Blake Chandlee likes to call TikTok “the new kid on the block.” With 150 million active users in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine the video-sharing app as much of an upstart. But Chandlee relishes competition, believing TikTok is the more nimble, and more likely to succeed, as both Facebook and Instagram embrace short-form video, as he noted on the Signal 2022 stage.

“We think that the more competition and the more people focused on that will [bring] more value to brands in this room,” said the president, Global Business Solutions of ByteDance/TikTok. “If we have all three big players on that, it’ll make your jobs easier.”

You can hear more from this lively conversation between Chandlee and Signal360’s John Battelle in the video below, or read our lightly edited transcript.

John Battelle   
We’re very happy to have Blake Chandlee, the President, Global Business Solutions of ByteDance/TikTok. Please welcome Blake to the Signal Stage.

I’m good. How you doing? You sit here because you face everyone and they can see you. I just asked everybody. Let me ask you this. You may have it on your phone. But do you use it daily? How many people use it daily? All right, well, it’s a little fewer.

Blake Chandlee
How many people have have loaded it in the last year? How many people put on their phone just because I was gonna be here today.

Well, before we get started, you have a little video that I think you wanted to show that sort of sets things up in terms of what TikTok’s focus is now so why don’t we run that?

Are you a forager? Do you love spooky season? Or perhaps you’re a big fan of a nice tidy home. Or your bride who loves a good bowl of soup and chasing UFOs in your custom van? Well, then, welcome to TikTok, a community for everyone. On TikTok people stand out from mainstream culture and develop their own norms, values and ways to express themselves. We call these groups CommunityToks, no matter who they are, what they love, how they spend their time and where they invest their creativity and attention. People can pull back the curtain and be their truest selves. Creators and fans with similar interests find each other on TikTok to celebrate moments that bring them joy. TikTok’s algorithm has made it easier than ever for people to turn their interests into real communities. Everyone can actively participate or be an engaged viewer. CommunityToks provide an opportunity for brands to connect with communities both large and small, and to co create alongside them.

One rule? Honor the unique way a CommunityTok creates and communicates. This chubby little terrier mix had a very messy booty, so it was straight to the tub for her. The pay off? Massive. TikTok is the only place where brands can meet active audiences as equals, rather than advertisers. This means brands get to be part of culture at the source, inspiring seriouss brand love. Welcome to the bass neighborhoods of CommunityToks. Stay a while.

And they do stay a while. As I understand it. What’s the average? TikTok session?

Depends a little bit where you are in the world. But it’s somewhere north of an hour a day.

It’s an hour a day, you know, eight to 12 to 20 seconds at a time.

You go down the rabbit hole quickly.

It’s a surprisingly clean rabbit hole. You know, by the standards of the internet.

I think that at the very base of everything, we try to inspire creativity and bring joy. So the kind of content you find on TikTok is different than we’ll find elsewhere.

I appreciate you being here. I think that that video is focused on community is really interesting. You and many others, as I noted with Matthew [Henick] are, alums of Facebook Meta? And there was a very public pivot to community at Meta. But there wasn’t the product payoff, in my estimation, that you see, that sort of naturally occurs on tyour platform. Is the community feature something that is broken out recently? Or is it something that was just endemic?

On TikTok?


It’s just it’s just endemic. It’s how people are communicating and how they’re sharing with each other the kind of communities and what we’ve built is different than maybe some other platforms. Because at the core, and we talked about this a lot is, we’re not a social platform, right? We’re an entertainment platform that’s driven by community. So the kind of content that you find and experience in your For You feed is going to be different. And that’s got different opportunities for brands and people around the world. Not to discount social platforms. I think they’re great. I still use Instagram still use Facebook. TikTok plays different role in my life. It’s replacing television versus some other behaviors.

I have this sort of unspoken policy and I’m going to make it spoken which is if there’s an elephant the room, I like to shoot it. And there’s a big one in the room. It’s just an invisible elephant that has to do with data use and the Chinese government. I’m not ambushing you with this question. I let you know that, that we talk about it. One thing,  you’ve worked with brands, your whole career as far as I have. And we know one of the things that brands are very concerned about is safety. That’s a word that means a lot of things. But last year, or I should say, a year and a half, two years ago, TikTok was much in the news, because the current president decided to use it as a political punching bag, I would say. From that point forward, there’s been a lot of questions. Then a big article came out, saying that some data, in fact, was being shared with ByteDance in China. I want to give you an opportunity to address those stories and the fact that an FCC commissioner called for your app to be removed from app stores in the United States.

That’s the elephant in the room. It’s unfortunate when a story breaks, and it’s full of misinformation. It’s really important for, and I appreciate the question, by the way, I know it’s a hard question to ask.

It’s actually really easy to ask. It’s not easy to answer.

