Sea shanties and viral dance trends have helped make TikTok a hit since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, the social media app, which allows users to create and share one or more 60-second films soundtracked with music clips, surpassed 2bn global downloads.
In the financial world, TikTok has a reputation for promoting volatile cryptocurrencies and activist investing – interest in Dogecoin and GameStop has been fuelled by the platform. But, beyond the jokes and rocket emojis being shared by some users, there is a wealth of practical personal finance videos that are teaching young people how to use their money better.
This financial TikTok space, dubbed FinTok, is global and growing. Content tagged with the hashtag #stocktok has been seen by users 1.4bn times, while the slightly more mundane #PersonalFinance has garnered more than 4.4bn views. Tagged videos cover everything from budgeting to Isas, from taxes to debt.
What is remarkable about FinTok is not the content of these videos but their reach: young people who might have otherwise been uninterested in personal finance are engaging with it. People are thinking about their money, and how to make it work for them, earlier and with more care. Some are even taking their first steps into investing inspired by short videos they have seen on social media. For many generation Z and millennial users, TikTok is their first and only source of education on money matters.
Ava Montgomery, 17,came across personal finance when her favourite creators on the site shifted into FinTok. “A lot of their videos are advice-based, and a lot of that tends to be around finance,” she says. She is still in the sixth form, and, by her own admission, not yet at the stage of life to act on it, but she has already learned about credit and mortgages while scrolling on her phone. “I have taken into account how much I’m going to need to think about that stuff when I’m older,” she says.
Figures shared with Guardian Money by the investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown show that 46% of 18- to 34-year-olds have become more interested in investing over the past six months, and one in five attributed this newfound enthusiasm to TikTok.
Susannah Streeter, a senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “Social media and trading apps really have democratised the whole investment process.”
Tips and advice
TikTok recommends videos to its users based on how they have previously watched its content, creating a personalised feed called the For You page (FYP). Unlike other recommendation systems, the FYP deliberately includes a range of diverse and random videos, even if they appear irrelevant to the user’s interests, in an algorithmic effort to avoid “filter bubbles”. As a result, users can come across FinTok videos despite having never shown interest in personal finance before.
Even if you use the platform purely for entertainment, this random feed means you can end up inadvertently engaging with educational content. Laura Pomfret, 33, one of the founders of the personal finance brand Financielle, says this is what she likes about TikTok.
Laura and her sister Holly Holland, 31, started Financielle on Instagram and have since expanded on to TikTok, amassing more than 22,000 followers. Their content ranges from simple explainers to putting a financial spin on the latest TikTok trends and songs.
One recent video explores the question should I rent or should I buy? and features Laura in a garden, explaining rising house prices and market appreciation. Her friendly Mancunian accent and simple language make the daunting issue clear and easy to understand. She ends the 60-second video saying that there are no rules, encouraging viewers to decide for themselves and “bear in mind these factors when considering renting versus buying”.
A Financielle series, called Definition of the Day, breaks down financial jargon. One video explains greenwashing – a term regularly used on social media and often misunderstood. In less than a minute, Financielle’s intern Lucy defines the term: “Basically, it’s deceiving consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.”
The Financielle sisters’ aim is to make content that can act as “someone’s financial best friend”, Laura says: “This isn’t financial advice; this is the bit before it.” They describe their content as “like the couch to 5K” app, which was developed by the NHS to encourage people to take up running. It is about “breaking things down” and creating a plan, Laura says.
Laura and Holly are looking to expand their demographic, with the aim of reaching generation Z “before they make some bad life choices at ages 21 to 25, like we all probably did”. They anticipate: “TikTok’s going to be a massive driver for that.”
A younger creator, @pokubanks, also sees his platform as a space for education. David Poku, 20, started making personal finance videos on TikTok in January 2020, and boasts more than 330,000 followers. His interest in money started “because of the absence of financial literacy in school”, he says. When he was in the sixth form, he realised that he had never learned about taxes, investing or debt, so he taught himself and enrolled in the University of Nottingham to study finance, accounting and management. “I make some of my content from my lectures, literally,” he says.
