What Every Marketer Needs to Know About TikTok
TikTok is taking over. Our phones, our time, our kids. It’s nothing to fear (yet) but it is important to understand. At NAIL.social we have been using TikTok since the beginning of time, so we are going to go over exactly what it is, what it’s not, and how to get the most out of it as a marketer.
What it is (history)
In short, TikTok is an app that allows users to easily create engaging videos. The “easily” part is why it’s grown so quickly (we’ll get to that in the mechanics section). TikTok was created by ByteDance, a Chinese company, and launched in 2016. Originally very similar to Musical.ly, it acquired (and assimilated) Musical.ly in 2017 for $1B to establish a beachhead in the US Market. It’s gone on to be one of the most downloaded apps in the US app store. As of July 9th 2019, Tiktok has 1.5 billion users, a majority of which are in China (where TikTok is called Douyin).
What it isn’t (misconceptions)
TikTok is not a fad that will recede into the marketplace. It is here to stay. We see TikTok as a confluence of other popular apps like Musical.ly, Vine, Instagram Stories, and Snapchat. It took the best features of these apps and created a sticky and easy-to-use app to both create and consume content.
Contrary to popular belief, TikTok is not just for kids. While the current US demographics show 60% of users are between 16-24, with 200M users, you can find sizable audiences at all age levels. There are many popular creators who are in their 50s or even much older. We’ve seen a trend of kids and teenagers, involving their parents or even grandparents, in making content. Then the elders go off to make their own channels.
The basic mechanics for a viewer on TikTok are to swipe up on a feed of vertical videos, viewing each looping video in full form before swiping up to see the next video. You can swipe up before the video completes, but usually videos are less than 15 seconds in length.
Each video has four components: the actual video, the creator’s name, a description which often features hashtags, and an attribution of the audio file used in the video (more on this later). A user can ‘fav’ a video by clicking the heart or double tapping, leave a comment, or share the video in various ways.
There are two types of feeds a viewer can browse. The “Following” feed consists of creators the user has chosen to follow while the “For You” feed is an algorithmically created selection of videos based on your previous engagement (likes, follows, comments). You can think of the “For You” page as the Instagram Explore page, only it serves one video at a time. Getting on the “For You” page is the holy grail for TikTok creators because it can expose your content to a large audience.
To find content, users can either use the “Following” feed, the “For You” page, or search using hashtags. Another option is to find content using the same audio file by clicking the audio attribution icon to the bottom right of the platform layout (pictured below, red arrow).
This will allow you to find other videos that use the same audio, which is important because a large portion of TikTok’s content is based around trends and memes that share an audio clip. So, if you see one video that has a cool dance, you can often click through to the audio file and see everyone’s take on the dance using the same audio. From that audio file explore page, you can easily create your own video using the same sound. This makes it incredibly effortless to create content and participate in trends.
There are three main vectors when it comes to creating content. The first form is the audio file explore page, previously mentioned. This is the easiest way to start creating content. The second vector is via duets. This is where your video appears alongside someone else's video and you both use the same audio. You can duet with anyone which can be a great way to “feel like” you are engaging with an influencer or someone you follow. The duets you make are only posted to your account.
The final vector is via the big ol’ plus button on the main feed. This brings you into the video creation section which is bursting with filters, effects, AR masks and tools, as well as speed, text and other editing tricks. TikTok is the most bloated and effect laden video app with Snapchat coming in second. This isn’t a bad thing though, as it makes it very easy for novices to make interesting and funny videos. It is also simple to edit videos and do multiple take videos--similar to Vine’s platform.
You can add just about any sound file to your video that you please, from popular copy written music, to movie and TV show dialog, to your own audio (which people can then use themselves).
For novice creators, TikTok is an incredibly powerful intersection of ease of use and participatory action. More than any other platform, TikTok is turning a generation of people into actual content creators.
