TikTok’s strange, unprecedented twists and turns come against the backdrop of significant changes to social media itself as it evolves from a medium of sharing to a one-to-many delivery medium for the digital age.

TikTok’s platform is based on viral content through casually created, widespread videos. It seems everyone and their mom are aiming to be featured on the “For You Page,” where TikTok provides a curated feed of videos from around the world to enjoy their fifteen seconds of fame. By curating content across the platform, TikTok marks a departure from older social media platforms that were designed to distribute content more closely to a limited group based on community, geography, or shared interests. While TikTok is completely different in tone and structure, it is no different from traditional broadcast media, which are also used to distribute content widely in order to compete for the largest possible audience.

TikTok’s efforts to monetize its platform can tell us a lot about the future of not just the social media business, but television and one-to-many media in general.

TikTok wins a seat at the table

Some of the first major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and LinkedIn, were designed to make it easy for users to create and share media among finite circles of followers. Generally, these circuits include friends, family, and colleagues. Such real-world social connections, as the nickname “social media” suggests, have been at the core of the user experiences, distribution frameworks, and monetization models of these platforms.

Gradually, each of these platforms has worked to make themselves better suited to wider and more public communication, tweaking algorithms and user experiences to encourage more professional content production and wider audience distribution. This change explains why we’re seeing more incentives for professional content creators (like Facebook Watch and Snap Originals) and more resources to promote users to discover content outside of their existing social networks (like Twitter’s trending topics). After mastering the one-to-little experience and monetizing it more successfully than anyone could have predicted, social media platforms are trying to master the one-to-many game book in which television still remains the undisputed king .

TikTok is already here. By encouraging everyone to produce entertaining content for a global audience, TikTok skipped the social giants while no one was looking and won a seat at the table with players on TV and streaming. TikTok recently cemented this firm position among the top social platforms: it is currently the most downloaded app on the Apple App Store and Google Play, a cultural phenomenon big enough to be turned into a geopolitical soccer ball.

As TikTok breaks new ground at the intersection of social virality and TV entertainment, it offers new advertising opportunities so that brands and organizations can connect with consumers. Going forward, the key to success for marketers will be creating content that matches the uniqueness of the platform. Videos need to be immersive, but not too polished and value-driven, but not overtly commercial. In other words, they have to be built from the ground up for entertainment and virality.

Will TikTok gain a share of the wallet?

TikTok has clearly claimed a unique place in the media ecosystem. The question now is how well the platform can monetize this position. While widespread distribution of casual content can offer tremendous branding opportunities, it is not yet clear whether TikTok can use this format for direct reply campaigns that aim to drive immediate action and conversions. Unlike Facebook or Pinterest, TikTok has no signals of consumer buying intent. And it only gets harder for TikTok to build a rich audience profile when local governments examine how the company manages user data.

Looking ahead, TikTok could rely on social commerce for both instant monetization and generating intent signals to bolster the advertising goal. In the short term, this means scaling up the successful pilot project for buyable ads in the US. Buyable ads are, in many ways, the only ad unit that combines the power of digital with the reach of a one-to-many platform. They collapse the funnel and turn any brand message into an opportunity for conversion. It’s no surprise that television is on a similar path with monetization. Leading broadcasters like NBC are introducing buyable ads in both TV and digital video formats. Walmart’s pursuit of a stake in TikTok signals that there is real potential in linking up with retail. As the shoppable formats in video become more standardized, Walmart and other retail giants are seeing uncharted territory where their mountains of purchase intent data and mastery of the bottom funnel can lead to better monetization.

TikTok has proven that its algorithm is incredibly effective at motivating people by turning up videos based on what people are seeing. Time will tell if aligning brands with consumers based on their interests can also prove effective. If possible, TikTok will capture a $ 600 billion share of the global advertising industry, commensurate with its unique place in the ecosystem. If that’s not possible, it ends up in the social media graveyard alongside MySpace, Friendster, and Vine.

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