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Where Are Teens Now? On the Next Big Social Platform.

Facebook’s recent decision to focus on peer-to-peer privacy messaging and pivot away from the one-to-many broadcasting model can be traced back to a nagging, unshakeable reality: the company that almost single-handedly invented the concept of social media is losing with the demographic that marketers crave most—teens.

The fear that it’s irrelevant to the teens and tweens who make up Generation Z might seem overblown when you consider that more than one quarter of the world’s population opens the Facebook app every month. Just about 1.5 billion of a total 2.25 billion monthly active users log in daily, 1.3 billion of whom use the Messenger feature to stay in touch with family and friends, Sprout Social reported in a roundup of social media demographics. Though 88 percent of teens as young as 13 and as old as 17 are apparently active on the scandal-plagued site, Facebook seems to be having trouble truly winning them over. It recently reorganized its 100-person “youth team,” deep-sixed the teen-oriented meme app LOL, and instead is focusing on Messenger Kids, a version of its private communications app for the under-13 crowd.

On the other hand, Snapchat and its quirky augmented reality (AR) filters command the attention of 186 million daily active users—far smaller than Facebook’s reach—and more than two-thirds (69 percent) of Gen Z kids in the 13- to 17-year-old age bracket, according to Sprout Social. Snapchat is where brands like Lego dropped a millennial-friendly streetwear collection, where Amazon went to partner on AR-driven product discovery and commerce and where Nike took the sneaker release hype to new heights, dropping a limited-edition Air Jordan 3 “Tinker” during the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend.

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U.K.-based fast-fashion retailer I Saw It First, which caters to teenage and college-age Brits, garnered 186,000 views on Snapchat after it worked with influencer marketing firm Fanbytes to gets its cheap-and-trendy Fashion Nova-style wares into the hands of 17 influencers. More than 90 percent of people who saw the 30-second ads watched the whole thing, and 4.1 percent—higher than industry average—clicked through to the retailer’s website.

Preferences for social apps seemingly change with the wind, especially among teens who are eager to “discover” the next big thing before everyone else does. That’s in part why Tik Tok, the app that merged with Musical.ly last year and is an international subsidiary by Chinese firm Bytedance, is spreading like wildfire in school-age circles, to the tune of 800 billion global downloads to date, by some estimates. Tik Tok was the fourth-most-downloaded app in 2018, excluding games, with global app installations outpacing those of Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Influencers popular on Instagram are now creating for Tik Tok, too, publishing their own video clips up to two minutes in length set to the app’s library of music and showcasing silly antics, skits and what the platform was built for in the first place—lip synching. Notably, Tik Tok users spent $6 million on in-app purchases last year. Virtually all of that money comes from the tips that users send to creators whose livestreams they enjoy, according to SensorTower.

Though Tik Tok doesn’t seem to have hammered out a formal strategy for monetization or collaboration as of yet, some early movers have worked with the video platform to get their brand in front of Gen Z. To promote the launch of the “Escape Room” movie last month, Sony Pictures worked with Tik Tok to create buzz around the PG-13 fare. The film company enlisted a mix of influencers and Tik Tok creators from Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and UK to try to break out of the escape rooms they recreated from the movie. Inam Mahmood, who runs brand partnerships for TikTok EMEA, pointed out that the platform’s “community interests and demographic are perfectly in line with Escape Room’s audience.”

Sony executive Sal Ladestro said the “TikTok creators were able to generate their own fun and shareable UGC for their followers and spread their excitement about the film.”

Though brands and retailers might be satisfied with familiar, established social platforms that have been proven to drive value and results, it’s better to be a first mover than a follower when it comes to teen-friendly apps. In fact, Fanbyte’s Sascha Morgan Evans says now is the time for brands to begin seeing how they can reach Tik Tok’s young, engaged audience.

“Brands need to take TikTok head on, rather than treating it as a distant and unfathomable platform,” she wrote in the company’s blog.