I’ve got my confidence in the answer. It’s not that hard of a question. If you think about us, from our perspective, the number one, two and three priorities in the company, are user safety, community safety, which includes the security of people’s data, right? We are one of the most, if not the most, at least in current times scrutinized company when it comes to the space we live in. One is we historically came from a younger audience. That’s changed. And we’ve seen over the last few years, that’s changed pretty dramatically as our audiences diversified in a pretty significant way, which we can talk about. But also to our heritage, especially in the last couple of years. So we know, we’re going to be under more scrutiny than anybody. I tried to allude to it and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to speak with our actions.’ And so a couple of things. Brand safety was a subject we talked a lot about with the teams here in this room and around the world. We feel like we built a tremendous suite of products and services around brand safety.

We talked about that, and and it’s been alluded to by some folks, and we’re actually leader now in that space, versus our competitors who have been around for 10 years. No disrespect to them. I think they’re great. It says we focused on in a different way. When we talk about measurability we focus a lot in the last two years around measurement. How do we make sure that brands are confident that when they spend money on TikTok, that that they’re getting the kind of ROI or whatever the measurement they need for them to go back and have confidence and continue to invest in us. And now, historical data, data security. So we’ve done a couple things that have been what I would call industry leading first and foremost, two years ago, we launched our transparency centers, which are physical locations that people can walk into anybody in this room can walk into with us. Governments walked in, regulators walked in to press walks in, and we share everything, we open up our entire platform to them to scrutinize. We brought in cybersecurity experts. We’ve we’ve spent really a lot of time these transparency centers. Never been done before. But we opened up our algorithms for everybody take a look at. The transparency reports, which were not new, were something that we felt really strongly about. We just evolved our transparency reports to include more and more information visa vie the industry.

Then we announced and the most important thing for the U.S. is we announced two things one, what we call USDS, which is the US Data Security Business Unit, which is a standalone business unit that is going to be governed by cybersecurity third party experts, managed by an entirely separate legal team, or management team within the company. That organization will house all U.S. user data. It’s in place today. It’s got leadership in place today. It’s a formal organization and then we went another step further and said we’re actually going to house all of our U.S. data off of our servers on Oracle servers.

This is not because we’re hiding from something this is because we need to build trust, especially with the U.S. government, U.S. audiences brands. Trust is our number one objective and so to do that, we will go above and beyond to says like say you wear a belt and suspenders to give people confidence in that and then be open and transparent about it. Not hide from it.

The number one thing around trust is our users. We want users to feel comfortable that as they’re creating and generate inspiration and joy for those around the world, they can be comfortable doing that. That’s really what we’re trying to do here.

I appreciate that. I just do have a follow up. You said that the articles, the article was a Buzzfeed piece that came out, there was misinformation in it but is it accurate? That information has traveled from the U.S. unit to the PRC?

So we’ve had systems and processes in place. We regulate us data, and we have it hosted in the U.S. and Singapore, and we have teams, legal teams who are responsible for anybody who wants access to that. So if I want access to it, I have to get approved by our legal team in order for regulation.

But what if the PRC wants access to it?

Absolutely not. We’ve never been asked for it. The data doesn’t sit in China.

But I mean, just to just to run a little hypothetical. And it happens all the time, the U.S. government asks for under the rule of law in the United States asks for data from all companies, including TikTok. And by the rule of law, you’ve got to give it. That rule of law exists also in China. So is it fair to say that that could happen? Should the Chinese government desire it to happen or for Tiktok?

Not for TikTik. We have business units, and you’re going to speak to one of my peers later tonight, in the Chinese session. Douyin is out big platform. It’s a sister app to TikTok sits in China, which your teams know well. We do a lot of work together. They fall under different regulation.

I’m just doing my belt and suspenders too, we can move on. We touched a little bit at the top on this, but I feel like I just need to ask. You said that to the extent that the algorithm is knowable, you have transparency around it. But it is kind of remarkable. Number one in how it works. It’s very entertaining. And number two, it’s sort of not creepy. You know what I mean? Sometimes you go down a rabbit hole in YouTube or something else, and you sort of left with a bad taste in your mouth. But what is it? Why does it work so well?

I love the sound bite not creepy.

Congratulations. It’s been 35 years of the internet. Finally, an algorithm that doesn’t creep us out. But why does it work so well?

I think it’s a combination of two things. One, I think it’s around the content that exists as being created. The reality of it is TikTok is just about authenticity. So the creators in our platform, or anybody, it’s not just big influencers.

And it’s a high percentage of creators compared to the sort of they used to be at 199, or 10-90 or 80-20 rule on the internet than most everyone was watching. And a tiny group of people were creating.

