admitted that influencers made them buy – we can conclude that live stream and social media can be the tool in the hands of online creators that generates real sales.

MO: How does TikTok’s offer differ from other social platforms, what can most interest and convince marketers?

SCh: Let’s remember that people’s behavior and media consumption have been changing dynamically for years, and COVID has only accelerated these changes. Expectations towards new communication channels are also clearly changing. What people today expect online and offline is called “participation.” In fact, we are living in the “Age of Participation” – a special time, because it is no longer enough to engage people (yes, people, not users). Expectations have risen and that’s why today people should not only be given something cool to watch, but something they can also easily co-create. That “something” is TikTok – an entertainment platform that lets you be yourself, lets you be creative – both users and brands. We can see it in our statistics, where you can definitely see a continuous increase in engagement, but also a growing number of impressions of content related to brands. This potential is huge and is growing consistently all the time. We are happy that almost 80% of our users over the age of 18 declare that they are familiar with new technologies. To put it simply: they are active, they want to get really involved – creating content on our platform, and almost 80% of them can be counted as “early adopters” when it comes to new technologies.

MO: So what’s next? We have a wonderful new world with a new group of people – with a whole new approach to life, who are connected by state of mind, not metrics. What can we do with all this, how can we use it?

SCh: First of all, I encourage everyone to change their approach – sometimes the simplest things are the most effective. So you don’t need big budgets, what matters is an idea and a good understanding of the group we are talking to. This is clearly shown by the example of Smart Toaster priced at USD 300, which became a worldwide hit thanks to our platform. The whole commotion started when one of our users posted a video about the toaster, another user reviewed it, and then there was an avalanche of over 100,000 videos on TikTok under the hashtag #smarttoaster. This is just one of many examples confirming that TikTok in the case of technology can serve as a channel for discovering new gadgets or equipment from the tech category. There are at least several ideas for such content: these can be tutorials, unboxings, video memes, jokes, or references to real-life situations. Our product appears naturally in these materials, engages, to finally end the whole process on a completed transaction.

MO: What suggestions would you give to marketers who want to start their adventure with TikTok?

SCh: If you want to start creating content on TikTok, remember to create things that align with your brand, its values and goals. Pay attention to trends, experiment and take advantage of the range of possibilities of this platform, engage as a TikTok user would to understand its ecosystem. Think about the message so that users remember your content, the image so that you can hold your audience’s attention, and the sound to add variety to your campaigns. TikTok has great potential as an advertising tool to create creative campaigns and to reach many unique users and create long-term relationships with them.

MO: Much of the discussion about TikTok is about the algorithm you created. We don’t know exactly how it works, we just know that it’s very efficient. In recent weeks, the Wall Street Journal published the results of its attempt to work out the algorithm. We can see how quickly TikTok matches content to user behavior. Don’t you have concerns that this could further lock people into so-called bubbles? Viewing thematically similar material can hinder the inspiration stage (of yourself and others).

SCh: We are creating a global community where you can create and share content that is authentic and allows you to explore the world and communicate with others. The “For You” page, which works using our unique algorithm based on a recommender system, allows you to connect with creators, but also to discover, so our users are constantly learning about new content – in a variety of topics and from creators not yet seen. The “For You” channel is the center of our platform, allowing TikTok users to create and share authentic and creative content. It features videos that are tailored to individual interests, making it easy to find interesting content and creators. Through our unique algorithm, the channel learns about each visitor’s interests based on a variety of elements such as: the interests they declare when they register as a new user; content they say they are not interested in; user interactions such as likes, shares, follows, comments, and what they create; video information such as subtitles, sounds, hashtags; and device and account settings such as language preferences, country settings, and device type. A clear indication of interest, such as a user watching a longer video from start to finish, will carry more weight than whether the viewer and the video creator are in the same country. Videos are ranked according to the user’s likelihood of interest and then placed in individual news feeds. TikTok and its management is an ongoing process as we increase its precision, adjust models, and analyze the attributes and priorities used in determining the content weights considered for recommendations based on user feedback, survey results, and available data.

