How to use TikTok Marketing for your Startup

TheVentury recently had the pleasure to host Sophie Pineker, responsible for Community and Partnerships Europe at TikTok, for a super informative workshop here in Vienna. 
Tiktok Logo

TheVentury recently had the pleasure to host Sophie Pineker, responsible for Community and Partnerships Europe at TikTok, for a super informative workshop here in Vienna. TikTok with its 5.5 million active users, is one of the fastest growing social networks in the world. The insights we gained were really valuable, and I thought we’d share a few with you!

What I found most interesting was that TikTok does not prioritize videos made by your friends or people you follow in your feed. I’ll describe more on that below.

You can’t ignore TikTok – let’s look at the numbers

If you haven’t heard of TikTok yet, it’s about time! With 5.5 million active users, who spend an average of 50 minutes on the platform every day, this new social media platform is growing bigger and more relevant by the day. The Verge calls it “a unique hybrid somewhere between Vine and YouTube that’s captured the cultural zeitgeist among teenage smartphone owners in unprecedented fashion.”

TikTok boasts 9 billion monthly video views, creating the perfect platform for people – especially young people – to get their creative message across, but also for brands looking to connect with the next generation in a meaningful way.

Typical content on TikTok is in the shape of 10-15 second videos, often accompanied by popular music tracks, and typically humorous or entertaining, so the bar is high for brands who want to build a following on this platform.

There are a few social features that make the app unique, and any brand who wants to conquer the TikTok world needs to find a way to use them to their own benefit.

The different formats

1. First off: the “For You” page (#FYP) is the first thing a user sees when they open the app (even before logging in or registering!) Content here is algorithmically curated and anything that ends up here is bound to get way more exposure. It’s the goal of many TikTok users to get their content onto the For You page.

2. TikTok has licensed a lot of excerpts from popular music and offers in-app video editing and effects. The result is a signature style of vertical video content that spans the entire platform, and makes it both recognizable and easy to replicate. Many brands are successful, not by producing high-value professional video content, but by simulating the hand-held amateur style of its own target audience. Essentially, the challenge here is to make your brand become “one of the gang”.

3. Hashtag Challenges are the heart of a lot of the content published on TikTok. This is where one user posts a video of a specific style, and prompts other users (via a hashtag) to recreate the video concept, each putting their own unique spin on it. Brands can also sponsor a hashtag challenge, and in one example presented to us, TikTok even helps to connect brands to influencers, who can give the Challenge the initial momentum it needs to go viral.

4. Duets are also a popular way by which you can publish your rendition of a song or video. The resulting post is a collage of your own video, side-by-side with a number of its predecessors.

A lot of these features are a little difficult to explain – I recommend you just download the app and try it out!

Paid ads on TikTok

Unlike Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, TikTok doesn’t offer “self-service ads” to brands who want to market their products. It isn’t possible to log on, upload a video, set a budget and target a chosen audience, and have your ad delivering an hour or two later.

Why? This is possibly due to the app still being relatively new – we may see them adding an ad option in that sense once the product matures a little. But for now, businesses need to be in direct touch with TikTok to get their paid content campaigns onto the network. TikTok even supports brands with creating content, so it can feel as native as possible.

But this also means higher entry costs. In the example presented to us in the workshop, a well-known brand paid a five-digit sum to run a “Top View” ad, which is a format that completely covers the app interface when a user opens the app, and links to an external landing page. The estimated CTR lay at around 12%, and 3,7 million impressions were reached. Of course, these numbers vary by region and on a case-by-case basis (you can contact them if you’re interested). That level of exposure is fantastic for any brand, of course, but it naturally comes with a price tag.

Organic reach for brands – Authenticity is king (or queen)

Of course, if you’re a startup, those kind of costs may be a little risky, if not completely impossible to afford.

Which options does that leave startups then? Organic, of course! Ask yourself: how can your business navigate the various trends, memes and challenges that dominate TikTok, in a way that makes you come across as a relatable and human user, while still bring across the brand message you want to bring, and in a perfect world, even converting users to your product?

That’s the big question, and it’s going to take some experimentation to answer.

It’s worth taking a look at some of the approaches brands have taken so far. Companies like Chipotle, the Washington Post or Guess have all been among the earliest adopting brands on TikTok, and each have given a unique spin to their content, while keeping the authentic, casual, humorous core that makes TikTok videos so addictive with its target audience.

Approaches included:

  • Engaging in existing Hashtag Challenges while featuring their product
  • Creating their own Hashtag Challenges and boosting them with influencer participation
  • Creating branded filters or stickers that other users can attach to their content
  • Funny “behind the scenes” posts from their offices
  • Higher production value sequences involving influencers and celebrities

Whatever you choose to do, the golden rule is simple: try to make your brand feel more like a real life TikTok user!

TikTok is about content, not connections

There’s one more thing that makes TikTok stand out from the rest. Where other social networks have been betting on the social graph, the model that represents interconnectedness of people online, TikTok content becomes successful by other virtues. On the For You page, TikTok’s algorithm decides what you’d like to see. It doesn’t prioritize videos made by your friends or people you follow. The videos are built by influencers, brands and random people trying their luck at TikTok stardom. Whether or not you get to see their video is defined by its overall popularity and its popularity in your region, not by how socially close you are to the creator.

This can be great for brands – if they can manage to create awesome content, they don’t need to worry about it getting buried by content from a user’s social connections – this continues to be a challenge on Facebook, for example. The success of a given piece of content is much more strongly defined by its objective popularity and engagement.

At the end of the day, TikTok is still in its early years, and it remains to be seen what features will still be launched, both B2C and B2B. But with its current rate of growth, its predominantly young following, and its features that set it apart from what’s already out there, ignoring it might be a mistake!

Have you considered using TikTok for you brand? Let me know about your experiences!


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