Marketers’ Guide to TikTok. Part I

TikTok was the number one most downloaded mobile app in 2020, and it’s estimated that TikTok has about 689 million monthly active users and 2 billion app store downloads. What does that mean? The network is larger than both Twitter and Pinterest. With this firehose of new content to consume, its staying power has become crystal clear⁠— TikTok is unlikely to be a passing fad. If you’re thinking to yourself that at least some of those 689 million people must be in your business’s target audience, there’s a good chance you’re right. This may sound like a marketing goldmine — especially because there could be less competition while other businesses hesitate to get on board. However, engaging with potential customers in a place where they go to be entertained requires a very careful approach.

Use this guide (courtesy of Anna Dievendorf/ to get up to speed on TikTok, how to use the app, if you should use it, and a few best practices to make your post surge in popularity:

What is TikTok?
TikTok is a social media mobile app with a large community of users centered around video content. TikTokers (TikTok users) film short videos and edit them with effects, filters, captions, and music, then post them for their TikTok followers. Content creators use hashtags and identify which popular category they fit into to more easily be discovered by non-followers.

Much of the site’s content is comedic – kind of like Vine, Twitter’s late video network. Some of the most popular genres include short skits, lip-syncing, cringe videos, how-to’s, and sharing common experiences with “tell me about a time that you…” One of the most popular phenomena is the influx of “challenges” posted across the platform (often to visualize lyrics from a popular song or test different reactions to a common social experiment) that create a ripple effect as everyone contributes their own version. Take the #InMyFeelingsChallenge for example – while it was widely popular on Instagram (uploaded 1.7 million times to be exact), it was an even bigger success on TikTok with 5 million entries worldwide.

TikTok first launched in China as Douyin, then launched as TikTok internationally in 2017. Then, everything changed⁠⁠— ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) acquired, a social media platform that allowed users to create lip-sync videos to popular songs. Creativity with lip-syncing paved the way for TikTok’s US popularity and emphasis on incorporating music. Douyin still exists, and both Douyin and TikTok use the same software, but they maintain separate networks to comply with China’s censorship laws.

TikTok has a very specific user demographic
Before you start marketing on TikTok, make sure your demographic aligns. The app is most popular with people between the age of 16 and 24, which makes up 60% of the total user base. TikTok reports that 80% of all users are between the ages of 16 and 34, confirming that this probably isn’t the channel for marketing to the older crowd. Aside from age, the other stats we know seem to indicate popularity fairly evenly across the board.

– 58.4% of TikTok users are male and 41% are female (this is a flip from 2020, where the gender split was in similar proportions but skewed the opposite way)
– The app is available in 150 markets in 39 languages
– iPhone/Android usage is a 52%/48% split.

So with that in mind, we do recommend only using TikTok for marketing if you have a young audience. While there’s no doubt that older people are slowly starting to adopt the platform, your marketing resources will likely be better spent elsewhere if that’s your targeted audience. Does that mean all hope is lost if you market to older millennials and above? Absolutely not.

Re-posting videos that were created on TikTok to other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter is also a hugely popular practice. If you have an engaged audience on those other profiles, you can take advantage of the robust TikTok editing tools to create video content for your followers. If you go this route, just keep an eye on news released from the other platforms on how they plan to handle repurposed content. For example, Facebook has announced plans to test algorithm changes that make Reels with a TikTok watermark less discoverable.

Here’s how to market on TikTok
You have two options for an organic TikTok marketing strategy: working with influencers or creating original content. Each of these strategies has its own merits and time commitments. Let’s walk through both options so you can decide which one makes the most sense for your business.

Influencer marketing will be huge on TikTok
From makeup to baking videos, TikTok is full of people making things. There are some huge TikTok influencers in these spaces – in fact, some have millions of subscribers. These influencers have audiences that may want to buy your products, so for a chunk of your marketing budget, you can partner with them and create an influencer marketing campaign. Get these influencers to use your products on-camera or otherwise promote your brand in their videos, and you’ll get your products in front of new eyes. But even more importantly, you’ll earn some of your customers’ trust too. One in three consumers trusts an influencer’s opinion more than what a brand says, so use that to your advantage.

How to get started with TikTok influencer marketing
The golden rule of Influencer Marketing: relevance is more important than reach. Don’t simply approach the people behind accounts with the largest following⁠-not only will they be incredibly expensive to work with, but many references to your brand could fall on deaf ears. Find out who is posting popular videos in your niche by navigating to the Discover tab, and searching a handful of keywords that relate to your industry, products, or services. Document the users with the most followers or most popular videos within this topic, watch their posts to determine a fit for your brand and think about reaching out. As you’re moving through this process, also look at the most popular videos associated with those keywords, under Discover>Top.

While not a lot of information about the inner workings of the TikTok algorithm is public, there appears to be a component that allows anyone with palatable content to skyrocket popularity. The team at Later reports from a first-hand investigation into the app that posts seem to be ‘tested’ on people who don’t follow you. If it performs well in that first group, the post will be served to even more non-followers if it performs well in that first group. Reach depends on performance. While this is great encouragement when producing your own original content, this also gives us clues about when to nab an influencer as they’re on the cusp of becoming popular. The micro-influencers with just one or two wildly popular videos that gained traction through this performance-based model may still be in the process of amassing a huge following (and price tag). Keep an eye out for these as you sift through popular videos from your keyword search and document influencers to reach out to.

Create original TikTok content for your brand (if you dare)
Making your own content can be a powerful TikTok marketing strategy. However, it will take lots of time, creativity, and resources. TikTok is largely based on viral content, so your content needs to be viral too. Otherwise, it will likely be ignored by TikTokers. The easiest, most effective way to ensure that your original content is popular and shareable is to dive into the “trend” culture. Use the Discover page to track trending hashtags, and then create your own version of the trend that includes an element of your business. Bonus points if it’s funny or silly to increase your chance of virality. Another simple way to create popular content is to offer how-to’s, tips and tricks, or insider secrets from your industry. This method is a doubly effective strategy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many in-person services have been forced to find a way to offer something different virtually. Once you’ve created your content, always add a few relevant hashtags to your post before you upload it, since this is how users who don’t yet follow you will find it.

Just remember: Even if you don’t employ one of those two methods, the key to TikTok marketing is to make a viral, light-hearted video that also promotes your products⁠—not a product-first sales pitch. The team at Later also reports that “Rewatches, video completions, shares, comments, and likes all seem to be strong indicators to the TikTok algorithm,” so make it entertaining.

In the upcoming Part II, we will discuss broadly the different options to advertise on TikTok. Stay tuned!

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