To ensure the attractiveness and diversity of the “For You” channel, our recommendation system interweaves different types of content with the content that the user prefers. By placing a variety of videos in the “For You” channel, users are exposed to new types of content and discover new creators, perspectives and ideas as they scroll through the news feed. Our unique algorithm is primarily discovery-oriented, which means it allows advertisers and brands to reach new audiences in a very easy way. TikTok users are constantly presented with new content from yet unseen creators, and brands are increasingly taking advantage of this.

MO: TikTok is a fairly young player among platforms that are already a good few or even a dozen years old. In your opinion, will there come a point when, for some reason, platforms will find it difficult to continue growing?

SCh: Our lives, also as a result of the pandemic, have largely moved to the Internet – contact with loved ones, use of various services or even work is now definitely done online more often. What further demand for the use of platforms will look like depends on how they respond to the current needs of users. Increasingly, platforms are expected to provide customized solutions that go beyond their core business. At TikTok, we are consistently exploring and introducing new and innovative solutions to connect brands with users on a large scale. We see, for example, that TikTok users often treat the platform also as an inspiration for shopping. Users naturally learn about new products and make purchases through our platform.

With this in mind, we were recently able to announce our important strategic partnership with global e-commerce platform Shopify. As part of it, we have introduced features that make it easier for merchants to optimize their marketing campaigns and reach out to TikTok’s creative and active community. Our users, on the other hand, who are open to ads and engaged with advertising content, have even more shopping opportunities. With more partnerships, we are showing that TikTok is still a growing platform that still has a lot to offer. We want to be the first choice for our users to create completely new experiences that give joy and develop creativity.

MO: In your opinion, is the development of SuperApps, so popular in China, where TikTok originated, possible in our part of the world?

SCh: First of all, it’s worth explaining what SuperApps are – they are platforms that offer many different services simultaneously such as instant messaging, P2P payments or online shopping. And I can certainly say that they are the future of online platforms. We live fast nowadays and we want to do as many things as quickly as possible to improve our daily life. Super apps, no matter where they are developed must offer an attractive, intuitive layout and work seamlessly with multiple third-party providers. So as to encourage continued use of the SuperApp by a user who has so far loyally used the features of “regular” online platforms. At TikTok, which as you mentioned, is derived from SuperApps, we are constantly introducing new features and solutions for both brands and users. In addition to the recently announced partnership with Shopify that I mentioned above, we are expanding our tools for marketers by providing them with the latest solution to measure the performance of advertising campaigns TikTok Brand Lift Study. We launched TikTok Jump, which are mini-programs and services that creators can link to in their videos. We introduced lead generation enabling brands to acquire new customers and create fully personalized offers. Expanding our current features, as well as introducing new ones to better meet the needs of both users and businesses, is without a doubt the most important goal we have for the coming years.

MO: Let’s finally move away from TikTok itself, how do you see the digital world developing in the coming years? Do you see any emerging phenomena that may affect the environment in which we will be functioning in 5, 10 years?

SCh: Although our lives stopped for a while during the pandemic, we are still living very fast, adapting to a dynamically changing environment, and digital solutions need to keep up with our lifestyle. The pandemic has had a huge impact on the digitization of society, and it is reasonable to assume that this process will only intensify in the future. I think that the future of the digital world is to continue to develop functionality and to have more and more influence on the real one in order to make our lives even more comfortable. In the future the virtual world will interact even more with the real one through new technologies such as: artificial intelligence, cloud, Internet. Things, autonomous robots or blockchain, which create digital representations of more areas of the real world, intensify networking and foster personalization. From the point of view of society, I think that in the future people will be more oriented towards direct contact with others, creating societies, and digital tools will respond to this need by creating solutions that facilitate contact with each other. Therefore, I think that in the future, platforms that create communities will become even more important in people’s daily lives.

For those interested in learning more, we refer you to the sources:

1. McKinsey & Company COVID-19 Digital Sentiment Insights; results of surveys conducted in the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Hungary

2. Poland, Euromonitor International

3. We are social – HootSuite

4. Business Live Middle East

5. GWI, March 2021, TikTok users in Central Europe (PL + RO)

6 Holiday Shopping research with Walnut, 2020 EU Holiday Shopping Research, 2020

7. Nielsen MMM report

MO: Thank you for the interview.