How can we market ourselves on TikTok and how have other brands already started integrating TikTok into their social media strategy?
First things first, if Gen Z aren’t in your marketing strategy, then you don’t need to be thinking about TikTok. The audience and users on TikTok are noticeably very young and this definitely feels like an app for kids. Here are some key stats about TikTok’s users:
- Two-thirds of TikTok’s global audience are under the age of 30.
- In America, over 60% of regular users are between 16 and 24 years old and just over 50% are iPhone users.
- 40% of TikTok users in the world are aged between 16 and 24.
- TikTok was the most downloaded app on iOS in Q1 2019.
- Users are spending an average of over 50 minutes a day on the app.
- TikTok is currently available in 155 countries.
- Over 90% of users check the app multiple times a day.
- In the US, the number of adults using TikTok is on the up, increasing over 500% from 2017 to 2019, being somewhere around 15 million today.
If you are looking to reach people in places like China and India, then TikTok is your friend. TikTok isn’t quite as youth-oriented there as it fast becomes the primary social media platform in these countries, but it is still mostly youth-driven. There is a massive audience on there though. 43% of TikTok’s 500 million active users are from India alone, for example.
One thing I will say for TikTok, is that when it comes to paid advertising, they stick out like a sore thumb. As the content on TikTok is so varied, amateur and often completely nonsensical, a polished brand advert does really stick out and I can’t say that these types of adverts resonate with its users.
TikTok is still such a young platform, that it’s only just started allowing these advertising processes and this has become somewhat of a frontier in digital marketing at the moment. But there is a huge audience of people there, and an opportunity to advertise your brand in a way you never have before.
How Brands Are Using TikTok
So far, brands that are incorporating TikTok into their strategy are doing the following:
- Using influencers
- Paid advertising
- Curating their own channel
These methods have worked elsewhere, and there’s not much to suggest that they won’t work on TikTok. Influencers remain a really effective way to reach a wider audience who otherwise wouldn’t go out of their way to find you. They also remain valuable in creating viral moments.
Curating a channel for your business that’s on brand and current at the same time, will take some savvy social media people. If you’re able to jump on the latest meme, trend or challenge in a genuinely funny and irreverent way, this will go down well. If it seems really forced then you’re more likely to be roundly mocked, but that’s still engagement at the end of the day. If making low-quality content and memes is what’s winning elections these days, then really… where is the harm of shooting your shot?
Paid Advertising on TikTok
As I mentioned, I’m not so sure about paid advertising on TikTok. The app encourages fast-paced use. The videos are often fast-paced, and with an infinite scroll, you’re often only giving yourself a few seconds to let the video grab you. As soon as people see a ‘SPONSORED’ tag as posts do on TikTok, it’s often an instant swipe, unless they’ve managed to present something worth watching to you in the time it’s taken them to spot that badge – unlikely.
Viral TikTok Marketing
A new tactic TikTok presents to marketers is viral challenges. Whilst these aren’t new per se, TikTok as a platform is really conducive to starting and tracking trends and viral marketing as a whole. Anyone can use the audio of someone else’s video for example, if you want your challenge to be audio-based, all you need to do is plant the seed. It can be hard to start a viral challenge, as there’s no formula for what challenge is going to go viral.
If you’re not confident in starting a challenge, wait for one to have its moment in the sun and jump on it. People won’t care that you’re a brand if you can make them laugh. Actually, if you make them laugh, then you’ve given them a positive emotion and these kind of interactions are much more likely to convert into engagement and sales.
Some examples I’ve been able to find online of brands having success with their TikTok marketing strategy are all based in America, but there’s some guiding principles here.
Case Study: Chipotle
Chipotle is a staple of American fast food and they were gifted with some free viral marketing when a now legendary Vine of a small boy mocking people who love Chipotle has probably done more for their brand awareness than anything they’ve funneled millions into. Probably well aware of how much free exposure that one six-second video gave them, they’ve been keen to play with memes and viral trends on TikTok.
They did their own take on a funny trend where people were recreating a call and response moment from an Adele concert. Creating an ‘audience’ of nachos, singing back to a single nacho on a bowl of guacamole representing Adele, they had jumped on a trend with a video that was genuinely funny and irreverent. It also incorporated some key parts of their brand identity – nachos and guac – this is absolute galaxy brain marketing in my opinion. It was bang on the trend and I wonder how many people didn’t notice that it had come from Chipotle’s official TikTok account at first as it looked like what everyone else was doing with the trend.
They also took an already well-known meme of a woman singing a song about guacamole, and started the ‘#GuacDance’ challenge. This trend was huge and Chipotle have really nailed their strategy here. Even though I am not from America, I know all about Chipotle, the fact that it sells guac, and that people love this guac and hate that you have to pay extra for it. The fact you have to pay for extra guac is a meme in itself, which began on Vine. They’re cashing in on their social currency, they’ve made a stupid, silly challenge that anyone can do and the exposure they got is mind-boggling.
