Over a two-day period at the beginning of this year’s SXSW festival, TikTok held panels and workshops at its inaugural event for independent agencies to better understand the platform. 

TikTok’s uncertain future was largely absent from those discussions, however, the overwhelming interest in how to capitalize on its command over Gen Z and the future of commerce on the app was clear.

TikTok’s FYP Event For Agencies

On the 44th floor of the Hanover Republic Square in downtown Austin, TikTok brought creators, brands and agencies together in over a dozen well-attended talks and workshops.

One consistent message from the invitees at the FYP event—and elsewhere at SXSW—was a desire to reach new audiences on the platform while understanding and embracing the uncertainties that go along with it, whether that meant seeking out new measurement solutions to tie platform goals to clear and measurable KPIs, or navigating cultural moments through strategic risk-taking on the platform.

“We had some really great conversations with leadership and internal stakeholders about how 2023 is going to be our year for TikTok,” said Courtney Landolfe, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at J.Crew.

All Eyes On TikTok

Despite the backdrop of a potential ban, brand marketers, agencies and media companies remained bullish on continued investment into TikTok as a full-funnel marketing channel.

Zachary Ricchiuti, Associate Vice President of Client Delivery at Kepler, shared the company’s plan to take a long view to TikTok, noting they are “road mapping our evolution on the platform, not just three months from now, but taking a two-year horizon and [changing] the entire infrastructure and how we activate from a creative standpoint.”

“Ayzenberg is working with TikTok on behalf of several result-oriented clients. Outcomes to date have been more than impressive,” said Eric Ayzenberg, CEO of a.network and Ayzenberg Group. “It’s important to take a 30,000-foot view on social innovation, especially around short-form video and TikTok. The results for upper-funnel brand awareness are undeniable. Simultaneously, we are now entering yet another transformational phase around social commerce to drive full-funnel results,” he said.

Carly Carson, Head of Integrated Media at PMG, also shared how the company is prioritizing and positioning TikTok as a media platform: 

“We’ve been on a tough journey just like everybody else here over the last couple of years, and what has been really exciting has been how it transformed from a big, high-impact flash in the pan, single-moment bucket, to what is now becoming an always-on full-funnel part of our—not just social platform ecosystem—but our total digital ecosystem.”

TikTok Rewards Risk

TikTok has always been a grey area for brands wading into the platform mainly through the efforts of savvy, chronically online social media managers and platform-native content creators. And while the prospect of a ban seems more of a clear-and-present danger than previous threats—especially in a year of platforms in jeopardy—that hasn’t stopped social media managers from pushing for more risk-taking and extending that principle elsewhere.

At the panel ‘Navigating Calculated Risk On Social Media,’ Zaria Parvez, Social Media Manager for Duolingo, talked about how TikTok has changed the role of social media managers and the appetite for risk in social.

“Calculated risk has just encapsulated the essence of Duo on TikTok. When we first started our account, it was very basic, very language-learning focused, and what you’d expect from a language-learning app,” Parvez said. “And the big calculated risk that we took was when we shifted it to Duo being a creator himself.”

Parvez noted that in the past decade, social media managers have gone from following an approved script to ad-libbing—to writing their own script and delivering it across millions of devices billions of times. Part of that process has been educating internal stakeholders about communication on the Internet in 2023 and consistently accelerating the risks taken.

When it comes to brand leaders, the perspective is similar: risk-taking and TikTok should be understood as complementary. Patrick O’Keefe, VP of Integrated Marketing Communications at e.l.f. Beauty gave the following advice: “When you’re thinking about leaning in, you’ve got to take risks. We took a lot of risks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, if you don’t, you’re not going to win on the platform,” said O’Keefe.

The Future of TikTok

Commerce was a common refrain for what attendees and panelists were most excited to see on the platform in 2023.

“It’s a repetitive answer because everyone on the stage has said this already, but commerce has to be the most exciting piece,” said Kepler’s Ricchiuti.

“The improved shoppability of TikTok ads continues to grow and diversify, we’ve been talking a lot about shops for J.Crew and several other clients at Kepler … that’s probably the biggest area for us—and for everybody,” he continued.