Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’ll know TikTok as the most popular app for creating and sharing short-form videos since Vine (what a time to be alive). But it has also proved itself as a marketing tool.
Instagram's ban on the promotion of vape products back in December 2019, is an example of a sector that has had to manoeuvre around marketing censorship. However, it hasn’t appeared to be too much of a hindrance as the market is expected to grow annually at 17.0% and vape brands move swiftly to TikTok to reach their desired audience.
Instagram released a post outlining how they were planning to support branded content, however, banishing vaping to the same category as tobacco products and weapons. "Branded content that promotes goods such as vaping, tobacco products and weapons will not be allowed," the post outlined. "Our advertising policies have long prohibited the advertisement of these products, and we will begin enforcement on this in the coming weeks."
Enter: TikTok - where many influencers are now migrating to reach their audience. Nearly half (49%) of TikTok's users said they had purchased a product or service from a brand after seeing it promoted on the platform, according to a report in AdWeek.
What Do Restrictions Mean For Brands and Influencers?
Paid advertisements for things like tobacco products on Instagram were prohibited a long time ago. Still, the ban now includes sponsored posts from influencers that promote these products and now: vape pens and adult content.
OnlyFans, the content subscription service, was another platform on the receiving end of the update to Instagram's terms in 2019, as they made a bid to crackdown on "sexually suggestive content." Although OnlyFans might not be a porn site by definition, they are aware that it can be used as a channel for pornographic content and won't permit accounts to use it in conjunction with Instagram in that way.
More recently, vape retailers were even dealt a ban from PayPal. PayPal stated that their users would no longer be able to make vape product purchases using their payment service, creating more difficulty for the sector. Some businesses were left without access to their funds. In these times, brands and content creators have to find other ways to engage with their target audience.
TikTok Has Become The Platform For the Vape Industry:
TikTok offers vast potential to grow because of the amount of reach on a global scale regardless of your existing social media following. Users only have to be logged in to be shown videos from new accounts, making it the perfect platform for influencers to grow organically.
"Unlike most social media platforms, you don't have to spend months and years on TikTok before you grow a large following," says Managing Director at Seen Connects, Sedge Beswick. "In fact, because of the way the algorithm works, the right video could drive huge levels of engagement from day one. Growth is supercharged by responding to a non-stop cavalcade of trending audio clips, hashtags and cultural activations."
Because TikTok doesn't regulate as tightly as Instagram, it's the perfect route through which influencers can still benefit from working in partnership with brands, simply through using relevant hashtags to reach their audience. For vape product influencers, they're able to use the app as a platform for discreetly promoting vape products - without being policed by the Food and Drug Administration.
It also uses a less promotional method of feeds, where ads look less noticeable. TikTok isn't as polished as Instagram, and endorsements appear more authentic, so consumers are less likely to be deterred by them.
What Does The Future Look Like For Influencers On TikTok?
Miguel Gonzáles from digital marketing agency Dealers League suspects that in months to come, the TikTok algorithm will change (as it happened with Instagram), and it could become harder for influencers who are starting out.
"To begin with: I think TikTok is perfect for going viral for several reasons, but the main one is that it is new. My bet is that in a few months it will get much more regulated, the algorithm will change and it will be harder for self-starters to become real influencers, so its popularity will go down."
As for the vape community, another corner of TikTok aims to alert young users to the chemicals found in such products and the health risks associated with vaping, possibly splitting its user base down the middle.
Justin Kline, co-founder at influencer and social media marketing platform, Markerly, said: "We've worked with state health entities on PSA influencer campaigns on TikTok and other platforms that focus on the darker side of vaping. Even with a segment of the app focused on vaping culture and hacks, it's promising to see another whole movement of influencers using their platforms for good to promote public health messages."
Is it Sustainable?
Generally speaking, as a social media marketing platform, TikTok has shown us that accessibility is crucial.
It's worth noting that despite having more lax rules, it is likely that regulation will tighten in the future. However, CEO at Coffeeble, Thomas Fultz, points out TikTok's tendency to be selective in its efforts to moderate user-generated content, dubbing the app a money-maker.
"Many adult content creators such as those pushing OnlyFans pages can be seen to get away with a lot more than general users, with many men (for example) complaining about removals of videos featuring them topless, while other users can post videos in their underwear," says Fultz. This suggests that while TikTok may have its own set of guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable, they are more lenient with creators if it means that they are also benefiting.
TikTok has proved to be the perfect platform for anyone to go viral. But while it is here to stay, it is probable that changes to regulations and algorithms will throw more obstacles in the way of content creators who are trying to monetize their craft in order to earn a living wage.