They also use influencers, like America’s darling of TikTok – Brittany Broski. At 22 years old, Broski represents the older end of Gen Z like myself who only started paying attention to TikTok after it stopped being a lip-syncing app. Broski had a super-viral meme, which was literally just a video of her tasting kombucha. To say she blew up is an understatement, it’s the dream that everyone that’s uploading videos on TikTok is chasing. That viral meme that means within weeks and months, giant brands like Chipotle are sponsoring you to plug their brand.
This is a good tactic, people trust the people they follow on these platforms implicitly and despite the fact they know they’re being paid to plug their brand, people are more inclined to support a brand that supports their favourite person on TikTok.
Clothing brands are doing well on TikTok because image is still very important with Gen Z. There are some powerful influencers on TikTok and their fans will buy whatever they wear, plus a lot of clothing brands carry social currency with this audience. Something like KFC is easy to mock, but Calvin Klein are an aspirational brand, you wouldn’t be so quick to mock a brand that you’re actually quite desperate to be seen in, would you?
Case Study: Guess
Fashion brand Guess launched a challenge on TikTok called ‘#inmydenim’. They asked their followers and others to post a creative video of them in their Guess jeans. Getting some famous influencers to get the ball rolling, the challenge then took off, racking up tens of millions of views. They used Danielle Cohn, a thirteen year old(!) who has 14.5 million followers on TikTok and was a big lip-syncer when TikTok was Muscial.ly. Her #inmydenim video was viewed 120K times and it’s just her wearing jeans….it really can be that simple.
If you’re not sure that the content you would make is going to hit the mark, why not let the kids make it themselves? They’ll then decide whose is the best and those videos will be amplified and all you have to do is sit back and watch those brand mentions, engagements and views come rolling in. They also only ran this challenge for a week. The scarcity of time meant that this was a very current trend and if you wanted to go viral on TikTok on this hashtag, you felt like you had to stop whatever you were doing and get filming.
Use scarcity to your advantage. Make sure it feels like a ‘moment’ that you have to engage with now or it’ll be gone forever. You can also throw in incentives to make it a competition of sorts, like a voucher for your favourite video etc.
Getting your audience involved and also dangling bait – such as a moment of viral fame – is a good tactic. People on TikTok are crying out for attention a lot of the time, they want to stand out from the crowd and they also want their face to be plastered across hundreds of millions of screens. Everyone knows now that you can get stinkin’ rich on the internet and make a more than comfortable living out of being relevant. Kylie Jenner is now a billionaire and that’s completely from monetising her internet following.
These kids will create some of the wildest videos to get themselves attention and if they’re doing it on your hashtag then that’s just driving traffic your way. Just obviously don’t encourage people to do anything dangerous, because these kids will do it.
Case Study: The NBA
The NBA were one of the first major brands to start using TikTok to market and they’ve been seeing some success. This is to be expected with such a giant brand of course, but nonetheless there is something for us to learn here.
The NBA claim to have a team of people dedicated to their TikTok account. So that’s something straight off the bat, if you can afford to create a team of people to work on TikTok, do it! The NBA clearly seems to think it’s worth it. They started the #NBAhandshakechallenge on Musical.ly and the success of the campaign snowballed with the inception of TikTok, so it stands to reason that they should dedicate a team to curating TikTok content.
They have exclusive rights to powerful video assets like game highlights, but if your brand has some other similar valuable video assets that drive views on other platforms, why not get them up on TikTok too?
It is worth mentioning that the NBA have done a deal with ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company for improved access. Basketball is huge in China and of course massive in America. So you can see why they’re smacking their lips at TikTok. This is an example of a brand using TikTok’s massive reach around the world to their advantage.
Case Study: Will Smith
Will Smith the movie star is on TikTok and he is, quite frankly, killing it on there. The videos he’s putting out there definitely appear to have some production value, some are slightly contrived, and they’re even a bit naff sometimes.
But if you’re on your phone and there’s a super popular silly trend or challenge that you and all your mates are doing at school and Will friggin’ Smith comes up on your screen doing that same stupid dance or trend, then people gobble that up. Will Smith? Doing the ‘woah’? Of course I like that!
This is a good example of how you can jump on viral moments and trends and use it for your own benefit. Will Smith isn’t starting challenges and trends, he’s just using them to make himself relevant. You can do the same.
It also goes to show that you don’t have to be a kid to resonate with the kids on this platform, and star power remains as valuable as ever.
Things to Be Aware Of When Using TikTok for Business
TikTok isn’t all fun and games, as people are wary of its growing influence and reach. There have been reports that TikTok is engaging in political censorship. This appears to be more directed at its Asian audience, as I’m doubtful that young American and British kids are using the app to talk about China’s historic taboos.
