It’s been well documented that TikTok is the go-to social app for Gen Z. However, a surprising statistic came out recently, showing that 40% of Gen Z users prefer using TikTok and Instagram for search over Google.
For nearly two decades, Google has dominated consumer search behavior. Google has even become a verb. So this shift in behavior is indicative of a much larger shift happening across the internet.
Last weekend, it just so happened that my Gen Z daughter had a group of friends over. I asked them about their behavior on TikTok, and they agreed: It’s the platform they go to now when searching for anything, from the highest-rated beauty products and clothing trends to the best restaurants in the area or recipes to try.
These are the kinds of searches we might expect Google to have the monopoly on, but Gen Z prioritizes engaging with authentic content. They want to see a visual representation of something rather than read about it. What does this mean for brands, and how can they adapt their behavior to take advantage of this?
An always-on game of relevance
Social channels have become brands’ digital storefronts, and the content shared on them is the cornerstone of building a modern brand. It’s an always-on game of relevance, where brand channels need to be “alive” to engage existing communities, introduce brands to potential consumers and make brands discoverable on search.
It requires testing the various features on a platform and understanding algorithms to cut through the noise on the platform where consumers spend their time. More than ever, there’s an opportunity to capitalize on search behavior and generate purchases from platforms like TikTok.
However, it’s important to remember that TikTok can’t be viewed as an exact search match. And that’s part of the appeal.
For example, the search results for “feta cheese” on TikTok are very different from the results for “feta cheese” on Google, which is why this audience is attracted to TikTok and finds it more useful. A hashtag or search on TikTok will also generate culturally relevant elements like music, people and live events and can be filtered based on likes and views. This, in turn, yields a different set of videos that consumers can continue to relate to.
We’re seeing a shift from TikTok as a pure brand channel to a channel that drives action across a highly valuable and curious audience that wants the most utility from their search.
Think and act as a consumer, not a brand
Brands need to humanize themselves and appreciate that, unlike most other social media platforms, TikTok was created with the consumer in mind, not as a space for brands to build. The appeal of TikTok is that it’s a non-curated space where users don’t know what to expect, where relevance, as opposed to reach, is king and where search options are more relatable, convenient and experiential.
Companies must not only have the right voice within the search but also think and act like the consumers they are trying to reach. Again, it’s not about automation or scale. It’s about insight and what’s happening now. Not only is TikTok providing more up-to-date, timely and various options for a single keyword, it’s providing ideas that might end up being more accurate in terms of the original search than what might be found on Google.
Consumers visit the platform for exactly the reason that makes it so challenging for brands: unpredictability. It ironically allows for more trust, in that a recommended search is coming from a person who is relatable to the person who’s searching.
This is where the fact that Gen Z uses TikTok more than Google begins to make sense—because the most up-to-date resources are only available where relevance holds the highest degree of importance and is most largely applied to all demographics in a single search.
Gen Z believes TikTok search is for discovery, whereas Instagram or Google provides validation. The key to this kind of consumer behavior, which brands must keep top of mind in this new landscape of consumption and attention, is that companies have to remain flexible, nimble and timely in order to garner attention and participate in a search that prioritizes relatability and authenticity. Otherwise, they’ll be left in the dust.