Welcome to our fifth Sofa Session – the series zooming best-in-class social expertise straight to your screens.

Joining ENGINE’s Head of Influencer, Gemma Glover, this week was TikTok’s Head of Marketing, Trevor Johnson, TikTok star and content creator, Felicity Kane, and our fellow ENGINE colleague, Matt Rhodes, who heads up the Brand Engagement Strategy team. Together, they examined how the role of social networks is changing and questioned what brands can do to stay relevant in this quickly evolving space.


Gemma kicked off this week’s session with some observations on the current state of social media platforms. She began, “I’ve noticed a clear shift in the way the general public behaves online. People are more selective about what content they post, and they think carefully about who they follow and what they absorb. It feels a long way off from the days when we’d post about what we’d had for breakfast.”

Matt, who has recently written a whitepaper dissecting the way people behave on social and the shifting attitudes towards it, explained that TikTok’s rise in popularity over recent weeks isn’t just down to extra lockdown-given time. It’s caused by a fundamental shift in the way we think about social media.

“There are two types of interactions on social,” explains Matt. “Networks, made up of your friends, family, people that you know and trust, and Communities, made up of people you have shared interest with but may not know personally. In the past, people used social to connect with their networks. But with a growing feeling of distrust toward social media, people have moved those conversations to private spaces such as WhatsApp. Enter TikTok. It’s a space to connect with communities in an open and inclusive way.” The challenge, explains Matt, is for TikTok to stay in that space.


Felicity agreed, saying that she believes her success on the platform is all to do with authentic expression that people can relate to in a general way. “We share the fun stupidity of our daily family life,” she explains. “We just share what organically happens in our lives. It’s relatable and authentic.”

“At TikTok, we prioritise quality content over everything else” adds Trevor. He explains that the authentic content reaches most people, because that is what TikTok’s algorithm is looking for. “A creator can become viral overnight by making great content that people are engaging with. It’s not just about who has the most followers. It’s about creating content that genuinely entertains. We’re an entertainment platform. Not just a social platform.”


Turning her attention to brands, Gemma asked Matt how they might think differently about approaching TikTok from other social networks. “The rules are the same for brands on every platform,” says Matt. “Earn the right to be there or pay to be there. But don’t mix the two and, if you’re paying, don’t kid yourself that you’re doing anything other than advertising.”

“The most successful brand partnerships happen when the brand thinks carefully about why TikTok is different to other platforms,” says Trevor. “We always tell brands, don’t make ads, make TikToks. The best examples at the moment are coming from luxury brands. Gucci has a campaign that’s across social. It’s shot incredibly beautifully for Instagram, but on TikTok we see a different, more playful side to the campaign. It works really well.”


Gemma asked Trevor how TikTok might evolve in the future, given the changing landscape around social media. “We’ve gone from being a very frivolous and light-hearted place to one where people want to address more serious topics” says Trevor. “We need to redefine what it means to bring people joy so that we have the capability to take on heavier topics whilst still feeling authentic. If you want to know what’s happening that day, what people are thinking about, talking about, what they’re doing, just look on TikTok.”

Matt agreed, explaining that it’s part of the return we are seeing to social as a way to connect with communities. People communicate with their networks in private, so social platforms must think about what they’re offering that’s different. For brands, this means thinking carefully about how to earn their space on social and what exactly that might look like. A truth we can all agree on; social platforms might not set culture, but they certainly facilitate it.

For more information on any of topics discussed in this session, please get in touch with Gemma. You can read Matt’s report on the changing social media landscape and its impact on brands here, The (d)evolution of Social.

Sofa Sessions is taking August off, but will be back in September, so please look out for the invite closer to the date.


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