Family Dinner Recap: Matt Cleary of TikTok

Event Recaps
Oct 27, 2021

by Elizabeth Savin ’25

Launched in 2016 and now growing at exponential rates, TikTok is regarded as one of the most popular social media platforms currently on the internet. But what is the app really? Matt Cleary, head of retail and dining partnerships for global business solutions at TikTok, views the app as a place to create and discover content. He said TikTok is “creating an opportunity to put something in the world.” Although you can use TikTok to connect with friends, more people view it as an opportunity to connect with their areas of interest and to learn new things. 

On October 20, 2021, Residents and Tinkerers got to hear Matt’s views on the purpose of TikTok as well as learn more about the purpose of advertising through TikTok at The Garge’s weekly Family Dinner. Matt is incredibly passionate about the company and loves how “culture doesn’t just show up on TikTok, it is created on TikTok.” He went on to explain that TikTok is a unique platform as it combines both video and audio to create an immersive, personalized experience for users.

Throughout his talk, Matt expressed that anyone can create content on TikTok. In fact, some of the most viral videos that exist are not the most polished. TikTok gives everyone the opportunity to share their content and passions. Matt shared more about some of the most viral videos and trends that exist on the platform and explained how they grew. When a video is first posted on TikTok, it is shown to a group of people who have similar interests to the creator or have engaged with similar videos. If the video receives interaction from that group, it will be shared with an additional group that shares interests that are aligned with the content in the video. From there, the video continues to spread to additional groups of people, eventually becoming viral.

After explaining more about the platform, Matt shared information about his role in the company. Matt works with brands that would like to advertise on TikTok in order to do so in the most effective way possible. He encourages companies to “make TikToks, not ads.” During his time, he has found that consumers prefer companies who work to connect with them either through creating a trend or partnering with a creator. Matt encourages brands to engage with the community and have fun as opposed to just creating video ads.

After sharing his views of the company, Matt opened the floor to questions. Students were eager to hear more about Matt’s views on competing platforms such as Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts. Matt expressed that the big difference he noticed was the community that existed within TikTok. “As long as we feel the creative expression and community starts on TikTok, we are open to other platforms where [content] can be posted.” When asked if he encourages companies to hop on existing trends or create new trends, Matt expressed the difference between lightning and sun moments. A lightning moment is something that can never be guaranteed to occur again, such as a trend going viral, while a sun moment, such as creating your own trend, can be expected to rise with each coming day. Due to this, Matt works with companies to create their own trends and ways to connect with audiences.

Students loved the opportunity to hear from Matt and left the talk with new ways to create their own content to push their startup ideas forward and share them.

Elizabeth Savin ’25 is a Manufacturing and Design Engineering major from Wilmette, IL. She is a student aide at The Garage and is excited to become involved in the programs The Garage offers students. Her favorite thing about The Garage is that students have the opportunity to receive hands-on experience with entrepreneurship. 

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