Now What for TikTok: A conversation with Bryan Thoensen
Now What for TikTok: A conversation with Bryan Thoensen
29:47

Now What for TikTok: A conversation with Bryan Thoensen

Culture
Tik Tok is the mobile center social media platform started in September 2016 that let users create, upload, and share music based videos. It's an all offshore byte dance with Chinese roots a platform that has grown quickly to 8,000 users world wide. And how suddenly the world has found itself in this COVID 19 lock down. 2020 when social distancing was prescribed, so now what? [MUSIC] Well we're here to speak with TikTok's head of content partnerships, Brian Penson, about what happened on TikTok recently, and what lies ahead. So, first of all, Brian, thanks for joining me. Hey, thanks so much, Jim. Appreciate it. Yeah. Great to have you here. So start us off with how is user behavior really changed since February? What have you seen? Boy, it's really been, you know, kindA a wild time. I think when we look at the users, the creators and really just consumption on the platform What we've seen is obviously an explosion of consumption, right? So many videos, being watched now I think as folks are sheltering in place and are at home. I think what we are seeing though is an influx in the amount of creation That really is about inspiring creativity and bringing joy, people are digging even deeper than they have before, you know are bringing their true authentic selves out and are starting to really experiment with with new formats, you know, things that are starting to really open the aperture on the platform to, you know, new worlds of content, genres, things like. Sports and gaming, DIY, cooking, fashion and beauty. So we're starting to see a lot more that type of content pegging up into the right growth trajectory. Yes, it's like to dive into some of that stuff. Let's start out though, with what new things are you guys at Tic tock rolling out? New programmes, new initiatives you've been developing To support the new changes that you're seeing in user behaviour. Yeah, so I think two things really are, in our immediate line of sight and our, big strategic focus in the short and in the long term. The first, not surprisingly, is live streaming. This opportunity that again, I think folks have in this sort of very strange and unprecedented time. To go live, to again I think really put their authentic self on display and connect to the audiences in a way that they maybe don't get the opportunity to do as randomly through the dailies, through the publishing in feed. And so from that perspective, live streaming, looking across again a lot of those different content categories Thinking about ways that we can make live streaming unique to TikTok. You know, leveraging the platform and kind of those typical consumption habits. And really come up with some cool formats, some innovative and interactive ideas, that we can inject some life into from our creator community with Are public figures and celebrities and even some of the media publishers we have on the platform. So live streaming for sure is is a big one. This let's talk about live streaming for a minute we can go to the next one cuz I think live streaming super interesting and people think about Tiktok is you know, it's a 15 second platform or it's like a 62nd platform. Live Streaming goes on a lot longer than that, right? Talk about what that live streaming behavior has been like. And are your users really spending a significant amount of time watching live streams when they're used to this sort of shorter form video behavior? They are Jim, they are. You know, the typical content sort of format or length on the platform is like up to 60 seconds and. Normally its like that 15 to 30 second verse which really [UNKNOWN] and kinda forces you to be as creative as you possibly can be in a very short space. But what it also does is it creates this fandom, this unprecedented sort of Love for you know the creator community that really translates in live. So what has been historically you know, a big driver of live streaming have been a lot of our, you know our top creators that have those big audiences. And now, again with some of the new challenges that we're facing. I think what we are seeing is significantly longer time spent and watch time, formats are elongating as well. I think what that's giving our creators is an opportunity to play with different storytelling mediums. And so in the live format and functionality, We are seeing full like cooking tutorials. We're in the kitchens with some of our cooking creators and our celebrities and we're seeing from beginning to end from soup Nuts you know this full experience on how to and and you know ultimately what that that meal looks like at the end of the day. So, yeah, I think it's really fun to have a a platform that you know is predominantly short form but also has extend Tensions into this longer format. Yeah, when VidCon was in Australia, but late last year, I was talking to a couple people are already using Live and they're saying one of them was basically a farmer and was saying, Yeah, I go on, I get like hundreds of people watch. They just keep doing they, there's an ability for them to give me virtual gifts and I can actually make money doing this, which I thought was awesome. So it sounds like Live streaming is A great product that you've been working on, and have you really seen the COVID quarantine kind of accelerate it because people are just sitting around and they've got really nothing to do, but they're spending more time on platform, for sure. Yeah, in a huge way. Music is such a vital part of our platform, and so, again, the ability to tap into music artists like Jason Derulo, who went live With just an unbelievably again interactive and unique sort of music format, again, I think that's what folks are really clamoring for is something new, something unique, something to sort of brighten their day and, bring a little joy. And again, I think it's it's not just music, it's. All these different formats from cooking to QA to, you know, a little bit of a variety show we've kind of experimented with a lot of different things. And I think what we are seeing is that our users are really thankful and you know, really heavily engaged in what's happening online. That's cool. I don't know if it would make sense but next time we talk about Tiktok. About we do it live streaming on tik tok.