Building an account
If you want to build up a sizable following on TikTok, the time to get started is now. When platforms are new and have high growth it can be incredibly easy to build a sizable following very quickly. We have seen accounts grow at 50% to 100% PER MONTH on TikTok up to around the 1M follower mark. YouTube creators have flooded in and any sizable influencer on any platform has established a beachhead on TikTok now. That doesn’t mean you shouldn't get started--you should. As they say with planting trees, the best time to do it was 20 years ago, the second best time is right now.
Once you have an account the easiest way to get noticed is to participate in trends or jump on popular audio files. Be sure to do an interesting or engaging take on whatever the trend is. There are often hundreds of thousands of people participating in a trend so if you can stand out and get likes and engagement, it can push you to the top of that page.
Another route is to duet with popular and semi popular creators. These creators will get a notification and if your part of the duet is creative and fun, you will often get a share, like, or comment from them.
Once you have established a following for your account, you can try to start your own trends using audio files that you upload. This can be effective because if the trend catches on, then you are tagged as the ‘original creator’ and are featured at the top of the search results for that trend. This #1 position for a larger trend can really send an account into the hundreds of thousands of followers territory.
From there you can really start to dive into creating quality original content that is focused more on brand and doesn’t use the trends as a crutch.
While the media portrays TikTok almost exclusively a bastion for teenagers or younger, this is partially true at best. In the US, 60% of users are between 16 and 24, and much of the content reflects that, but spend a few minutes on TikTok and you will quickly see the breath of audiences available. From our experience, Gen Z and Millennials are very prevalent, but then it seems to skip Gen X in favor of Boomers. Yes, there are many popular TikTok’ers who are 50+. Some of them are octogenarians with millions of followers. Our working theory is that involving your parents or even grandparents in making TikTok content is a big part of the platform. There are numerous trends and memes that require a parent, usually filming their reaction. And as such, children of Gen X’ers are too young to be users of the platform yet. So, once the parents get involved, TikTok’s user stickiness works on them and soon the parents and grandparents become content creators themselves.
Another major difference between TikTok and other social media platforms are the types of marginalized communities that have found a home there. While you can find LGBTQ and POC communities on other platforms, it’s rare to see the disabled community with any strength. While on TikTok, there are disabled and handicapped creators with millions of followers. There are even popular TikTok creators with disfigurements that would certainly prevent them from attaining wide success on aesthetic driven platforms like Instagram.
The lack of a polished aesthetic is another feature of TikTok that can subsequently affect the makeup of the audience. The expectation of TikTok content is often that it is unpolished and a bit raw. It is OK to make a TikTok with the messy hair and sweatpants you are wearing now. While you can certainly find TikTok’ers who are focused on their appearance, it is not nearly as dominant as other platforms like Instagram. The result of this is that it has allowed content creators who are a bit weird, awkward, or less polished to come to the foreground. While Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have billions of users, the type of content that works there is actually not attainable by the majority. The “looking cool” barrier is removed on TikTok and when combined with the ease of content creation, it opens the door to a lot of first time creators.
New platforms provide an opportunity for brands looking to use influencers because most users of considerable size have yet to fully monetize their channels. This means no one has asked these influencers for a paid sponsorship yet and their rates are not set. Once an influencer’s rates have been established, it can be difficult to push that number down. On Instagram, which is a very mature platform for influencers, we have seen most users with over 10k followers have an opportunity to establish a rate. For TikTok, which has created a huge quantity of new influencers AND has yet to attract a lot of brand attention, brands can likely find influencers with under 500k followers who have yet to be contacted. The engines are revving on social influencer agencies and marketplaces who are snapping up TikTok influencers with over 1M followers for their roster. Working with these agencies and marketplaces can streamline the process somewhat, but also introduce overhead and added costs. If you have $100k to spend on TikTok influencers, this might be the place to start.
