Opinion

The 80:20 view: TikTok, VLOOKUP and Drake

In the first of his regular columns for Mumbrella, Thinkerbell's general manager Ben Shepherd goes beyond initial labels to discover unique value.

It’s always tempting to label something new.

We did it with MySpace. Facebook. YouTube was allegedly for amateur content and cat videos. Twitter we thought was for inane observations. Snapchat for teen sexting.

Generally, these initial labels are incorrect. All of these businesses have proven to be much more broad, and important, than we initially thought. And most of them have managed to find new and innovative ways to turn scale into revenue.

Over the past 12 months we have seen the rapid user uptake of TikTok. And like those platforms that have come before it, it’s been labelled.

The more considered takes have been relatively reasoned. Mark Ritson called it “nothing new for marketers,” Scott Galloway called it the “new Instagram,” and the New York Times called it “the future”.

Here’s the thing. We don’t really know what TikTok is yet. It’s so deep and layered that we are still uncovering what makes it work. What we do know is it’s entertaining, fresh, different and allowing new forms of content to emerge.

And this is where I’d like to introduce you to Kat Norton.

Norton is known on TikTok as Miss Excel. She posts videos which teach users of excel helpful shortcuts, whilst she dances to popular music.

This description above is exactly what it is. Miss Excel will teach you the basics of VLOOKUP, whilst dancing to ‘Tootsie Roll’ by Drake.

I came across Miss Excel on TikTok and followed her, as I use Excel every day and have been average at it for almost two decades. In her 20 second videos I’ve learned more than from my employer-funded Excel courses.

But here’s the thing.

Miss Excel has turned a relative novelty into something bigger. Much bigger.

Norton was a consultant doing securitisation reviews for banks when COVID-19 hit. Her travel schedule went from full to empty.

“I would infuse Microsoft Excel trick videos with trending songs (think freezing your Excel cells to “Ice Ice Baby” or creating drop down menus to Snoop Dog’s “Drop it Like It’s Hot”) and put them on TikTok. I had never used TikTok at the time nor knew how to video edit, but I trusted my gut. I knew I would figure it out as I go.”

In June she created the TikTok account Miss Excel, and by her fourth video she had hit 100,000 views. Her sixth video led to paid work from an online training provider, and within a month she had 100,000 followers on the platform. “The majority of my following is ages 18-35. My community is mostly working professionals and college students.”

Norton has now grown that audience to 250,000, and had added a further 75,000 on Instagram. Some of her videos are generating over 3,000,000 views, with her audience largest in the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines and Canada.

@miss.excel

Got Too Many? Remove those duplicates in seconds!!! 💥 did you know this trick? #learnontiktok #excel #howto #edutok

♬ Too Many – Tyga

Eight months on from the start of her TikTok journey, Norton has been “comfortably” able to quit her consulting job and move Miss Excel into a full time endeavour, earning a living off the TikTok platform and her series of online courses.

“It was the catalyst for finding my passion and starting my business” says Norton. “It allowed me to reach an incredibly supportive community within weeks and completely shifted the trajectory of my life. It was the first step to quitting my full-time job and living the digital nomad life of my dreams. It has taught me so much about myself and I am so grateful for this opportunity to help so many people.”

And this is the thing. When we are quick to label something we can close our eyes to everything else a platform offers.

And if TikTok has the ability to allow a young professional the ability to quit their consulting job and move into conducting excel lessons via dance and make it a viable and lucrative full time pursuit, then maybe we have a platform here that we need to be much more open about.

So is TikTok nothing new? I don’t think it is. There are tens of thousands of stories like Kat Norton’s emerging. People who have turned their skills, ability to entertain and mastery of the platform into a global business.

For marketers there’s perhaps lessons in this around how we consider it. And how quick we may be to want to label it.

Ben Shepherd is the general manager of Thinkerbell. The 80/20 view is a regular column on Mumbrella.

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