How TikTok won fashion | Fashion

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Joseph Altuzarra is not considered very good on social networks.

The designer has posted on Instagram for years, but said he tends to overthink what he shares. Recently, he’s been fascinated by TikTok, known for its addictive short-form videos and tight-knit youthful communities of hyper-specific enthusiasts. Altuzarra was just a bystander on the platform until June, when the private chef who cooks for his family over the summer in the Hamptons went super viral on the platform. She was struck by how quickly the chef, Meredith Hayden, saw her audience grow and how impromptu her videos were. She encouraged him to try it himself.

“There was no, ‘Oh, you have to post [at] this time if you want an optimal audience,’” Altuzarra said. Because the way the app shows videos to viewers is somewhat random, he felt “a lot less pressure to make things work or be good.” Also, she enjoyed being a part of the platform.

“I find it much more compelling, from a creative standpoint, than Instagram,” he said.

Altuzarra is one of the millions of users attracted to TikTok in recent years. TikTok ranked as the world’s most downloaded app in 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022, according to data from Sensor Tower, a company that tracks app data. And TikTok users spend more time each year. But the app still trails rivals like Instagram and Facebook in total viewership, ranking fifth globally in terms of monthly active users, according to TikTok is expected to capture only about a third of the influencer marketing dollars brands will spend on Instagram this year, though it has overtaken Facebook and is on track to take the No. 2 spot from YouTube by 2024, according to Insider Intelligence.

For most of TikTok’s rise, the fashion and beauty communities treated the platform as a place to experiment as they built their online marketing campaigns around Instagram. No more. Meta’s recent promises to feature more videos and recommended content on Facebook and Instagram feeds demonstrate just how much TikTok has disrupted the social media landscape. And as many users bristle at changes to the apps they grew up on, brands and influencers are reconsidering where to focus their efforts.

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“TikTok is where trends start for us,” said Stacey McCormick, senior vice president of marketing for Aerie, American Eagle’s intimate apparel and sportswear sister brand.

Influencers who built their careers through carefully filtered Instagram posts are also embracing the new reality.

“If we look at it from a business perspective, and just purely financially and visually, I just don’t see how a creator can continue to just post on [Instagram] feed,” said Vanessa Flaherty, president of influencer agency Digital Brand Architects (DBA). “It’s kind of a dying breed right now.”

Before the pandemic began, Instagram was the dominant platform for fashion and beauty, replacing print magazines as the primary source of trends and personalities driving the industry.

But if the corollary of Instagram is magazines, that of TikTok is television. Compared to TikTok’s silly, chaotic, personality-driven videos (and sly sense of what videos viewers want to see next), Instagram strikes some users as too commercial and contrived. For many, Instagram just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

“TikTok was successful because it is everything that Instagram is not,” said Bryan Gray Yambao, in a WhatsApp message. Also known as Bryanboy, famous fashion and style blogger who became popular on TikTok by parodying the lavish lifestyle he used to portray on Instagram more seriously.

Instagram is struggling to adjust to the TikTok-ification of the internet, coupled with a broader decline in online ad spending. In July, parent company Meta reported its first revenue decline since going public. Meta’s stated plans to show Facebook and Instagram users more recommended content from accounts they don’t follow, particularly video content, are seen as a direct response to TikTok’s popularity. But frustrated users and influencers say they are missing posts from the friends and celebrities they chose to follow.

Meta executives argue that Instagram and Facebook can balance their original roles as social networks while also becoming discovery platforms. However, user reaction reached such a high volume last week that CEO Adam Mosseri released a video statement explaining the strategy changes. The company later said it would “temporarily decrease the number of recommendations you see in your feed so we can improve the quality of your experience,” according to a spokesperson. But the general strategy remains the same.

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Instagram’s changing strategy creates a dilemma for fashion brands. Instagram remains the place where most customers are and where businesses have the most experience converting marketing spend into brand awareness and sales. But user frustrations over the app’s algorithm raise questions about its future relevance. Meanwhile, TikTok’s influence is growing at a rapid rate. The application is much more than viral dances.

“TikTok is like a fusion reactor of innovation and ideas from which a lot of cultural trends come out,” said Brian Vaughn, partner at Shadow. The creative marketing and communication agency has worked with brands such as Aerie, Express and elf Cosmetics.

And TikTok is no longer just a destination for teenagers.

“Millennials: They may not necessarily be the ones who are creating a lot, but they are consuming the content,” he said.

Aimee Song is one of those millennials. The longtime fashion influencer, who launched a clothing line in 2019 and is represented by DBA, has been online long enough to remember MySpace and Xanga. She now has more than 6 million followers on Instagram and another 84,000 on TikTok. Song is still getting used to posting on TikTok, where she mixes images of fashion shows with goofy videos of her family. She is surprised by the new people she has met on TikTok, including a stylish 61-year-old former fashion executive, Gym Tan.

“I never would have discovered her on Instagram,” Song said. “It’s just that she offers how to dress in a non-cluttered way.”

Meanwhile, on Instagram, Song posts more videos to increase her chances of being featured in her followers’ feeds.

“Honestly, it didn’t come about supernaturally, it was more like, okay, I have to do it because if you don’t follow the show, then you’re going to be left behind,” he said.

While Instagram is under threat, it is far from obsolete. By the end of 2021, CNBC had reportedly amassed more than 2 billion monthly active users worldwide (Meta does not regularly release Instagram user numbers). And Chinese ownership of TikTok could complicate its future in the US as tensions between the two countries worsen.

For many brands, Instagram is still considered a better place to drive actual sales, while TikTok is better for brand awareness. (While specific articles can go viral on TikTok and sell out, predicting or engineering that kind of response is tricky.) Instagram has been building and tweaking its in-app purchases functionality for years, though TikTok is aiming to catch up. The app is testing different in-app purchase products outside of the US.

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“People always say that Instagram is taking a page out of the TikTok playbook, but I think TikTok is probably doing the same thing when it comes to shopping and commerce on their platform,” Flaherty said.

Instagram also remains a top priority channel for many brands that hire influencers like Song to create sponsored content, especially in the luxury and design category. Your audience there is more likely to be older and have the ability to spend several hundred dollars on a designer bag. Her audience on TikTok, on the other hand, often has very little knowledge of or interest in fashion, she said.

Aerie’s McCormick said the brand thinks of its Instagram account as a curated brand billboard. Customers who are ready to buy from the brand often head to its Instagram account before its website, he said. On TikTok, where users are more or less likely to search for content about the brand, Aerie’s strategy is to build as much awareness as possible by hiring creators and running ads that reach a wide audience.

“If you want to take a message and send it to as many people as possible, you can do it through [TikTok]McCormick said.

Vaughn agreed that the “aesthetic-driven content” that Instagram is known for remains valuable to brands.

“That also has a place in the marketing funnel,” he said.

Emily Oberg, a former influencer who started her Sporty & Rich clothing line from an Instagram humor board, has no interest in shooting “videos of myself doing things” for TikTok. The accounts that she follows still appear in her Instagram feed.

“I am very happy to limit my use of all social channels and will only limit it more and more as I get older,” he said in an email. “It feels good and I don’t want to participate in the fate of the content.”