Poku’s typical video takes a conversational, question-and-answer style. In the wake of May’s cryptocurrency crash, Poku published a video in which he acted as a “naive investor” in a black tracksuit and an “experienced investor” in a plain fitted T-shirt. He explored the question of whether people who had bought crypto should sell their coins at a low price or ride the wave of speculation. The more experienced character told the other: “Only invest what you can afford to lose.” Poku says he is summarising the wisdom of established businessmen such as Warren Buffett, “and adding my twist to it so that people can understand the message”.
Poku is wary of the risks of unregulated online advice, so many of his videos seek to educate viewers about how to navigate the onslaught of information. A recent video marked with the hashtag #FactCheckYourFeed was part of a campaign by the site and the charity Citizens Advice.
Poku’s video gives three tips to avoid scams online. He tells viewers it is a “bad sign” if you are asked to pay for something quickly or in an unusual way, that they should avoid giving away personal bank details or passwords, and should not rush into any decisions.
Other films in the campaign have been made by @thatmortgageadvisor, an independent UK mortgage broker, and @tejlalvani, a chief executive and dtar of BBC Two’s Dragons’ Den. The videos in the #FactCheckYourFeed campaign will cover financial terminology, research methods and how to make informed decisions.
When 27-year-old Andra Maier, who lives in London, was furloughed from her job in fashion PR last year, she turned to TikTok in search of budgeting techniques. “Now my For You page is mostly financial advice,” she says.
Maier remembers specific helpful videos rather than individual influencers. She recalls that one creator explained how to use a Google Form for budgeting, which made Maier ask: “Why did I never do this?” She has created budgets in this way ever since and it has given her an increased awareness about what she is spending money on. She says: “I have a Google Form, I input every single thing I spend, and then it goes into its category.”
Based on Maier’s interests, TikTok showed her more finance videos, which encouraged her to shift from planning to investing. Because she saw “repetitive information” on TikTok, she felt confident enough to make her first trades.
She went to Hargreaves Lansdown and invested in a portfolio of low-risk stocks and funds. Then she downloaded several new investing apps popular on TikTok, such as Plum, through which she made higher-risk trades with smaller chunks of money. She sees TikTok as the first point of information, explaining new concepts such as “compound interest” in simple terms, and showing her what to research in greater depth elsewhere.
What to bear in mind about the videos
However, these simple and snappy FinTok videos are not universally popular. At 37, Matthew Flower from Saffron Walden is older than the typical TikTok user. He downloaded the app “to keep abreast of what my children are actually doing online”, then stumbled across the app’s many personal finance videos. He’s not a fan. “Most of them are awful,” he says.
One problem for UK users is that the majority of FinTok content is American. “Obviously, there’s a difference in our financial systems,” Flower says. But the bigger problem, he says, is that people might take influencers’ “statements as fact, without doing their due diligence”.
Nigel Frith, an FCA-accredited analyst from the website AskTrader, says the emergence of online platforms and the opportunity to act immediately has “brought the Wall Street or the London Stock Exchange experience to consumers”.
But he is also concerned about the dangers that come with such a low barrier to entry. All you need to start posting videos to TikTok is the app. The ability to go viral on the FYP, easier than on other social media according to creators, means information might be viewed hundreds or thousands of times without the need to establish the trust of committed followers.
The dangers of unregulated influencers are starker when it comes to personal finance than in other genres because there is a risk that they could engage in market manipulation by giving tips that benefit their own investments.
Hargreaves Lansdown’s Streeter says it is difficult to know “the motives of these people” on social media. And she says if something is wrong “it’s not easy to censure an influencer at the moment”.
