TikTok as a search tool
Where is the first place you would head to find a delicious and nutritious recipe for dinner or a place for lunch that’s close to your office? If you’re answer is something like Google Maps, or some form of food blog, then I’m sorry to say that you’re showing your age.
Recent studies by Google have revealed that many 18–24-year-olds, social media is their first port of call for research and discovery. Rather than tracking down CNTraveller’s top locations to visit this winter, or scrolling through paragraphs about the minutiae of how this food blogger perfected their Vodka Pasta recipe, Gen Z is compiling boards on TikTok or hopping onto Instagram Reels to find the perfect quick recipe.
If you’re thinking, “yeah, we knew that, that’s why I made 100s of Buzzfeed’s Tasty! style videos years ago!”, you’re half right. However, whereas in the past people would be served a video on Facebook, for example, they might then save it with the intention of viewing (or cooking) later, and then continue to watch more short form video content. Now, they are going directly to the likes of TikTok to research what they are looking for.
At a recent conference, Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organisation, noted that, “something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.” It’s active search rather than passive discovery that is the key change here.
Before we go further into what this means for where want to be appearing to reach our audience, let’s take a quick look at how we got here and where we came from. And why so much web content feels like getting through War and Peace rather than just finding what you are looking for.
Google has done a great deal of work to curate and recommend certain businesses or sites, based on how well their site gives information about certain search term. To do this, sites are essentially ranked by what relevant information they contain, links to other useful resources (within the site and to other sites) and how many other sites link back. All of these metrics essentially suggest that the site must be useful, because other sites link to it; it contains relevant information on a certain topic; and it contains relevant key words.
All of this means that over time websites have increased the written content on their site in order to rank highly, as words are more easily indexed by Google, and therefore get more clicks. And so rather than a simple recipe page, we have an enormous blog post that we need to scroll past before we get to the actual recipe we’re looking for.
So that’s where we’ve come from. However, for Gen Z who have grown up with the internet, there is no hangover from pre-internet days. They do not compare Google to Ask Jeeves, or dare I say it Encyclopaedia Britannica or Encarta, and therefore think how easy it is. And they didn’t ever use a real, paper map, so the design of Google Maps doesn’t really make sense.
With that in mind, it makes sense that they are seeking information out in different ways. And they certainly are – not only do 55% of product searches in the US start on Amazon, but according to Ofcom, three in 10 UK teenagers get their news from Instagram, and half of 16-24 year olds on TikTok get their news from ‘people they follow’ rather than ‘news organisations’.
We won’t get into fake news and misinformation, as while this is absolutely an issue, it deserves a blog post of its own! However, one key things we should take is that these platforms are the one stop shops that Google once was for the previous generation.
What this means, is when we are looking to create content for social or looking to influence the younger audience, we need to see social media as they do; as a search engine. If you’re considering creating a how-to video for YouTube, you should be creating a short edit for TikTok too. Make sure that partnerships with relevant Instagram and TikTok creators are part of your plan to reach Gen Z.
And remember, if you’re looking for the best place for cocktails tonight, you might find the perfect spot on TikTok.