Unless you’ve been sleeping as long as Rip Van Winkle, you know TikTok has become the new big man on music’s campus and a catalyst for pop culture. How many times, after all, did you see that TikTok ad on fall telecasts featuring Fleetwood Mac, thanks to skateboarding app user Nathan Apodaca and his bottle of Ocean Spray? Now, market research studies commissioned by the social media darling, compiled by two different firms, gives some numeric context to TikTok’s impact.
A music perceptions study was conducted in November by MRC Data, while a study about TikTok’s impact on culture was fielded in March by London-based Flamingo Group. Both surveys were conducted online, polling nearly 1,500 TikTok users. Highlights from both studies were revealed Wednesday morning in a TikTok blog post.
With music discovery being one of the platform’s most talked-about attributes, it won’t surprise most music marketers to learn that 75% of TikTok visitors discover artists there, while 63% say it’s a source for music they’ve not heard before and 72% indicating they associate certain songs with TikTok.
Aside from Lil Nas X, whose TikTok exposure propelled him from self-released artist to a Columbia Records contract, the app has also been cited as a key building block for the likes of Olivia Rodrigo, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat. “The interest is there, and the music industry is buying into what TikTok is selling,” says an industry source who works closely with TikTok.
While not denying TikTok’s impact on discovery, the source says with labels focusing so much energy on the platform — in the same manner they courted Spotify two years ago — some of that discovery traction is inevitable. No matter which platform drives discovery, that awareness only becomes meaningful if it inspires consumer action. And on that note, MRC’s study shows promise, stating that 67% of TikTokers are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services.
MRC’s study also weighs in on TikTok’s impact on the junction of brands and music, with 68% of respondents saying they better recall a brand’s video that uses songs they favor. In those instances, with 58%, they’re more likely to talk about such ads, and 62% indicate use of a favored song makes it more likely they will learn more about the brand.
Branding videos that incorporate “original sound,” such as comedy sketches or voiceovers, also resonate, with 65% stating a preference for such spots, while the Flamingo study on cultural impact says that “67% of (content) creators feel closer to brands they see on TikTok, particularly when they publish human, unpolished content.”
Flamingo also found that 43% of users will try a new experience, product or destination if they’ve seen at least one related video on TikTok. And TikTokers respond well to familiar personalities, with 63% saying they like branded content that features TikTok personalities.
Aside from the pair of market research studies, TikTok cites media and trade coverage of an Eos shaving cream video from TikTok creator Carly Joy, a resurgence by the Gap’s brown hoodie and campaigns for Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish and L’Oréal Paris’s Infallible skin foundation as evidence of TikTok’s branding clout. And the Flamingo report says that seven of 10 users “believe TikTok communities have the power to create change in culture.”
In TikTok’s blog post, Ole Oberman, the company’s global head of music, says, “TikTok has become an integral part of music discovery, connecting artists to their fans and introducing brands to every corner of the community.”
Although labels remain eager to capitalize on TikTok’s reach and influence, top executives grouse that the rate of compensation they get from user-generated platforms like it and YouTube pale by comparison to the payouts they receive from streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon.
While both studies make a strong case for how TikTok resonates with its followers, neither study attempts to compare these levels of engagement to other music-oriented platforms, such as the streaming services, internet radio providers like Pandora or user-generated-content predecessor YouTube.
In a study conducted in May by MusicWatch for trade group Digital Media Assn. (DiMA), in which respondents could choose more than one source, the leading driver cited for music discovery was audio streaming services at 47%, followed closely by video streaming services at 45% and AM/FM radio at 41%. In that study, posts from video or dance sites like TikTok, Instagram’s Reels and Triller were cited by 29% of respondents, right behind “posts or alerts” on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at 30%. Other factors, like music placed in film, TV or video games ranked higher, with music in movies polling at 35%, while recommendations from family or friends ranked even higher at 39%.
“Since 100% of the music fan base doesn’t all stream, or play video games, or watch dance videos, etc., it’s good to see how these user segments react differently when it comes to discovery, or anything else for that matter,” says MusicWatch managing partner Russ Crupnick.
Still, he is impressed by how quickly TikTok has become a meaningful player. “The usage for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and that amalgam of things is three times that of TikTok and probably 10 times what Triller is,” Crupnick says. “It’s not necessarily apples-to-apples, given the relative user base of one versus the other.”
Label sources say the shut-in environment caused last year by the pandemic is a factor that swelled TikTok’s following and its influence. “Half the TikTok audience came last year,” agrees Crupnick. “Two years ago, the numbers for TikTok were probably half of what they were. It was really a pandemic-fueled frenzy in the first half of 2020. That puts it in a better light relative to traditional social media.”