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In an age of nine-figure social media companies with billions of users, it’s rare for a new platform to find success, let alone the astronomical success that TikTok has had over the last half-decade. The short-form video-sharing service has grown exponentially year-over-year, transforming from a hub for user-generated content in the form of short, quippable videos, to a multi-billion dollar empire quickly attracting brands and influencers.
Launched in September 2016, TikTok has grown at an extraordinary rate. Within two years of launch, the service had 100 million users. By the end of 2021, it had 1.2 billion monthly active users, with estimates through 2022 of between 1.7 billion and 2 billion users. And it’s not just a content hub. TikTok revenue reached $4.6 billion in 2021, increasing 142% from the previous year. That trajectory is expected to continue as the site provides a more robust, accessible suite of advertising and marketing tools to businesses eager to tap into the huge user base.
For marketers, TikTok represents a golden opportunity to reach a highly engaged audience on a platform with a shorter, more digestible content structure. According to a recent Wired report, the optimal video length on TikTok is 21 to 34 seconds, even shorter than a typical YouTube or television ad, and the content can be reshared rapidly to reach a broad audience quickly. Moreover, TikTok’s famously insightful algorithm makes it possible to generate and push content to a target audience that then cycles it through to those who are most likely to engage with the content.
For all of these reasons, TikTok has become a keystone in brand social media strategies.Whether you are considering entering the arena or already have and are struggling to drive engagement, what makes for an effective TikTok video? Let’s take a closer look.
Much has been said about TikTok’s rapid growth over the last three years. It took Facebook eight years to reach 1 billion users and another five after that to reach 2 billion. How, then, does TikTok soar to nearly 2 billion in less than six years?
It starts with TikTok’s algorithm—an uncanny recommendation engine that, based on user viewing habits, can find the content they are likely to be interested in. Usage rates are sky-high as a result. Another factor is the generation shift that has occurred since the halcyon days of Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram’s growth. An entirely new generation of digital natives has grown up with TikTok, and views it as an extension of how they interact with technology.
Both of these factors can have a direct impact on the effectiveness of TikTok as a marketing tool. Designed to keep eyes glued to phones, mobile-first in nature, and specifically targeted toward a younger audience, TikTok’s content distribution methods are a gold mine for marketers in retail and direct-to-consumer businesses.
If TikTok is such a powerful resource, growing rapidly and targeted toward an audience quickly developing disposable income, it’s no wonder so many marketers are looking to it as their next entry into social media marketing.
But what does a successful TikTok campaign look like? There are a few factors we can point to, and some brands are providing illustrations of what works.
Chipotle immediately showed a keen understanding of what works well on the platform. Their Halloween 2019 campaign, for example, received more than 4 billion views, leaning into several key elements of effective TikTok content:
Chipotle’s approach to TikTok works because it doesn’t attempt to transform existing content into TikTok content. It leans into the elements that make the platform successful and builds its content in that way.
The NBA is one of the earliest brands to adopt TikTok as a marketing tool, and they have been very successful with it, amassing 17.1M followers and 287.5M likes. Their content is a mix of highlights, interview soundbites, fans in the stands, and celebrity sightings, each of which leans into the content creation tools of the platform:
This is another important element of successful TikTok content: it uses the built-in captions, emojis, and music options of the app. This keeps their efforts lean and makes it possible to post frequently and effectively.
What differentiates a clip with 500,000 views from a dud with 500? This is the million-dollar question. We highlighted several of the elements of the platform above, but it goes beyond just leaning into the platform’s built-in tools. Consider the following as well:
Creating content for a new social platform can be daunting and potentially expensive, but the benefit of TikTok is that it’s designed for fans to create content of their own at home. Yours needs to match certain brand standards and look high quality, but it doesn’t need to be a million-dollar brand film either. Video clips can be mined from existing footage used to create brand videos and ads on other platforms, or you can work with your team to capture candid moments on mobile devices to post directly to the platform as Guess Jeans does.
TikTok marketing is a relatively new endeavor, but for those who have invested the time and effort into doing it right, it’s proving to be an immensely powerful brand-building tool. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best practices that are helping them achieve these levels of success:
As noted above, hashtag challenges can be an incredibly effective way to spread the word about a new campaign or promotion, encouraging user-generated content that supplements and supports your efforts. Creating a catchy, engaging hashtag is an art unto itself, but when it’s done right, you’ll build a lasting audience through the platform that will continue to engage with your brand, even if not directly posting about it.
TikTok provides a hub of resources for brands to find current trends, effective ads, and insights on current data on the platform to inform the content they create and promote. From a list of trending hashtags you can utilize in your content to the “trend discovery” tool, which provides useful insight on top songs, creators, and current videos, you can get a lay of the land before building a new campaign, ensuring it blends into the current zeitgeist.
TikTok is all about novelty. Your content needs to stand out, engage, and show something that people haven’t seen before. The more often someone likes your video, the more often it is shared and the faster it grows. Experiment with color, filters, music, sounds, and the people you include in your ads. These are short, bite-sized content, so your campaigns should be built on variation.
Integrate calls to action in your content in a way that supplements and carries on from the message of your video effectively. Align these with trends, either to encourage user-generation of content or to push the user toward another resource or site. In any case, leave them with something actionable when they watch your video.
TikTok videos are short. It’s difficult to be deep and contemplative in a 25-second clip. That said, build content that reflects your brand. TikTok content, due to the length and the nature of the platform, is more casual, leans into authenticity, and gives a sneak peek behind what makes a brand tick. It’s not just another shiny, carefully curated ad platform. Users will run away from overproduced content here as quickly as they would from underproduced content elsewhere.
TikTok’s Creative Center provides a useful resource for finding top creators on the platform, but you should also research who is posting content that is relevant to your brand and your target audience. Be realistic about who you can engage with and what type of influencers do sponsored content as well. More than anything, lean into influencer marketing on TikTok, as it can help significantly boost your reach in a way that paid ads alone cannot.
@fittybritty #salutationstash Tights from @Athleta = my daily uniform these days! Perf for errands, walks w/Mango, & a sweat sesh! #powerofshe #athletapartner ♬ I Can Feel It v3 - Nick Sena and Danny Echevarria
With the right content practices, TikTok can create a direct line to your target audience. With 74% of TikTok users indicating that the platform has inspired them to buy or seek out a product, and 66% saying it has directly helped them decide what to buy, retail and DTC brand marketers should strongly consider allocating resources to the world’s fastest-growing platform.
If you are interested in learning more about what it takes to build an impactful TikTok presence, want to start developing new and better creative, or are interested in taking your account to the next step, contact us to learn more.