Our recommended approach:
Influencer success with other social platforms is a combination of reach and ‘authenticity juice’-- for lack of a better term. It is important to note how much credibility and authenticity an influencer has and how many people they can reach. On TikTok the mechanics of how content gets popular allows for some bigger opportunities. You could get an influencer to promote your product like you would on any other platform, and if they have 1M followers, they might reach 300k of them meaning you would get 300k views. But, that is not where the real win is.
Part of the magic of TikTok is how trends happen and go viral. Currently there is a “cheese challenge” on TikTok where you take a slice of cheese from the fridge and then throw it in someones face to the tune of “YMCA” by the Village people. It’s hard to explain, but let's just say there are 400k uploads of this challenge. That’s not 400k likes or 400k shares. That is 400k people who have participated in this challenge. 400k people who have thrown cheese in another 400k people’s face and then shared that video on TikTok. The number of likes and comments on all these “cheese challenge” videos is probably in the billions. But this isn’t called the “Kraft Single challenge”. It is a viral trend that is unbranded and is a missed opportunity for Kraft or any other brand.
So the real play for TikTok influencer success is to create a viral challenge that is directly tied to your brand. This is certainly easier said than done, but it is possible and here is a blueprint.
Reach out to five to ten TikTok influencers with a following of 50k to 250k, or greater if your budget allows. Ask them if they are interested in doing a branded challenge. Negotiate rates.
Ask one or two of those TikTok’ers to come up with the challenge using your product. WARNING: Do not attempt to create the challenge yourself! These TikTok stars know what works and what doesn’t so use their creativity and expertise to your advantage. Forcing a “totally on-brand” challenge upon them will feel very inauthentic and cringy.
Be prepared to be a little loose with how on-brand this challenge is. Even if it is the most on-brand thing ever, it will quickly evolve into something uncontrollable. This is a good thing, but it has to have some sort of appeal from the start to get here.
Have one of the TikTok’ers perform the challenge with a NEW audio file or song that you provide. This is important in order to track the spread of the challenge. The influencer can help you come up with the audio, but it shouldn’t be a file that already exists on TikTok. You can also include a branded hashtag but again, it should feel natural. This may look like the makeup hashtag, #TwoFaceElfChallenge and not #StartYourDayWithElfChallenge.
Once the original TikTok’er performs the challenge and uploads the video, get the other TikTok’ers to follow suit--adding in their own creativity if you like.
With any luck, you have seeded the next viral challenge that ensures other TikTok’ers, celebs, and the news media alike.
TikTok’s ad platform is currently in beta. Once we have access we will let you know the ins and outs and how to get the most out of it.
Before you go all in on TikTok as a marketing channel, there are a few lingering questions that you should be aware of. TikTok is not a silicon valley tech startup like so many of the other social networks that dominate US usage. It is a Chinese company with ties to the Chinese government. So far, the US government is concerned with what to do with regulating our own tech giants, but TikTok could make for a much needed diversion.
Grindr, the gay dating app, is also owned by a Chinese company, and since Grindr knows your location, sexual orientation, and even HIV status, it’s a honey pot for data that could be used to black mail US citizens, especially elected officials. The US government is keenly aware of this and attempting to get the Chinese parent company to sell off Grindr. While TikTok doesn’t have as much sensitive info, it’s a major cultural force, especially in the younger demographic, and may attract similar levels of regulatory action.
Lastly, the music copyright system has yet to be sorted out on TikTok like it has on more mature platforms like YouTube. It’s currently free for all when it comes to what you are allowed to upload. Consult with your legal team as this could either be an opportunity or something to steer clear of.
Looking for more? We get asked on a daily basis "what is TikTok all about?". Our standard answer is to just download it, and use it. You don't need an account or people to follow to get started. If you are a creative marketer, you will immediately start to see the possibilities. If you are looking for more ideas or help with your campaign, just reach out to us firstname.lastname@example.org Our TikTok episide of the Nail.Social Office Hours podcast can be found here.