As Guardian Money went to press, it emerged that TikTok had banned branded content promoting financial services and products, including everything from cryptocurrency to debit cards. The extent of the ban is not yet clear, but it does suggest TikTok is taking action to reduce the potentially harmful content on the site.
Myron Jobson, personal finance campaigner at website Interactive Investor, says the change “will hopefully mark the end of dubious and outright misleading adverts of high-risk investments as well as highly volatile cryptocurrency on the platform. The hope is that TikTok’s systems are robust enough to detect and weed out content that falls foul of its revised policy.”
A TikTok spokesperson says: “Keeping our community safe is a top priority,” and that this is why it launched the #FactCheckYourFeed campaign. It posts a public service announcement on financial advice hashtags, reminding users that investments involve risks. The spokesperson says: “Our guidelines make clear that we do not permit content that brings about financial or personal harm – and we have specific rules banning pyramid, Ponzi or similar schemes.”
Even if the rules tighten in the future, FinTok is going nowhere. The viewers and the influencers see TikTok as filling a vital knowledge gap for the UK’s youth, and many creators such as @financielle and @pokubanks actively support some form of regulation.
For now, in the wild west of personal finance videos, the advice is simple: do your own research, don’t make a financial decision just because it is trending, and keep your options open.
Elon Musk has denied claims in a news report that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016, calling the accusations “utterly untrue”.
SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Musk, paid the female attendant $250,000 (£200,000) in a severance settlement after a sexual misconduct claim against the world’s richest person, according to the news website Business Insider.
The attendant was a cabin crew member who was contracted to work for SpaceX’s corporate jet fleet. She accused Musk of exposing his erect penis to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offered to buy her a horse if she performed an erotic massage, according to interviews and documents obtained by Business Insider.
Musk, who is worth $212bn and is also CEO of the electric carmaker Tesla, told his 94.1 million Twitter followers that the allegations were “utterly untrue”. The Guardian has not been able to verify the Business Insider account. SpaceX has been approached for comment.
Shares of the electric carmaker skidded more than 10% on Friday amid concerns that the alleged sexual misconduct and Musk’s previous political comments could threaten to damage Tesla’s brand and sales. The share drop knocked about $66bn off Tesla’s market value and put the stock at its lowest since last August.
The alleged incident took place in 2016 and the settlement was agreed in 2018. According to a declaration prepared in support of the claim, the attendant said that after taking the job she was encouraged to train as a masseuse so she could give Musk massages. It was during one of those massages, onboard Musk’s Gulfstream jet, that she was propositioned by the SpaceX chief executive.
The attendant, who Insider does not name, told her friend that she was asked to go to Musk’s cabin during a flight to London to give a “full body massage”. Upon entering the room, she found Musk was “completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body”. The declaration says that during the massage Musk “exposed his genitals” and “touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would ‘do more’, referring to the performance of sex acts”. The attendant, a horse rider, declined and continued with the massage without any sexual activity.
In an interview with Business Insider about the allegations, the attendant’s friend said Musk’s penis was erect when he propositioned her.
According to the declaration, after the incident the attendant felt she was being marginalised in her job. She felt “she was being pushed out and punished for refusing to prostitute herself”, says the declaration.
The attendant hired a lawyer in 2018 and sent the allegations to SpaceX’s HR department. The complaint was resolved after a session with a mediator attended by Musk, according to Insider. In November of that year, Musk, SpaceX and the attendant entered into a severance agreement that involved a $250,000 payment in exchange for a pledge not to sue over the claims.
Responding to Insider’s story, Musk told the news site that there was “a lot more to this story”. He wrote: “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light,” adding that the story was a “politically motivated hit piece”.
Without referring directly to the article, Musk tweeted on Friday that attacks against him should be “viewed through a political lens” and that he would continue to fight for “your right to free speech”. Musk said on Wednesday that he would vote Republican instead of Democratic, predicting a “dirty tricks campaign against me” would follow.
