By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter

DESPITE the myriad of issues it faces in the US and in other countries, no one can deny the popularity of social media app TikTok and its impact on music marketing because of its highly sophisticated personalization algorithm, said one of its executives.

“I think that TikTok is the ultimate marketing machine for music, and for other things as well. If you think about it, the game in music promotion and marketing has always been how do you get the right song in front of the right audience, and ideally play it for them in repeat because we all know that when we hear something often enough it does sort of build a sort of affinity to that track — if it is a fit between a fan and the style of the music,” Ole Obermann, ByteDance’s vice-president and global head for music, said in a Sept. 14 session at the recently concluded digital All That Matters conference.

All That Matters is an annual conference for the sports and entertainment industry in Asia. Now on its 15th year, the conference was moved online due to health and safety precautions against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The conference ran from Sept. 14 to 18.

And if the game in music promotion is to always get the right people to listen to a song — and on repeat at that — then TikTok has got it covered with its “sophisticated algorithm,” according to Mr. Obermann.

“And you have to think about the fact that every single TikTok feed is personalized. No two people in the world are getting exactly the same feed because the algorithm is that sophisticated… it picks up on the finest little signals of what you like, what I like, what everybody likes, and it customizes the feed,” he explained.

TikTok’s “for you” page is a section in the app where users can view a feed of recommended videos to users based on their activity on the app. The content on this page is generated by the app’s artificial intelligence (AI) depending on what kind of content a user liked, interacted with, or searched. It’s also highly personalized.

“So we are able to get the right song in front of the right fan on a one-to-one basis and literally find hundreds of millions of fans,” he said, before adding that if a user liked a song, their feed will have more videos of people using the same song.

“So if you’re talking about the ultimate direct marketing machine, I think that’s the space we’re playing in here,” he said.

TikTok, although it has been in existence for just over four years, has amassed users in the hundreds of millions as in July — it reported having 700 million users worldwide. TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance and is commonly used to create seconds-long videos of anything: from dances and memes, to educational and informative content. It was originally launched in China in 2016 as Douyin before going worldwide as TikTok in 2018.

TikTok’s continued success in the US remains a toss-up, though, as until now issues about national security hound its presence in the US and in other countries, most especially in India where it has been banned since June.

“If we’re analyzing the numbers, the thing that jumps out at you is you’re approaching trillions of overall usage in terms of creations and views on the platform,” Mr. Obermann said of the reach of the app and why it is such a fertile ground for people who want to promote music.

Unlike traditional music strategies, which Mr. Obermann described as a one-way street as they determine popularity of a song through the number of streams, downloads, etc., success in TikTok is measured in the number of videos created using a song.

Before working for ByteDance, Mr. Obermann was the chief digital officer and executive vice-president for strategy and business development at Warner Music Group.

But TikTok, according to Mr. Obermann, can also be used just for more than promoting music or creating viral dance challenges. TikTok can also be used by marketing agencies to push out ads that are “more engaging.”

“One of the slogans we’ve been really pushing with TikTok is “make TikToks, not ads” and with all of our brand partners and agency partners, we’re educating them on the fact that TikTok allows you to create advertisements that can be much more engaging and fun than sort of the traditional ad format,” he explained, before adding that that’s meaningful for music because if the right song goes with the right ad on the platform, “you’re gonna get massive reach, massive engagement and audience.”