As I said in my previous blog post about why marketers need to pay attention to TikTok, there is a distinct non-political feel. Although Gen Z are more socially conscious than you would like to give them credit for, TikTok appears to have been earmarked as a space that isn’t for sweeping political statements. Is that because of Chinese censorship? Or is it likely that people would like to have at least one platform where the discourse doesn’t revolve around how everyone hates each other?
There are also concerns about its users data. As TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, they are legally required to share data with the state if asked. When you consider the age of the audience of TikTok, this is a cause for concern as we can’t be sure that children are giving out their data wisely. However, who can you actually trust with your data these days? Would you rather let Facebook sell it to bad faith actors like Cambridge Analytica? These concerns stink of Cold War politicking to me.
Will Instagram Spoil the TikTok Party?
Another thing that TikTok may need to be wary of is a recent move from Instagram to remove their likes. This is a bold strategy from Instagram, but one that theoretically could play massively in their favour. Without public engagement metrics, people will no longer be held back by fear on the platform.
Lots of young people see Instagram as a real-time popularity ranking. The crushing embarrassment of posting something and it not getting as many likes as your peers, often stops people posting altogether and turns them into passive users.
People will post pictures and if it hasn’t garnered enough likes in a certain amount of time, it’s swiftly deleted. The amount of likes you get on your posts dictates your level of popularity. It’s quite sad really and one of the reasons why I have eschewed Instagram, but it is the reality of how Gen Z see the platform.
Netflix documentary ‘Inst@famous’ interviews an American high school student for example, who says that Instagram “likes” create distinct social classes within her school. If someone regularly gets over 1,000 likes on their posts, someone who gets less than 100 on theirs wouldn’t dream of talking to them and this is an unwritten rule that everyone is aware of.
When these likes are taken away, there’s a real chance we could see Instagram’s culture change to a less polished and aspirational one. With no fear of public judgement, with these ‘popularity scores’ gone, users are likely to start posting a lot more, and also posting wackier and zanier content. This is one of TikTok’s USPs at the moment. And Instagram still has a hell of a lot more active monthly users in the US and UK than TikTok. This could be massive for Instagram and see it kill off TikTok just like it did with Vine.
Don’t Bet Your House On It Though…
However, in spite of removing like metrics, Instagram will still need to dump their polished feel if it’s going to neutralise the threat of TikTok. Silliness and wild content is seemingly welcomed on TikTok, the fact it has public engagement metrics doesn’t seem to matter.
Insta has long been the home of duck-face selfies, candid holiday snaps, big moods and humble flexing. TikTok is where you can pour ketchup on your foot and get 300K likes.
And let’s not forget Snapchat Stories. When you don’t have any like metrics, people don’t care and will post any old thing. So although removing these popularity scores are good in that it will encourage more people to post, do we actually want that? Will Instagram become flooded with low-quality content that sends its users packing?
Engaging Generation Z With TikTok
So, if Gen Z are part of your marketing strategy, then getting yourself into TikTok should definitely be part of your plans. TikTok presents a unique way to market and one that is fun, different and creative. It’s energetic, it’s wild, it’s fast-paced, it’s chaotic and you can get in on the action really easily.
TikTok presents a constant, almost dizzying turnover of trends and viral moments to capitalise on. If you’re not making them yourself, then someone else is, and you can just jump on them. If you aren’t big enough as a brand to pay top influencers to start a viral challenge for you, just outdo them at their own game and use the moment to get some attention. A 12 year old kid who’s bored at home is just as likely to strike viral gold on the app as the entire marketing division of a giant multinational corporation – it is literally anyone’s game.
If you’re funny on the app, this strategy can cost you almost nothing and the potential exposure is priceless. You will never be able to outright purchase the exposure being a viral meme gets you. Think back to what I said about Chipotle – meme marketing (whether intentional or not) means I know a lot more than I have any right to, about a restaurant chain I have never visited, or is even available in my country. This is brand exposure and awareness on an unfathomable scale. You can sometimes get it for free or it may cost the price of getting some influencers on board, either way the potential ROI is gigantic.
TikTok’s insane rise in numbers could be a turning point in social media culture as a whole. People are really enjoying the fun on TikTok. There’s a lot of cringy content on there, but the rewards of sifting through it are so great that people, like myself, just see it as a small cost of using the app.
With Instagram poised to remove their likes too, could we be about to see a dynamic change in social media content? Unrestricted by the crushing social pressure of popularity scores, social media might be about to get a whole lot weirder, crazier and wilder, but maybe that’s a good thing.
But I suppose most of all, the main takeaway of this is that you should start marketing on TikTok for many reasons. It’s effective, it’s fun, and you will genuinely have a riot on there.