Managing Corporate Reputation on TikTok
Posted on

March 25, 2021

4 Min. Read


Lindsay Christel

Managing Corporate Reputation on TikTok

While it may feel as if TikTok appeared overnight at the beginning of the pandemic, the video-first app has been rapidly growing since its release in 2016. In the United States alone, the app has seen an astounding 800% increase in monthly-active users from January 2018 to August 2020.

As more and more users flock to TikTok, brands are beginning to find success in marketing through the platform. But when it comes to driving and protecting brand reputation, teams are scrambling to navigate the TikTok rules of engagement.

There are certainly positive and productive ways to insert your brand into a viral TikTok challenge or use the platform to drive brand reputation, but what happens when your company becomes the face of negative backlash spreading like wildfire and reaching millions? Many teams are caught flatfooted with little knowledge of the app’s capabilities and no plan of action to put out the fire. But that doesn’t have to be your brand’s story.

We’ve unpacked three important takeaways for brands to consider when scenario planning and responding to reputation issues related to TikTok.

(1) Issue lifespans are unpredictable because time is meaningless on TikTok.

While time is a major factor for algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, TikTok algorithms are mostly based on user interaction and preference. Therefore, users dictate the lifespan of an issue and it only dissipates when its relevancy among users drops.

In addition, videos on TikTok don’t show timestamps, which means that even videos that are months-old can be served to users and suddenly go viral without warning. Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign indicates that social media users treat older content on social media differently, with anything more than two days old being less likely to generate engagement. TikTok’s veiling of original posting date shifts the rules of engagement, allowing something that would have been a fleeting trend on another platform to sustain and build through longer engagement periods on TikTok.

The sheer volume of content on TikTok creates new trends every hour of every day, so potential issues could also go as quickly as they came. It’s all up to the users.

Consideration for reputation leaders

  • To get ahead of potential issues, include TikTok as part of your communications scenario planning and monitoring protocol. Because existing tools are unable to monitor and share alerts for topics on TikTok, it’s critical to regularly explore the app for potential issues. Evaluate now if your brand should create a TikTok account for response and engagement before an issue arises, so you’re better equipped to act swiftly.

(2) Misinformation is rampant, but community checks and balances exist.

Content on TikTok ranges from celebrity gossip to health to politics to sports and everything in between; videos can be silly and playful or serious and impactful. But similar to its peer apps, one thing TikTok is not immune from is mis- and disinformation. And while there are minimal formal guardrails to prevent the spread of falsehoods, defenders of science and truth can often be found in the comments section.

Scientific vigilantes take information they hear or see and conduct their own research to confirm or refute the content. For example, when product ingredients are under fire, they scour the web for legitimate sources and share what they’ve learned in the comments section, sometimes coming to the defense of specific brands, but more often fighting for the sake of valid science. Healthcare professionals are especially vocal in combatting falsehoods and sharing their knowledge. Those credible scientific voices can go a long way to change the narrative and have the potential to be invaluable assets to brands if the situation warrants.

Similar to other platforms attempting to combat misinformation, TikTok has recently added a warning when users click to share “unverified” content. Users will still be able to share the video, but the platform is hoping to encourage an extra pause for consideration before sharing.

Consideration for reputation leaders

  • Identify credible voices on the platform who can speak on your behalf and set them up for success (i.e., through offering trainings or providing messaging materials). In addition, make sure your counter-narrative is discoverable for those conducting their own off-platform research.

(3) What happens on TikTok, doesn’t usually stay on TikTok.

There is power in TikTok’s community, and that power spreads easily. It has been harnessed to spread public health information, raise money for good causes, or even “sell out” a Trump rally. In our increasingly digital world, the content that’s shared on TikTok quickly finds its way onto Instagram, Twitter, headlines and even the nightly news. Keep in mind that as the platform changes, so does the audience.

It may be tempting to disregard TikTok because it’s “just for kids” or only produces “silly viral trends,” but that mindset could be potentially detrimental for your brand or product. Not only is the power of the TikTok community stronger and more diverse than many people think, but its tendency to jump off-platform alone is reason alone to prioritize it in your company’s reputation management planning.

Consideration for reputation leaders

  • As TikTok issues arise, your action plan should reflect on- and off-platform responses. Consider what your audiences might come across in their Google searches. Will they be met by ads from trial attorneys and critical organizations, or will they be met with useful and authentic content from your website? Create a holding statement and prepare a spokesperson for instances when the issue spreads to news headlines and evening broadcasts. Prioritize an always-on approach through programmatic with critical segments. Take these TikTok issues seriously and prepare accordingly.


Purple partners with Fortune 500 companies, associations and coalitions to anticipate, navigate, and compel change. Please reach out to author Lindsay Christel or any member of our Purple team to let us know how we can support you.