What’s The Deal With TikTok?


Let’s face it, unless you have been living in a cave for the past two years, you’ll be aware of TikTok – the rapidly growing video sharing app. You know, the one that features an apparently random cascade of short format video content comprising dance moves, pets, spoofs, inspiration, skits and stunts that seems to have captured the attention of the world’s youth, including your kids. So, what’s going on and, more importantly, should you be in on the action?

Numbers, Big Numbers

TikTok has got large, very large very quickly since it went global in 2018 and the raw stats bear this out:

• 1.5 billion downloads
• 800 million users
• Available in 150 countries in 40 languages
• Most downloaded app in 2018 – beating Snapchat and Instagram

What’s more, since lockdown due to CV-19, searches for TikTok have trebled and it is now the second most downloaded app in the UK after Zoom. And, since the whole family are now under one roof, all generations are also being brought in on the goofy action by resident Gen Z-ers. This in itself means more potential awareness and relevance to new demographics, but let’s not get beyond ourselves as at the moment the core user base is firmly ensconced within the 13-24-year-old age-band. Approx. 66% of TikTok users are under 30 and a similar percentage of TikTok users are female.

How does it work?

TikTok users set up an account and upload short videos, mostly just 15 seconds or less (though you can create and share videos up to 60 seconds long). Often these videos consist of people lip-synching or dancing to music videos. The videos can also be enhanced with the use of AR filters and by slo-mo and speeding up.

However, the content base has expanded with usage and this now includes all sorts of different skills and lifestyle. There are pranksters, magicians, comedians, artists, skateboarders, dancers, fashionistas, crafters, celebs and beauty experts. These all use the platform to share their video creations and demonstrate their skills. There’s a strong content bias towards humour and engagement. Content that works best is often shareable, but not deep, comedy – think dogs lip synching to songs etc. Most content has a ‘cut and paste’ raw and authentic, low production value quality that gels with the audience and also makes it easier for them to participate.

‘Influencers’ on the platform represent the more talented, more dedicated and technically proficient community members uploading original content. And in true influencer style, we are now, of course, seeing people sharing videos featuring them using their favourite products and services.Technically there’s also a lot of emphasis on content that creatively utilises things like the start/stop filming option, enabling effects like jumping from location to location, messy to tidy rooms and quick change outfit hauls.

Hashtags are key as they are how you search through and find the most popular items on the platform. They can be inserted into videos and comments and by clicking the hashtags you are able to find all the content that relates to that particular hashtag.

In terms of promoting your content, spotting trending hashtags and jumping on their bandwagon is a good way to generate traction. Trending hashtags (those that are prioritised) can appear as a result of paid promotion (which is expensive) or appear due to its popularity on the platform. Unpaid, the key to getting a hashtag featured is to build its popularity either virally or getting a lot of videos using the same hashtag in a short period of time (under 1 hour) and getting those with a larger audience (such as influencers) to push their audiences to this content.

Time to dip your toe?

So, should your brand be following the lead of the likes of Guess, Bulgari and Ralph Lauren into the often-discombobulating world of TikTok? First question should probably be, is the TikTok audience relevant to you? Do you want to grab the attention of Gen Z-ers and what is there to gain? If the audience profile is currently not right for you – we’d suggest swerve it for now but keep an eye on developments as platform demographics have a habit of evolving over time, just ask Facebook. What might not be right for now – might be right very soon.

But if Gen Z-ers represent action you’d like your brand to have, now might be a good time to explore the possibilities, but beware it’s still a bit Wild West and you will need to have a defined plan and an idea of KPIs before venturing forth, as the platform’s quirky, random nature is not necessarily a great fit with all brands. However, that said, there’s three main ways that you can get involved, and at least while the platform’s new to you we’d always suggest exploring the medium in a small way initially and experimenting with content to see what performs best for you and being prepared to adjust as necessary – as you would with any digital advertising campaign.

Firstly, you can create your own brand channel and upload relevant videos through it. Test the water with content and what works and doesn’t for you, whilst carefully ensuring you don’t compromise your brand values.

Secondly, you can work with influencers, to spread your content to a broader audience, and this has proved a very popular approach with brands new into TikTok. You can match an influencer to your brand ethos and get a feel for reach whilst minimising any risk.

Thirdly, you can pay to advertise on TikTok – but remember this is still early days for TikTok advertising – and there isn’t a market yet like there is for YouTube. However, this will doubtlessly change over time.

The best bet might initially be to combine running your own channel with working with established TikTok influencers to spread your content and messaging to a broader audience. As for types of content, always remember that Gen Z-ers love the immersive experience. Traditional TV is too passive for them and they prefer to be involved. Engagement is key for them and you. If you can find a way to get your target customers to share videos of themselves using or interacting with your products in some way, it will result in maximum brand buy-in.

The importance of Hashtags

As we have already said, hashtags are big on TikTok and hashtag challenges are an essential and highly popular feature of the platform. They are usually given a #hashtag name, to make them memorable and easy-to-find. Brands can also set hashtag challenges on TikTok. However, unless you have built up a popular TikTok channel, you will probably need to work with an influencer to kickstart it. Challenges can be anything from mastering a dance move to wearing an item of clothing, but the emphasis is obviously on interaction.

Once a #hashtag challenge is launched on TikTok, people can participate with just a few clicks. You can also use influencers for Takeovers where you pay for the influencer to create content for your channel and then promote it for you through their audience. The thinking being that these influencers are best placed to create the sort of content that will resonate with the TikTok audience generally and you can channel their expert creativity to make the connection between brand and content.

Duets are another useful device that is popular on TikTok whereby a split screen of original and ‘invited in’ content creates an interesting interpretational dynamic. This leads to duel chain where one person duets another who is then dueted by another, providing a strong viral edge. Live streaming also forms a major part of the TikTok influencer ecosystem and although livestreams don’t garner as big an audience as posts, they can provide a good direct response and might be useful for things such as new product range releases etc.

Right now, TikTok is probably best for generating brand awareness rather than cold hard sales within the key 13-24-year-old demographic. Content-wise the safe bet is to hitch a ride on an existing TikTok influencer that is a good brand fit, but beyond this it’s important to understand the successful TikTok content DNA and establish how your own brand DNA can best be represented in this intriguing world where fun, heart, originality and quirkiness count more than high production values and gloss.

Here to help

If you’re looking to make your first brand steps into the colourful, madcap world of TikTok our social media team is here to help. Take a look at some of our social media case studies here or get in touch to discuss a possible TikTok brand strategy mary.k@brandnation.co.uk