>> I love it. Let's do it. We can get some friends and some creators to join the party as well. Yeah, I think I have I think I have 100 followers on tik tok. So, of course. [LAUGH] So what are some of the other things that you guys have been working on new features and capabilities that you're rolling out? Yeah, so the second thing I think to complement our live streaming efforts is really about bringing more utility and enrichment to the platform. Again, as I talked about, we are starting to see an explosion of content diversity on the platform. Certainly, lip sync and dance and comedy are kind of 3 juggernauts for us from a genre perspective, but We're starting to see so much more, as I mentioned before, food and animals, gaming, DIY, life hacks. And so those things are really giving way and giving birth to a slightly more instructive and informational content format that we are really leaning into in a big way so We recently announced on sort of the heels of a big kind of COVID relief initiative, global COVID really a relief initiative, a creative learning Fund, which is really meant to First and foremost, help those creators that are sort of sitting in that instructional educational vein. And a great example is a small business owner, somebody who runs a hardware store in a small town, who Has really been affected by this social distancing and the sheltering at home. There's not as much foot traffic to her hardware store. But she's also a closet wood worker and a DIY expert. And so the ability to bring some of that funding, some of that relief to that particular creator and help her build a business on the platform, it is a really wonderful thing for us to be able to do. And what it also does. It is it brings more educational instructional tutorial even content to tik tok. So, imagine Yeah, no I was gonna say so look down the road and think about some of the instructional and informative and educational things is that become an even bigger part of the platform. If you're looking down say you know 12 or 16 months Is educational, does it take over, and does music sorta seep into the background? Or how do you think about that mix developing? Yeah, no, I don't think it takes over. I mean, I think for us, it's all about complementary pieces, right? The for-you feed The personalized recommendation engine that really drives the platform. Is about customizing and experience for you. And so if educational content, if informational and instructional content is what you're into, we wanna make sure that we have an abundance of that, right? To feed your needs. But I don't think it takes over certainly not, on the music side where the sonic identity of the platform and of these you know, these videos is such a vital part of that, you know, sort of trend storytelling. I think it's just, it's adding more legs to the stool and and I do think that instructional. Content, educational informational content will become a much bigger part of, you know, the next 12 to 18 months down the road and is something that we are going to continue to invest in as we bring more of that content and the creators that make it to Tik Tok. Okay, so talk so I want to move on to creators and viewers in a minute but just give me an example of one very surprising sort of instructional DIY or something around that. They're like, wow, I never thought I'd see that on TikTok, but boy, that is super cool. Yeah, I think some of our medical professionals and again, I think that lines up really nicely to some of the COVID stuff that we're doing, but We have a creator named foot doc Dana, she's a podiatrist and a surgeon. And she's ultimately started on the platform really again leaning into the trends. Utilizing original sounds as well as as music to, kind of, talk about her profession a little bit and really frame up, what, what being a doctor you know and in her case of foot doctor is all about. With COVID, I think you've started to really see her lean into some of that. Education as well in terms of just, talking about best practices, in terms of limiting the spread of the disease and, things of that nature and that now obviously we are getting back into, what it takes to go to medical school and, she's a woman in a predominantly male dominated industry, and so. It's also, there's some motivational, and instructional, and DIY around how to kinda break through, and really follow and pursue your dreams. So she's been, I think, a surprise in terms of really being able to adapt and become kind of a multi-hyphenate in our world, covering a lot of ground, as far as content creation goes. All right, [UNKNOWN] Dana, I am following here as soon as we're done. [LAUGH] Check her out. That's so cool So moving on to creators and viewers, a lot of Tik Tok is about creating with friends together. How has the format of creation changed now that you can't be with your friends anymore? Yeah. You see that expanding on the platform. Well, I'll tell you Jim, one of my favorite times of year for Tik Tok is the holidays and I think, you look at Thanksgiving and Christmas Where, in non-COVID related times, you just see families and people come together and really, discover to talk for the first time usually, by a slightly younger kind of lighthouse, family member. And I think, again, this is certainly, A little different than the holidays, these times, but what I think it has done is for those that are sheltering in place with their families, it's brought those families together in much the same way. And so I think what we're starting to see is a multi generational content approach, like we're seeing Mom and Dad get brought to the platform and you know, they're doing these these kind of trend oriented Hashtag challenges and content pieces. Grandma has gotten on the action and of course we love that approach as well. And so that's the folks that are sort of living under one roof and working together in that capacity. And then I think we're also seeing and that's the beauty of inspired creation and that's such an important you know bit of the fabric of tik tok is, you know that you may create a video today and that gets picked up and re expressed it Then reinterpreted, you know, by a friend of yours or by somebody you've never met in another country. So that's, I think, really been, where a lot of the limitations on, social interaction have really fueled tik tok is that, we're starting to see more of that inspired creation happen, almost like a baton pass right from creator to Creator. As these trends morph and evolve and sort of take on a life of their own. Yeah, collaboration was always such a big thing in the growth of some other social video platforms and it's such a big part of TicTok. It's great to see that collaboration start to happen, even if people can't be in the same place. 100% yeah, we're just we're trying to really build out our communities looking at some of these micro communities that either emanate in More of kind of an ethnic place, if you think about black creator community or LGBTQ creator community. Bringing those creators together, again virtually or irl, once the sanctions are lifted is a really important sort of aspect of what we wanna try to foster in terms of collaboration. And then obviously looking at also You know the fitness community and you know the woodworking or calligraphy community like those super niche long tail micro communities. Again, I think it's all about bringing people together and allowing them to share best practices and be inspired by one another as they may.>> Their you know, one of the things that I'm always really pleased when I get to talk and look at is that sense of positivity there. It's very much a calm as you are platform right? You not trying to curate the perfect example of you and trying to and in many ways, users can end up feeling kind of distraught when they see all these perfect people on some platforms and try and create a perfect version of themselves that doesn't really exist. And I think, particularly these days where it's a stressful time that we're all going through I love the fact that there's not that sense of having to keep up with other influencers. How do you think about positivity and bring positivity on platform as well, through the way you curate content, the way the way you highlight content and the way you create new capabilities for people to create content? Yeah, it's it's really, you know, our competitive advantage, I think our point of differentiation, right, this idea that we're occupying a whitespace That really is a reflection of our mission to inspire creativity and bring joy and I think the joy element is really born of authenticity, right? It's Come as you are as a great way to look at it. You know, to really think about content creation with that ultra curated polished veneer. Is a liberating and freeing feeling. I think for a lot of folks that you don't have to shoot something or film something, 10 times or whatever to get it right. doesn't have to be perfect, right. We sort of celebrate The imperfections because you know, TikTok is about sort of finding that you know, commonality and all of us as human beings that like we're imperfect and a little quirky, a little weird, and that's kind of the beauty of the platform. So we do talk about that a lot. You know, no matter who you We're working with across the partner spectrum. That's something that we absolutely want all of our partners our creators to lean into. I think you look at Will Smith and a lot of celebrities especially, there's been for so many years I think in traditional media, right? This sort of velvet rope, right? And I think celebrities have to be a little careful you got paparazzi climbing, the The hedges, trying to snap pictures and so there's an element of privacy that has to happen but the beauty of the internet and the beauty of social media and I think what YouTube got started and what we're I think hopefully really careful. Carrying the torch on is this idea that, you know, accessibility between fan and creator and the walls are broken down to such an extent that you can be yourself and you're celebrated for being yourself and for you know, kind of showing that side of you that maybe you don't always get to see we have the you know, the NFL as a partner and one of the things that they're really Finding is as a huge success is, most of the time football players have a helmet on. And you don't really get to know their personalities and you don't get to see how quirky and funny and weird they are. And that's the beauty of what some of these athletes and teams have done is they've come onto the platform and just been so unapologetically them, right? And and uniquely I think authentic and that's what's really, I think, driving what's the adoption. The rocket ship that we're all on here is that level of authenticity that every creator brings every day to their work. I love that quirky, funny and weird. I'm gonna keep that in mind when I'm- We celebrate it all, yeah. Explaining TikTok to people that don't know about TikTok. It's like, just go there. You'll find someone like you. On creators again, they're cooped up now just like their audience can't go outside. They're locked down. Have you seen that for creators that been frustrating for them? Or is it become a real source of inspiration? And what are some of the things that you think have come out of that if you think it's been an inspirational time for some of these creators, Yeah, I mean, look. It's a frustrating and challenging time for us all, and I think that creators are no different. And so I think it's less about the quarantine, and more just about the stress of life around us that might be creating some friction. But I don't think that's stopped The creation of content and that again that creativity and joy that we see you know, video, video, video. What it has really done is give people time to think more about what they want when I say they, I mean creators, what they want out of our platform. And that's another big aspect of what we want, you know, our kind of partnership, you know, architecture to look like right? A very- Ears, open eyes open, listening, kind of an environment where what our creators have really been doing more than than ever before, is picking up the phone and calling and saying, Hey, I got a great idea. It would be great if right, have you ever thought about and I think we're taking a lot of that feedback in from a product perspective. You know, in terms of like content formats and just doing different things I mentioned live before. You know, there have been so many really interesting pitches and ideas around. You know, just how to tell stories. And had a program that I don't know necessarily would have come as quickly if not for, a lot of this new environmental change that we're seeing. So, I'm so inspired by, again the amount of of new creators on the platform as a result of people having more time on their hands and also Again, the inspirational ideation that's coming out of the Creator community around things that we can and should build in the short and long term. That's super inspiring. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about monetization and brands. More and more, I've been seeing brands showing up on tik tok. Seeing more ways for brands to get integrated in but it's kind of different from the traditional way that advertising is interrupted video. Can you give me a sense of the state of monetization right now on Tick Tock and how you see brands, really being successful and then maybe a little bit about where that's going and what its gonna look like in the future. Sure, so I think monetization or really brand, presence on the platform, it's got to start with. Creative and content and is it interruptive? Or is it additive? It is kind of the question that we ask ourselves quite often and those brands that are getting it so very right. Look at Kapolei who have leaned into David Dobrik in a big way and you understand the power of creators and helping to sort of tell their brand stories. I think Kapolei has always You know, demonstrated themselves to be a brand that sort of, isn't just about selling burritos there. They really are, trying to entertain and so I think the ones that get that how to use the platform natively like Chipotle a make a ton of sense elf cosmetics is another. You know, they created an original sound that took off and went viral on the platform, you know, just as much as a lizard track might. And so I think to be able to get him to lean into the right things and use the platform, you know, for all the different sort of fun ways that can be used is the right brand strategy. As we think about, you know, the brand presence, I think that's something we have to ensure we're safeguarding right is the The experience of all of our users so that again, that brand content that shows up in the feed is not interruptive but you almost can't tell like you're watching you know those creators, and those videos that are,cultivated and curated for you. And you get another great video, again with a creator you might love or with a brand you might love It feels so bespoke to the environment and the experience. You know, for us, I think especially, you know quite often about how we're going to not just accelerate and grow our creators from a content point Perspective, but how we're going to also work with them to build businesses. That's even, you know, more important to a lot of our media publishers on the platform, right? You have ad sales teams and, you know, big shiny glass buildings in Manhattan that you know, they've got they've got to build a p&l around this. And so I think, you know, as we are working with these Creators with these media brands to grow their audience. it's incumbent upon us to help them convert that audience to advertisers, right? So making those those channels, large enough to attract potential sponsors or advertisers is is probably the biggest opportunity for monetization, you know, for creators and partners today. You mentioned live streaming and kind of your Observations in Australia that has become I think a really meaningful source of revenue for you know, those creators that are eligible to go live and receive gifts and and you know, sort of the the tips and monetization that happened when you can galvanize and mobilize a tribe of fans and followers. And then you know, I think we've got a lot of things that we're thinking about. You know, it really started with what we call Lincoln bio. So you know, you have a number of creators and publishers that are thinking In about ways to sell things direct to consumer, right? Whether it's merge, whether it's again in a non COVID time, tour tickets, just things that dimensionalize their brands in a bigger way with their fans. So providing more avenues and outlets like Lincoln bio, to be able to consummate transactions that feel born of the content is really I think gonna be a big focus. So those three things are primarily kind of our triumvirate around how we think about monetization for our partners and creators. And again, hope to see so many more brands jump on the platform and Do it natively and organically.>> Yeah, I see a lot of partners starting to pop in. And certainly creators, there are a bunch of creators that do it as a hobby. But there are a lot of them that are so good that they should be turning this into a vocation, and some of them are. Yeah. It's good to see that you guys are working on a bunch of different ways for creators to get paid, cuz I think that's a very important part of the platform. And these various things you're talking about coming to US over time, which is great. But how do you think that balance for the user who's on platform, seeing brands start to pop up seeing shopping start to pop up, seeing their virtual gifts and things like that start to pop up. How does that change the experience is it starts to muddy the sort of pure experience that TikTok kinda is today. I hope not I think our vision is that it dimensionalize is it, right? That it's additive, right? Imagine that you're watching a scuba diving video, right, and that's what you're into. It's customized, gyms for you feed in that way. You know, imagine a world one day where you're then able to do some research on where you can get Patty certified to become, you know, a scuba diver yourself or you can research a trip to Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Or you know, again, you know a number of different things can can sort of Evolved from there just watching that content and I think we have a responsibility to ensure that the content is always King and always made the center piece in the center point to the experience. And that we can add these component elements again, whether there is there are brands that are jumping onto the platform as sort of sponsors or native publishers, or we're adding these things to the video experience. It has to be additive, it has to feel seamless and native and organic and in obtrusive or non interruptive. That's the key to making it work. And I think we Are going to continue to listen to our users to our creators, take that feedback, beta test a lot of things and sort of see what works. And ensure that whatever we do roll out in mass to the public into our broad base of users feels kinda battle tested and also feels very endemic and reflective of our platform and what we stand for. Cool. Alright. Well, one last thing I wanna explore is what TikTok looks like in the future, but I was struck by you bringing up David Dobrik, which is great. Now, David Dobrik, OG Viners, you know, built some success on Vine then on YouTube, now is huge on TikTok as well. I know we're starting to see some of these OG Viners start to move into TikTok and do a great job there, which makes a lot of sense. I'm wondering what Tik Tok looks like when we have OG tik talkers. So give me a sense of no look 18 months down the road look towards 2022 2023 even 2024 if you want. What is Tik Tok look like then what happens when you've got an OG class of creators It's a much more mature platform, how does it look and how people experience it? Yeah, so I think this goes back to what we were saying with respect to dimensionalizing. The platform and the content on the platform, I think really, making that Leanback experience much more lean forward, providing more utility with every, content viewed. I think, again, the The educational component tree, we'll we'll add to that, but certainly, bringing product features to the table that allow for that as well is super important, but on the creative side of things, the beauty of having a class of Vogue creators that were sort of either born Back in the musically days or joined TikTok, when TikTok was TikTok. I think what it really does is it gives us an identity that's unique unto ourselves. And look, content creation is not a new thing But our platform and the way that content is created and consumed is so very different. And so, again, I want to, make a point of,, saying just how integrated our creators and partners are in the evolution of the platform, right down to the way that we evolved the product. And, the way that we think about new formats and programming and things like that, so. It's hard to say like what 18 months looks like when we're running and gunning in like quarterly or even twice monthly installments but I do think that providing more dimension, more utility More enrichment in that content experience. It is certainly the future of TikTok and what maybe to expect there. And then on the creator side, we do hear tons of ideas from creators about things they wanna do, right? And I don't know that we're in a place where it's full-blown original series, but There's certainly lots of really fun and interesting ideas to explore new formats to, you know, to dig into live in a bigger way. To me, that's what the platform looks like in 12 to 18 months is this really rich, robust ecosystem of lots of different Content types,and and ultimately seeing the platform evolve into areas like food and travel and fashion and beauty and gaming and sports and lifestyle. more of that content, more creators. From all over, not just OG but also folks that, and there was a creator that we found that was making Christmas ornaments on Etsy that had never done a single thing in video. And just looking at her work it was like You are going to be the next massive DIY creator. And, you know, have you ever thought about turning a camera on yourself and you know, or your phone? So I think it's that sort of stuff. It's cultivating the new class, even, of creator and, you know, helping them help us, you know, in lockstep to really bring this platform into the next phase of its evolution. Cool, I for one, I'm really looking forward now to Christmas on Tick Tock. [LAUGH] There's a lot going on there but we're out of time. So, Brian Fenton, thank you very much from Tick Tock for joining me. Great to have a conversation now we know now what the Tick Tock? So thanks a lot. Appreciate it. Thank you so much, Jim. It's been a pleasure. Bye. Take care.

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