MSPC associate content director M.E. Gray specializes in bringing social media marketing strategies to life for a variety of our clients. Here, she explores how if your marketing goals include engagement and brand loyalty, TikTok might be the platform for your business.
Known for its lip-sync challenges and contagious dance moves, TikTok seems like a platform best left to the kids—right?
Even if you’re not active on the platform, everyone’s heard of TikTok. With its now 1 billion active users, TikTok recently claimed a pretty impressive title that would normally go to Google as the most popular internet domain in 2021. A relatively new app, TikTok grew fast, being downloaded over 3 billion times in under four years; in comparison, it took both Facebook and Instagram almost a decade to grow a following like that. TikTok, a product of the once popular lip-synching app Musical.ly, has been on the scene since 2016. Not only is TikTok gaining on its competition in terms of the creator tools it offers, but it’s winning the race in engagement, market penetration and trend factor.
Who is even on TikTok?
A lot of us got to know TikTok during the quarantine lockdowns of 2020. From October 2019 to June of 2020, TikTok saw a 130.4% increase in its U.S. downloads. In between baking bread from scratch and whipping coffee Dalgona-style, we busied ourselves with this fun new distraction the kids have been talking about.
Isn’t this platform just for teens?
Even if your target audience is not on TikTok right now, they eventually will be. TikTok was the most downloaded app in 2021 and 2020, and those downloads account for a lot more than Gen Z, which make up less than half of active users.
While those ages 10-19 still make up the highest percentage of users at 25%, earlier generations are right behind: users aged 20-29 make up 22.4% of active accounts, ages 30-39 make up 21.7% and ages 40-49 are 20.3%. These audiences aren’t just viewing, either. TikTok users are by far the most engaged of any social platform, with an average engagement rate of 5.96%; looking at 2021 metrics in comparison, Facebook’s average engagement rate was 0.13%, Instagram’s was 0.83% and Twitter was 0.05%.
Not only are its users of every age, but they’re also of varying incomes. According to a 2021 Pew Research survey, U.S. users trend toward lower incomes but do span a wide range: 22% of users make under $30K, 29% make $30-50K, 20% make $50-75K and 20% of users make $75K and up.
Brands winning at TikTok
If you decide to make a TikTok account for your business, you’ll be in good company. Institutions of all sizes are finding success on this platform, from personal grooming and acne sticker brands to official city accounts and major news publications. These brands create a mix of authentic, light-hearted and humorous content while capitalizing on and creating their own trending moments.
What are people even doing on TikTok?
The same thing that triggered TikTok’s audience surge in the spring of 2020 is the same thing that fuels it now—connection and distraction. TikTok is, at its core, an entertainment app. According to Statista, here’s how the categories break down:
Looking at how popular pranks and dances are on this platform, you might think there’s no way your business can compete—but don’t exit out of this window just yet. TikTok is famous for its algorithm-driven experience, giving each user a uniquely tailored feed. The curated nature of the For You Page (FYP) means niche content has a pretty good chance of reaching its niche audience. Unless you’re selling whoopee cushions, you don’t have to worry about appeasing the prank audience with your content, or any other audience that doesn’t fit with your brand.
Organic vs. paid media on TikTok
As with other social media channels like Facebook and Snapchat, TikTok offers its creators opportunities to advertise, and B2C businesses of all sizes are finding success when organically engaging on this platform.
There are a few ways to capitalize on their pay-to-play option, with the goal of each method to show up seamlessly in the app’s experience. Here are some tactics businesses can put paid dollars behind:
- In-feed ads: These videos show up in user feeds and look like a normal TikTok video with engagement options like sharing, liking and commenting (optional), plus the ability to click or swipe over to a predetermined landing page.
- Spark ads: Spark ads are like in-feed ads but more organic, as they have to be tied to a TikTok account. Spark ads live on another creator’s (for example, an influencer) or your TikTok account and are boosted in-feed. Spark ads encourage the organic engagement that makes TikTok so popular and present an opportunity for your brand to be authentic.
- TopView and Takeover ads: When a user first opens the TikTok app, they are immediately served with an ad. This ad spot is very effective and sought after, much like the top ad results on a Google search page. Brand Takeover ads last between 3-5 seconds, and one Takeover ad gets assigned to a category for one day only. TopView ads are similar but last up to 60 seconds with sound on.
- Branded hashtags: Higher-tier content creators can also create custom hashtags to encourage TikTok trends under the umbrella of their brand.
Like its competitors, TikTok offers daily and lifetime campaign runs for ads, with targeting abilities like custom and lookalike audiences, and each ad comes with a different price point.
Paid media isn’t the only way in with the TikTok crowd—in fact, paid media will work best when paired with a strong organic plan. From creating light-hearted content that portrays your brand authentically to commenting with your audience, your brand will do best on this platform if it is active.
What content does well on TikTok?
Brands active on TikTok have taken some interesting approaches when it comes to making content—take the Duolingo owl having a baby with Scrub Daddy, for instance. While there is no secret formula for internet fame, research has been done on the virality of content. Dr. Jonah Berger, best-selling author and marketing professor, outlines his findings in his book Contagious with six key STEPPS:
1. Social currency
The first “S” in STEPPS stands for social currency. To have lots of this currency is to be popular; you have something that others want to be around and engage with. As in life, popularity can come naturally for some, but for most, gaining social currency will be a slow-and-steady goal to aim for; you want your audience to think your content is cool enough to reshare.
A trigger happens when someone thinks of your brand, content or product outside of the context of seeing it. Dr. Berger describes triggers as “a stimulus in the environment that reminds you of something else.” Content made with this in mind has a connection to something else, like when you get in your dirty shower and think of a video you watched about how to tackle soap scum using a new product.
The “E” stands for emotion, the driving force behind so many viral videos. The tagline behind this step is: “when we care, we share.” Emotional responses, both positive and negative, drive the virality of content—think Dodo videos.
The more public something is, the more likely people are to imitate it; it’s like when your mom didn’t approve of your friend group and would say, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?” This kind of viral content elicits FOMO in those who aren’t in on the trend.
5. Practical value
Advice, recipes, tutorials and tricks fall into this category. It’s news people want to use, and those people are willing to share that knowledge with others.
A story campaigns for your product or service. It’s a narrative that people are engaged in that involves your brand along the way. These can be short stories that last until the end of the video or longer stories that play out in a series format. The story acts as a vessel for carrying your message.
So, should my business be on TikTok?
Because TikTok entertains such a broad audience with varied interests, the decision to be on TikTok will depend on your resources. Trends happen fast on this app, and acting quickly is key to capitalizing on the moment before it becomes oversaturated. It’s also a video-based app, meaning the content will take longer to produce compared to a tweet or Facebook post. It’s also an entertainment app, meaning you have to be comfortable with your business being aligned with this more edgy form of content.
Growth opportunities are there for the taking, and with a dedicated, tuned-in team and a good sense of humor, TikTok can be an effective and integral part of your marketing strategy.