It’s definitely Democratized creativity. And there are big creators. You have the Charlie Damelios that go from being Connecticut school girls to renowned, famous influencers, with businesses and brands under themselves. But the vast majority of content consumed are just everyday people. And there are different stages of our traders, you’ll have people that are first-time traders, there are people that are just want to express themselves and inspire. Then there are people that are trying to start to build a career. We had to VidCon a couple of weeks ago, and Vanessa Pappas, who I work closely with, was the keynote speaker. Rather than talking, she’s brought creators on stage and let them tell their story. These stories are amazing. They’re emotional. These were people that were homeless, but all of a sudden bought their first house for their family. Because of what they’ve done on TikTok. It’s amazing to watch this creator community. So it starts with the creator community and what they’re creating,  and then the algorithm the For You feed just picks up on what your interests are, and then feeds you this and then occasionally, it slips something in, a little bit of discovery. We know Blake likes to travel. We know he likes cooking, we know he likes fishing, and we know he likes puppies. And actually, I am a closet laundry guys. So it’s weird that way. But once a while they’ll slip something in. I didn’t know I’d like it. I’m watching something that I might not have any idea what I was interested.

I’ve noticed that. So what are your tips for effective marketing on TikTok? I think the video itself mentioned that the marketer is, and you said this as well, sort of appear, as it were. But what tips do you have for folks who want to succeed there as marketers?

So the number one tip is you have to use the product. I just can’t imagine it truly believe this. I spent 10 years at a different company from the very early stages. And back when people said, ‘I don’t have that app on my phone, that was for my kids or my partner or whatever, I don’t have it.’ And then over 10 years that changed. I fundamentally believe that TikTok is going to dramatically change the way businesses build value, connect with audiences at a global scale, with enough engagement, that you can fundamentally change user behavior. We’re seeing it over and over again. We’re seeing it with brands in this room, we’re measuring it, and we see it over and over again. The number one thing people who are using, those brand managers, those media management, or they are using the product. They understand the nuance, and what people expect from that platform.

Two, engage with the creative community. The creator community knows what works on TikTok better than we do. It’s one thing to want to control the brand, there’s another to bring that creator community early into a process, because they’ll have ideas around how we should think about things. What’s gonna appeal their audiences. And then not just find creators that have tens of millions of followers. This is not about, how many followers a creator has. It’s about the audience that creator has, and whether it’s relevant to the community you want to reach. Because we’ve seen amazing work coming out of creators that have 100,000 followers, that might be better than creators got 10 or 20 million followers, and anything can go viral anytime. So I think that creator community is really important. And then number two, measure, measure, measure measure. We’re not afraid to measure. We have lots of resources, internally measure online, offline, everything from top of funnel, attribution metrics all the way down through did we drive a product off shelf.

That just gave me a nice bridge to the next question, which is, everyone looks at the future of many of these super apps, if you will. And they say, the integration of commerce is obviously what’s next. I asked Vanessa [Pappas], about this last year, we did a virtual session a year ago. And the growth has been extraordinary in that year. Is that coming? Is the integration of commerce coming?

I know that P&G has significant business in East right, and there’s a whole session tonight on this, and you’ll hear from our CPG lead in Beijing around this. If you look to the east and see where the connection of community and commerce sets, it is clearly driving a significant business.

We’ve launched Tiktok show. we have Douyin shops and Douyin our e-commerce solution in China. We haveTikTok shops in Southeast Asia now. So in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand. We launched it in the UK. We have seen different behaviors in the UK than we’ve seen in some of the Eastern markets with regards to merchants and traders and users. It will be coming to the US. We think that this connection is not just something we want to do for business reasons. There’s this whole world discovery taking place on TikTok and users are finding out about brands they want to connect with. And we feel it’s our job to connect that in a really native and kind of efficient way. So TikTok shops is our version of that commerce application. I think it’s a big deal.

I’m sure it will be. On the flip side of that all of your colleagues in the industry have certainly noticed. Not only they noticed, they’ve copied you. There’s YouTube Shorts, there’s Instagram Reels. What advice would you give to marketers are saying, ‘This is awesome. ButI’ve worked really long, great relationships with all these other companies. We’re at scale with them. They have user data that you might not have. So I’ll see how Reel does.’ Which is taking off. ‘Or shorts. Why should I move a big amount of my budget over to TikTok?

Reels and Shorts are both very legitimate competitors. Their user numbers are growing, their consumption numbers are growing. To your point, they’re very good at monetizing their audiences. We’re still learning. We’re the new kid on the block. I think we’ve made huge progress. I think we innovate very, very fast. We’re still in a place where we can innovate very, very quickly. We’re not burdened down by some bigger decision making desk. We’re a pure play in this space. This is what we do. That’s not to say they won’t be successful. I think they both will be very successful. I think the broader trend to understand is how user behavior is changing to short form video. That’s the story here. It’s not TikTok versus Real versus Shorts. It’s there’s a fundamental change taking place in user behavior. We happen to have started that change. But that change is universal that’s what we’re saying. We think that the more competition and the more people focused on that will [bring] more value to brands in this room. If we have all three big players on that, it’ll make your jobs easier. So we want them to be successful. It makes us better that we have to innovate faster with big competitors, and we’ll continue to focus our story around that. But we actually embrace the competition.

Excellent. Well, I look forward to seeing how it develops. Thank you for enduring the hard question. I appreciate it. Blake. Please join me in thanking Blake for coming.