The Rundown: Even with 1B active users, TikTok still lacks lots of basics

TikTok logo on a black background.

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TikTok rode global youth enthusiasm, hundreds of millions of dollars in ad spending — much of it with competitors — and a pandemic-fueled shift in consumer behavior into the Billion Active Users Club this year. 

But for a platform with so much scale, TikTok is still missing a lot of the basic leadership and technological infrastructure that will define its next phase of audience and advertising growth, according to advertising executives as well as a number of recently published job listings. 

The key details:

  • On Sept. 27, ByteDance told Reuters that TikTok has 1 billion monthly active users. Analysts had forecast that TikTok would cross the billion-user mark this year, with eMarketer forecasting it would grow to 1.2 billion.
  • That represents 45% growth year over year, and exponential growth over the past three years; at the beginning of 2018, TikTok said it had 55 million global users. Much of that growth was driven by ads TikTok bought on rivals’ platforms: In 2019, close to 80% of its ad budget went to Snapchat, and in 2020, 73% of it went to Facebook. (This year, the greatest share of its ad spending has gone to broadcast TV.)
  • TikTok remains in the midst of a hiring spree. It has over 1,400 job listings posted on LinkedIn, including several for roles that will define many of the moves it plans to make in social commerce, how it will approach small business advertisers, and how it will build out analytics infrastructure for advertisers. 

Frenzied expansion

While TikTok has been hiring aggressively for a while, the pace of its recruiting and growth has been so frenzied that it has warped the job market for key ad tech roles at publishers, brands and agencies. 

Many of the jobs it posted recently will be pivotal for its future monetization prospects. It is hiring someone who will “oversee product strategy and adoption of our native commerce experience,” which it recently expanded with Shopify. 

TikTok is also looking for executives who can help establish its relationships with small and medium-sized businesses, a business segment that has effectively insulated rival Facebook from things like last year’s boycott. Those include a global marketing lead for SMB advertisers, as well as someone who can help lead marketing for SMB ad products

Lots of ground to make up

TikTok’s torrid growth helped convince lots of advertisers to try out the platform, mostly using their experimental budgets. For some advertisers, TikTok has already become important; Digiday+ Research from earlier this year found that TikTok has already vaulted past Snapchat in importance as a driver of revenue and brand-building. 

That same growth — as well as TikTok’s status as a new platform — also afforded TikTok some leeway when it came to its ad offering overall. Advertisers say that TikTok cannot currently compete with Facebook or Google when it comes to targeting and analytics capabilities, but it is the new, shiny thing, and that affords it some flexibility.

Some of the things TikTok needs will be addressed through third-party integrations. TikTok announced Tuesday that it had partnered with Integral Ad Science to offer the latter’s brand safety assurances to advertisers seeking to advertise on the former.

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