By Tim Colucci, Taylor Hart, and Bella Schneider
TikTok is an advertising juggernaut. The app doubled its ad revenues in 2022 according to an industry estimate. Rivals such as YouTube were directly affected. And TikTok continues to roll out new capabilities that appeal to businesses, such as livestream commerce. This is all the more remarkable considering the fact that TikTok has been operating under the threat of being banned in the United States for the past few years.
But just how effective is TikTok as an ad platform? Our own experiences working with TikTok have seen mixed results.
Inconsistent Performance with Conversions
TikTok has both impressed and disappointed us when it comes to conversions such as app downloads, purchases, and leads. On the positive side, one of our clients running social ads increased ROI on TikTok by over 18% in Q3 compared to Q1.
In Q3 on TikTok, we launched conversion campaigns (as well as upper-funnel) for this client, which definitely affected the increase in ROI because in Q1 we only were running upper-funnel campaigns on TikTok.
But when we look at results for other clients – specifically for lead-generation-based mobile app campaigns — we have seen disappointing conversion numbers. For those clients, the cost per conversion on TikTok is higher than on other apps. Why? Probably because TikTok compels users to stay on the app and scroll continuously through a stream of content – as any TikTok user can attest. Taking the time to disengage from TikTok to download an app or to make a purchase is counterintuitive to how TikTok operates.
TikTok does offer tools for advertisers to drive conversions, such as an instant lead form, which creates a customized lead generation form with a call to action. As a result, the user need not leave the app to fill out a lead form. We have seen some success using the instant lead form, but nowhere near the conversion rates we’ve experienced on Facebook and Google. As a result, the cost per lead for TikTok is much higher than for Facebook and Google for lead-generation-based mobile app campaigns.
Awkward App Optimization Feature
Apps such as Facebook and TikTok offer features that make it possible for businesses to optimize multiple app campaigns based on different audiences, creative assets, and objectives. These are known as app event optimization (AEO). With AEO, a business can ensure that multiple campaigns are not competing with each other as they maximize their performance. We found that TikTok’s AEO feature is less effective than Facebook’s. For example, on Facebook, a business can optimize for both web and app campaigns together a lot more effectively than on TikTok. In at least one case, we found that multiple TikTok campaigns for the same brand were competing with each other, but fortunately our own team caught the issue early on and adapted our strategy.
Advice for Brands
- Monitor your TikTok performance closely. As noted above, conversions can differ by type of campaign (in our case, social ads versus lead-generation-based mobile app campaigns). TikTok is still evolving as an ad platform, and TikTok ad accounts require more maintenance and proactive communication with the TikTok ad team. Keep on top of your performance and be ready to shift gears quickly as we have done.
- Consider TikTok for brand awareness, but the jury is still out when it comes to conversions. Our campaigns have performed especially well when our objectives have been to achieve reach and brand lift. In our experience, TikTok CPMs are typically less expensive than CPMs for Facebook, Snap, or Pinterest.
- Watch for new tools. TikTok will continue to roll out new tools to maximize its value, including more livestreaming features. Be alert for them and decide which ones are a possible fit for your brand – but treat them as experimental.
- Consider the big picture. The conversation about TikTok as an ad platform could become moot if the app is banned in the United States owing to ongoing concerns about the app posing a security and privacy threat. Advertisers are staying true to TikTok as the app’s parent company ByteDance negotiates an agreement with the U.S. government. Could TikTok get sold? That’s a real possibility. Watch developments and be ready to adapt.
Contact True Interactive
At True Interactive, we work with our clients to maximize the value of all their online advertising, including social media spend. We strongly advocate for our clients as we work with apps such as TikTok. Contact us to learn how we can help you.