Called “the defining social media app of Gen Z,” TikTok is a surprisingly friendly place for B2C marketers. Last fall, e.l.f. Cosmetics launched its #eyeslipsface campaign – inviting TikTok users to show off their makeup talents to the tune of a 15-second track the cosmetic company had made for the challenge. The campaign smashed records. Its initial video garnered 2.5 billion views in the first two weeks and sparked over 3 million user-generated videos.
@hairbyaliciawebSuper Blonde Start To Finish ?#fyp #eyeslipsface #foryoupage♬ eyes. lips. face. (feat. Holla FyeSixWun) – iLL Wayno
And that’s just a taste of what TikTok has to offer.
What is TikTok?
TikTok, known as Douyin in its home base of China, is a social network for sharing short videos, often set to music. Lip-syncing and dance videos are especially popular in part because TikTok merged with lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2018, migrating all former “musers” to TikTok’s platform.
The app – which The Verge has christened the “joyful, spiritual successor to Vine” – gives social media users a chance to let loose and indulge their playful side. Unlike social platforms like Instagram, TikTok isn’t about crafting an idealized version of yourself. TikTok users embrace their silliness, performing cheesy dance routines with their friends and participating in goofy short-lived trends like nose painting (yep, this is a real thing). The platform’s best-known creators are quirky, relatable, and above all, real.
@thehypehouse Avani failed at the end?♬ original sound – trvphouse
TikTok surged to prominence last year, with over a billion downloads and an estimated 800 million monthly active users worldwide – 40% are between the ages of 16 and 24. While many organizations have dabbled in the platform, only a select few are treating it as a core part of their content marketing strategy. This is a mistake, particularly if you are a B2C brand targeting Gen Z.
Why your brand should commit to TikTok
TikTok’s extremely loyal and active users set it apart from other social networks. They open the app an average of eight times per day and browse for approximately five minutes each time – much longer sessions than Snapchat or Instagram. “The engagement on TikTok is unreal,” creator Drea Knowsbest, who has over 4 million followers, told Vox in a recent interview. “All the creators on the app have very loyal fans.”
Brands who take TikTok seriously are reaping incredible results. Not only did e.l.f.’s #eyeslipsface campaign smash records for the brand, it also inspired celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Reese Witherspoon to spontaneously join the challenge without being compensated.
Even more shockingly, the 15-second music clip in the campaign got so big that e.l.f. released it as a full-length single on Spotify and Apple Music. DJs played it in clubs, the track got picked up by a major record label, and now there’s even an official music video on Vevo. That’s the kind of virality most marketers can only dream of achieving – and it was all made possible thanks to TikTok’s exceptionally engaged user base.
What most brands get wrong about TikTok
There’s no way e.l.f. would have inspired such incredible results if it didn’t adapt to the unique demands of the TikTok platform. That’s opposite of what many marketers do with TikTok – they repurpose material from other social platforms and expect it to perform just as well.
As Evan Horowitz, CEO of the agency behind e.l.f.’s campaign, told Vox, “TikTok is the opposite of Instagram in some important ways: Instagram is all about your most polished ‘best life’ that you put out there, and TikTok is so real, it’s so raw.”
Polished, studio-quality video is antithetical on a platform dominated by clips of teens lip-syncing in their bedrooms. And this might be what’s scaring marketers from committing to TikTok – tried-and- true video strategies from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram don’t translate.
But this lack of TikTok understanding represents an opportunity for brands that take the time to understand the platform first and then create the content.
How to succeed on TikTok
A little bit of preparation and a willingness to experiment will help any brand succeed on TikTok. Here’s how.
1. Do your research
You’d never imagine that a 142-year-old newspaper – especially one where the average reader is over 40 – would have a dedicated TikTok following, but it does, all thanks to the dedicated efforts of The Post’s TikTok creator Dave Jorgenson.
@washingtonpost#ceoof wild nights
Before creating videos for TikTok, Dave researched the platform in depth and pitched the idea to his superiors. “He truly came with a full stash of research, and he’d spent a lot of time, and it impressed me instantly how much he passionately believed in it,” says Michelle Jaconi, Jorgenson’s boss.
His research prompted him to try creating mockumentary clips about life in the newsroom in the style of the TV show The Office. “All of (Gen Z) is growing up re-watching The Office constantly,” Dave told The Atlantic. “And I do think that there is a little bit of a tone of The Office that they love, and I try to recreate that in TikTok. That sort of mockumentary style, zoom, and all these different things.”
That play for the younger audience is critical to The Washington Post. As Dave explained in The Atlantic interview: “This is a really good way to, at the very least, get (younger people) to trust the brand or to know the brand.”
His hard work has paid off. The Washington Post has amassed over 360,000 TikTok followers since May 2019.
2. Work with an influencer
Since TikTok prioritizes authenticity, brands must build trust with their audience on the platform. One way to do this is by working with established TikTok creators. As Joel Mathew, president of Fortress Consulting Group, writes in Forbes, “Advertising through influencers allows brands to promote through someone that a niche community watches, engages with and trusts on a daily basis.”
Chipotle partnered with comedic TikTok creator @itssadowski to create a micro-sketch featuring his character “Mama Penny” panicking because she doesn’t know how to make a burrito for her friend. (The solution, it turns out, is to order from Chipotle and hide the evidence). It’s pure silliness — but if the video’s 275.9K “likes” are any indication, it was a hit with Chipotle’s audience.
@chipotleMama Penny’s burritos are unmatched. itssadowski #chipotle #comedy♬ original sound – chipotle
How do you find TikTok influencers? Influencer Marketing Hub offers a couple tips. Search on Google for “top TikTok creator” and your niche or industry. Or you can use its free TikTok influencer search tool.
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3. Understand your metrics
TikTok offers detailed analytics to any user who switches to a pro account (just follow the instructions in the link). It’s free to do. Then you can access dedicated tools for tracking your brand’s TikTok performance over time, including monthly views, follower growth, and trending videos.
These tools can help you assess what’s working well and what you can fine-tune to better engage your audience. Make sure to regularly take time to evaluate your content.
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Build a bond with Gen Z
TikTok exploded last year, and its success indicates it’s not going away any time soon. The platform’s highly engaged user base is an ideal audience for B2C brands targeting a youthful demographic. If your brand is trying to reach Gen Z this year, it’s time to pull out your smartphone and get on TikTok – time is ticking.
This year also should be the time to connect with your fellow content marketers, get inspiration, and learn a lot at Content Marketing World this October. Register today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute