Where TikTok Is Headed in 2021

Published on January 19, 2021

2020 was a challenging year, fundamentally changing the way people engage both with each other and with businesses. With stay-at-home orders and an increasing need to socially distance, the world turned to social media in unprecedented numbers. Usage of TikTok, in particular, exploded.

In the last year, the app has grown to over 100 million users in the U.S. and surpassed Instagram as the second favorite social media app for US teenagers, behind only Snapchat. TikTok’s engagement also continues to rise: from 62% in the spring of 2020 to 69% in the fall. And while TikTok continues to gain market share among the coveted youth population in the U.S., the platform also continues to age up rapidly.

This meteoric rise in 2020 is set to continue in 2021. There are several emerging trends to look out for on the platform as we start the new year:

Authentic advertising will continue to propel success.

TikTok has fueled the movement toward authentic brand marketing and this will only continue and expand off of the app in 2021.

For brands, it’s no longer about creating ads that speak to, or at, the consumer. TikTok has built a platform to create connections, have conversations, entertain, and speak authentically with consumer audiences. And consumers are latching on, as detailed in this report published by TikTok. Gen Z, in particular, hates ads but enjoys engaging with brands which are playful, authentic, and speak to them the way their friends do. Gen Z’s buying power will only continue to increase. It’s important for brands that speak to all demographics to make note of these growing consumer trends.

E.l.f. cosmetics, which made TikTok history with its #EyesLipsFace campaign, is a great example of this. The company has invested heavily in TikTok-centric content that is a continuous hit with the platform’s audience. The first-ever TikTok reality show “Eyes. Lips. Famous.,” for example, provided a platform for TikTokers to engage with e.l.f. and develop their skills at becoming a TikTok influencer. It seamlessly integrated one of e.l.f.’s core brand pillars –  empowering others to succeed – with a platform insight that would get the TikTok community onboard. The result was a very engaged and excited TikTok community. Over 3,000 TikTokers nominated themselves to enter the competition and the show earned over 40 million views, leading to a 57% lift in followers on e.l.f.’s TikTok channel.

Diversity will remain a dominant theme

Simply put, TikTok is for everyone. No matter how niche the topic – from cooking to car repair – there is an audience for it on TikTok. While TikTok first gained popularity among Gen Z, millennials now make up a whopping 46 percent of TikTok’s U.S. user base. There’s even growth within the Boomer and Gen X populations, which now make up almost 20% of users on the platform.

This diversity in age is also reflected in the content users create. There are communities related to sports, professions, music genres, hobbies and more. Nearly every topic has some presence on the platform. This will only increase in the year ahead, as established communities grow and new communities of interest are created.

Reach will continue to break records

The achievable reach on TikTok is unprecedented. In 2020, the most successful TikTok users (brands included) generated billions of views on the platform, a KPI that was previously unachievable. As more and more users join the platform, these numbers will not only be sustained, but increase.

TikTok’s algorithm makes it possible for anyone to go viral. It’s not unheard of for a user to wake up one day with millions of views on one piece of content. Both newbies and platform experts have seen massive reach from one viral piece of content. We can expect to see more of these record-breaking numbers in 2021.

Advertising opportunities will expand

2020 brought many opportunities for advertising on TikTok, from in-feed ads, which are similar to Snapchat and Instagram story ads, to hashtag challenges, a TikTok-native option that provides brands unprecedented reach. As TikTok continues to grow and evolve, so will the advertising opportunities available to brands and marketers.

While TikTok can provide brands extraordinary exposure, lower-funnel conversations remain important to marketers. The latest integration with Shopify is a great example of what we can expect from the platform in the year ahead: more advertising opportunities that can generate ROI, but that still remain authentic to the joyful TikTok experience.

2020 set the stage for TikTok’s continued growth. This rapid growth will continue in 2021. This is only reinforced by the growing number of competitors that have been introduced to the marketplace in the last six months – from Instagram’s Reels to Snapchat’s Spotlight. Such a robust landscape will cumulatively aid in the popularity of these short form video platforms, with TikTok as the leader of the pack.


Evan Horowitz founded creative agency Movers+Shakers in order to spread joy. With over 90 billion views on their TikTok campaigns, Movers+Shakers has become “the go-to agency for brands making moves on TikTok” (Refinery29). Evan is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS Engineering from Stanford. For Evan’s industry insights, follow him on LinkedIn.

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