Unless you live under a rock (or should that be a “rok”?) you have probably heard of TikTok. Even if you’re not on it daily yourself, undoubtedly you know someone who is.
The video-sharing social media app has become hugely popular in the last year and is reported to have over 800 million active users (this figure is from the start of 2020 and the app has only got bigger since, so this figure is likely even higher now!) and over 2 billion downloads from app stores.
While TikTok is more commonly associated with entertainment than it is with business, this social media sensation offers plenty of opportunities to digital marketers. However, it can be confusing to get used to the way it works, and difficult to use it to its full potential. In this guide, we will delve into exactly how TikTok works, why you should incorporate it into your digital marketing strategy, and how you can do this effectively.
What Exactly Is TikTok?
TikTok started as an app called musical.ly back in 2014. This app allowed users to record short video clips of themselves performing lip syncs to songs. This app was relatively popular around the world, eventually reaching over 90 million users while it was still under its original name.
In 2018, musical.ly was bought by a Chinese tech company named ByteDance, who had their own app—Douyin, known as TikTok internationally. ByteDance merged the two apps under the TikTok name, and this app quickly grew to reach the 800 million active users that it has now. TikTok is popular all over the world and is unusual in the fact that it is widely used both in China and in the West.
The app’s largest demographic is the 16 to 24 age bracket, and it is often perceived as highly youth oriented. However, it is not just Generation Z that makes use of TikTok—the app has now become a household name across various generations.
The fact that TikTok is massively popular with a demographic that is known for being difficult to market to yet makes up a vital share of the market makes it a potentially extremely lucrative platform for brands and digital marketers to get involved with. Not to mention, it is free to use and post to—so there really isn’t much to lose!
How Does TikTok Work?
The concept of a social media app designed to allow users to upload and share their own short video clips may sound familiar. You may remember Vine—the popular app that offered a similar service but ceased trading in 2017. Vine launched the careers of popular content creators such as Drew Gooden, Danny Gonzalez, Cody Ko, and Kurtis Conner, all of whom successfully migrated to YouTube after the end of Vine.
TikTok certainly does share some features and USPs with Vine, and most of the original stars of Vine now use TikTok, although the app is also cultivating a new generation of successful content creators.
TikTok’s interface is centered around two separate video feeds that can be switched between: the “Following” feed, which displays 15-to-60-second video clips (known as TikToks) uploaded by accounts that the user follows; and the “For You” feed, which displays videos that the app’s algorithm recommends to the user based on previous engagement.
The app allows features such as “Duet”, where users can create a split-screen video featuring another user’s TikTok (for example, this can be used to create musical duets) and also allows users to use audio clips—or “sounds”—uploaded by others in their own video clips. Sounds can be voice clips, sound recordings, or songs, and record labels often add huge libraries of licensed music to the site’s public archive for users to use in their clips.
How Brands Use TikTok for Marketing
When it comes to marketing, the main advantage of TikTok is its highly advanced recommendations algorithm that allows content to be extremely accurately targeted to very specific demographics. This is due to a combination of hashtags, repeating sounds, and user engagement across the whole platform. The algorithm is more accurate—sometimes unsettlingly so—than that of any other social media platform, and becomes increasingly more intelligent as the user continues to use the app. It is no surprise that businesses are keen to use this technology to reach their exact target demographics!
Many well-known brands are on the app, such as the NBA, Crocs shoes, and fashion brand Calvin Klein.
One way that companies have successfully used TikTok to increase brand awareness and influence customers is by creating “challenges”. One of the earliest examples of this was US restaurant chain Chipotle’s “Lid Flip Challenge”, which ran in May 2019, with its own hashtag #ChipotleLidFlip, which received over 230 million views and countless users participating in the challenge.
Teaming up with social media “influencers”—a well-established marketing tactic on Instagram—is also used by brands on TikTok. Chipotle enlisted the help of internet personality David Dobrik to take part in their challenge. Partnering with influencers can be a mutually beneficial business move!
If you aren’t sure how to invent your own viral trend (and let’s be honest, doing so requires a lot of luck as well as talent), your brand can get involved with already-existing challenges, hashtags and trends, which can expose your business to an audience who may otherwise not see it.
How Not to Use TikTok
TikTok is not like other social media platforms. Its focus is on short, fun audio-visual content. Messages that require more detail and depth are usually best saved for media such as blogs, rather than for TikTok.
Another thing to remember is that obvious sales pitches don’t usually tend to do that well on the platform. This may be due to Generation Z being believed to value “authenticity” more than previous generations. Content that can be mimicked and trends that can be participated in are usually better techniques than a traditional hard sell.
Paid Ads on TikTok
If you are willing to part with some cash in order to get quick results, there is the option to place paid ads on TikTok. There are four types of paid advertisement that you can use.
In-feed Native Content refers to ads that appear as regular TikToks, yet they are marked with a “Sponsored” icon. These ads allow for app downloads, redirects to your website, etc.
Brand Takeovers include custom images and GIFs that can link to websites, landing pages, etc.
TopView is similar to brand takeovers but can also integrate in-feed video.
Branded Lenses are custom visual filters that can include a brand’s logo or content specific to a marketing campaign.
How to Fit TikTok into a Wider Marketing Strategy
Of course, no one app is a magic solution to any marketing problems, or a replacement for an extensive knowledge and understanding of marketing. Regardless of which apps, sites, and platforms you choose to use, a grasp of concepts like psychology, effective communication, and data analytics (which you can learn about here) is invaluable.
It is also best to have a fully developed marketing strategy that goes beyond any individual app. Your brand persona should be consistent across different platforms (in fact, in some cases the same posts can be used verbatim across multiple platforms, e.g., an image being used on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), although you should also tailor posts to the specific functions and demographics of each app. TikTok has very specific functions, so it can require a specific strategy to make the most of it. TikTok content may not translate well to other platforms, and vice versa, so don’t try to force it where it does not work. On every platform that you use to market your brand, you need to make it simple and easy for users to reach your website or the page that you want to drive traffic to (for example, your landing page), so include clear links wherever possible in captions, comments, and bios.
What Is the Future of TikTok?
It is difficult to predict the future of any social media platform. The online landscape is rapidly changing, and platforms such as Vine have disappeared after once being extremely popular and influential. There has also been speculation earlier this year of TikTok being banned in the US, although this decision appears to have been reversed.
However, there is also every chance that the platform may grow even larger over time! Sites like Facebook and YouTube have only expanded over recent years, and now hold an immense amount of influence over the way we live our lives.
TikTok seems unlikely to disappear anywhere any time soon, and its role in digital marketing is likely to continue to grow. Indeed, this digital juggernaut looks unstoppable, for now. Whatever happens, it is important for your digital marketing strategies to be varied and make use of multiple platforms. Putting all of your eggs in one digital basket is rarely a good idea, however shiny and new that basket seems.