Musk has agreed to buy Twitter, the social media company with 229 million users, for $44bn but has said the deal is “on hold” until he receives further details of the number of fake and spam accounts on the platform.
Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.
The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.
In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.
Check Point Research also noted that around the same time that they observed the Twisted Panda attacks, another Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) group Mustang Panda was observed exploiting the invasion of Ukraine to target Russian organizations.
In fact, Twisted Panda may have connections to Mustang Panda or another Beijing-backed spy ring called Stone Panda, aka APT10, according to the security researchers.
In addition to the timing of the attacks, other tools and techniques used in the new campaign overlap with China-based APT groups, they wrote. Because of this, the researchers attributed the new cyberspying operation “with high confidence to a Chinese threat actor.”
During the the course of the research, the security shop also uncovered a similar loader that contained that looked like an easier variant of the same backdoor. And based on this, the researchers say they expect Twisted Panda has been active since June 2021.
Phishing for defense R&D
The new campaign started on March 23 with phishing emails sent to defense research institutes in Russia. All of them had the same subject: “List of [target institute name] persons under US sanctions for invading Ukraine”, a malicious document attached, and contained a link to an attacker-controlled site designed to look like the Health Ministry of Russia.
An email went out to an organization in Minsk, Belarus, on the same day with the subject: “US Spread of Deadly Pathogens in Belarus”.
Additionally, all of the attached documents looked like official Russian Ministry of Health documents with the official emblem and title.
Downloading the malicious document drops a sophisticated loader that not only hides its functionality, but also avoids detection of suspicious API calls by dynamically resolving them with name hashing.
By using DLL sideloading, which Check Point noted is “a favorite evasion technique used by multiple Chinese actors,” the malware evades anit-virus tools. The researchers cited PlugX malware, used by Mustang Panda, and a more recent APT10 global espionage campaign that used the VLC player for side-loading.
In this case of the Twisted Panda campaign, “the actual running process is valid and signed by Microsoft,” according to the analysis.
According to the security researchers, the loader contains two shellcodes. The first one runs the persistence and cleanup script. And the second is a multi-layer loader. “The goal is to consecutively decrypt the other three fileless loader layers and eventually load the main payload in memory,” Check Point Research explained.
New Spinner backdoor detected
The main payload is a previously undocumented Spinner backdoor, which uses two types of obfuscations. And while the backdoor is new, the researchers noted that the obfuscation methods have been used together in earlier samples attributed to Stone Panda and Mustang Panda. These are control-flow flattening, which makes the code flow non-linear, and opaque predicates, which ultimately causes the binary to perform needless calculations.
“Both methods make it difficult to analyze the payload, but together, they make the analysis painful, time-consuming, and tedious,” the security shop said.
The Spinner backdoor’s main purpose is to run additional payloads sent from a command-and-control server, although the researchers say they didn’t intercept any of these other payloads. However, “we believe that selected victims likely received the full backdoor with additional capabilities,” they noted.
Tied to China’s five-year plan?
The victims — research institutes that focus on developing electronic warfare systems, military-specialized onboard radio-electronic equipment, avionics systems for civil aviation, and medical equipment and control systems for energy, transportation, and engineering industries — also tie the Twisted Panda campaign to China’s five-year plan, which aims to expand the country’s scientific and technical capabilities.
And, as the FBI has warned [PDF], the Chinese government isn’t above using cyberespionage and IP theft to accomplish these goals.
As Check Point Research concluded: “Together with the previous reports of Chinese APT groups conducting their espionage operations against the Russian defense and governmental sector, the Twisted Panda campaign described in this research might serve as more evidence of the use of espionage in a systematic and long-term effort to achieve Chinese strategic objectives in technological superiority and military power.” ®
Katie Mannion of unicorn start-up Pleo explains some dos and don’ts for businesses looking to boost their brand.
Alongside a strong vision, and an even stronger team to implement it, successful B2B marketing is integral to company growth.
But how do businesses achieve it, especially across numerous regions?
Building a strong B2B marketing operation is like building a house. If the foundations aren’t strong enough, the walls will crack and the message you work so hard to convey will be ignored or misinterpreted.
With strong positioning, you can avoid cracks in your marketing. Focusing on your brand positioning and the pillars built around this can make a huge difference and give your strategy the direction it needs.
So what makes a strong positioning? The best I’ve seen are clear, ownable and memorable.
Try to avoid overcomplicating your message. If potential customers can’t understand what you’re trying to say, they’ll look elsewhere.
Understanding how your messaging will be received in different countries or regions is really important, too. For various reasons and cultural differences, your message will land differently in the UK versus Ireland, or Germany versus France.
The positioning you take needs to be aligned to the market that your brand is going to own. It’s what makes you unique and why you should be chosen above the competition.
Test your messaging and campaigns with different audiences and prospects to know if you’re going in the right direction, and never be afraid to tear up what you perceive to be a great idea if the feedback and data says so.
For many start-ups or SMEs, it’s hard to compete with businesses with large budgets and access to dedicated marketing agencies. In order to cut through the noise, you need to focus on marketing activities that will get you noticed.
Building a meaningful brand takes time and money and many young companies don’t have either of these resources in abundance. The solution? Build a brand that stands out in its messaging and creates a platform for unique and eye-catching ideas.
Sometimes going big and bold is your only opportunity to ‘earn’ attention (as opposed to paying substantial amounts for it). My favourite example of this includes the ‘We’re OK Hun’ campaign from Hun Wines during the 2020 lockdown in London. They had an opportunity to buy cheap ad space in prime areas such as Oxford Circus to create a stir with this clever viral campaign.
Do more than build it
Lots of brands seem to think: ‘build and they will come’. In B2B marketing nothing could be further from this.
What happens when you’ve launched your product, the doors are open for business and the customers don’t come?
What are you going to do to build around the launch? Have you briefed your sales team? Devised a PR plan? Forged partnerships? Worked on creative content and events to support?
To move the needle, marketers need to be making moves across multiple channels and pull a number of levers synchronously and strategically. Focus on the activities you can build around business announcements or product launches to really elevate the comms around your brand.
Invest in your tools
The less manual work you have to do the better. A huge consideration as a marketer is your martech stack.
It is important that you build a marketing tech stack that can be with you for the long haul. Be sure to pick tools that don’t just help you scale, but still serve their purpose when you have scaled.
Replacing a critical tool you’ve outgrown can slow your company’s growth momentum. New systems can take months or even years to integrate fully, and the bigger you are, the more expensive they are to introduce.
Align your teams
Marketing and sales departments often set their strategies and goals separately from each other. But when they aren’t aligned, both teams suffer.
Ultimately, it’s crucial that your head of marketing and head of sales are on the same page and reaching for the same goals together. Sales and marketing alignment starts with sharing the same objectives and KPIs. This means setting common goals for both departments to work towards together.
Carefully planned campaigns will bring salespeople’s intimate knowledge of your customers into the company’s core. These insights will also help build better products for the future.
The bottom line is that nurturing your relationship with sales across the business is key for marketing efficiency and revenue growth of the business.
Broaden your perspective
Diversity of people inspires a diversity of thought. Diversity of thought fosters a creative environment that allows ideas to flourish.
I don’t always hire on B2B experience but, rather, a passion for storytelling, creativity and bringing a brand to life through various activities.
When you work in marketing there is a real opportunity to lead meaningful change in how your brand is perceived by the world. To do this effectively, you need a team of different perspectives which is unified in its ambition to do things differently.
Take it step by step
Marketing can be overwhelming. Focus on small incremental changes that make a huge difference over time.
Automate the tasks you find yourself short on time to complete.
Clearly define your niche and category and stick to it.
Involve your customers, always.
Keep a positive and open relationship between sales and marketing to scale your B2B marketing the best way possible.