TikTok Marketing: Marketing a Business on TikTok (Plus Advertising)

TikTok is the new new thing on social media. And, accordingly, it’s the new, new thing when it comes to social media marketing and social media advertising. TikTok is young. TikTok is fresh. TikTok is huge (800 million monthly active users, and a daily view time of 52 minutes). Other social media marketers have created great content on “marketing guides to TikTok” (See resources below), so I’m not going to go into all of the basics. Rather, I want to highlight some of the purely marketing opportunities on TikTok.

The TikTok Culture

Start with the users. Always start with the users. What are they doing on TikTok? What are they producing and what are they consuming? What’s the vibe, the culture, on the platform? Are your customers on TikTok (or getting on TikTok), and if so, what type of content intrigues them, engages them? Content is king and content must reflect the culture. The culture of TikTok, I would argue is –

  • Video-centric. Like YouTube, TikTok is a video-only platform. To participate, you must be able to produce video.  Videos are generally very short – originally 15 seconds in length, but can now be up to 60 seconds. There are many technical features to the videos as in stickers and other attributes you can add to your videos, so you need to check the technical details to producing a video on TikTok and get savvy with the format. It’s app centric, so you can download the app to your phone and experiment on your “personal” account and then create a “corporate” or “business” account for your brand.TikTok Marketing
  • Music-centric. There is now a lot of talking on TikTok, but it originally was music-centric and music remains central to the platform. Indeed, viral music clips are huge on the platform – one short song or even an express can “go viral” and spawn video after video that uses that music. Indeed, music is used as a discovery mechanism on the platform; unique to TikTok, music is central to the algorithm and to the video discovery and sharing process. So be musical, or sound-centric.
    • Music can be used to browse videos (lower right corner in the app). For example, you can take a song clip like Dream Girl or Dream and see TikTok after TikTok the uses that music.
    • Duets are another form of fun content, often (but not always) musically focused.  There is even an official TikTok video on how to make a duet. Dancing is big; as are dance challenges.
  • It’s Fun. It’s Silly. It has a few serious videos, but in general, the content is fun, light, even flippant. Users are “having fun” on TikTok and being silly. It’s like the Gong Show on social media – so enjoy and embrace your users, superfans, and even influencers.

Browsing TikTok for Competitors and Companies-to-Emulate

One of the key tasks for social media marketing is to identify competitors (companies similar to yours) as well as companies-to-emulate (companies doing an amazing job on the platform). Mine both for ideas. What are they posting? What type of content is getting a lot of engagement and why? How can you create similar content or reach out to your own fans, superfans, and even influencers to get “viral” or “UGC” (User Generated Content). Here’s how to browse TikTok for ideas –

  • Inside the TikTok App.  Click on the “discover” icon (Magnifying glass) at the bottom. Then type keywords or company names into the box. As with other platforms, you can “follow” a brand or person and then they will show up under “following”. Thus, identify competitors and/or companies-to-emulate and “follow” them.
  • Via Google. Use the site: command on Google and use Google to find companies, posts, and topics on the app. For example, site:tiktok.com wendys which gets you content on Wendys. It’s a little different than searching directly in the app.  You can also use the “tools” menu on Google to find new content, as in the last month or week.  For example, here’s the tools menu set to last week for “food” on GoogleNote: you can sign in via the desktop AND the app (e.g., via your Google account) and then TikTok will happily violate your privacy and synchronize the phone and the desktop for you.
  • Via Browsing. Just browse, look for cool content, and “like” videos that seem relevant. The algorithm will start suggesting you similar videos. You can also find a video you like and click into the account and then follow.
  • Via hashtags. Hashtags are big on TikTok, as on Instagram. So find a relevant starter hashtag, and then bookmark others that are relevant. You can “follow” a hashtag.  Those will show up under your “favorites” tab on the app.  On the app it’s easy just type #vegan for example and start browsing. It’s not easy on the desktop, so start at Google with site:tiktok.com #vegan and then browse and bookmark related hashtags.  Some hashtags are very unusual to the platform such as #Putafingerdown and become “conversation points” for all sorts of content.
  • Via Keywords. Just type keywords into the search box (or via Google) and search for content and accounts that seem relevant to you.
  • Via Music. This is the coolest feature on the app. In the app, go to the bottom right corner of a video and click the sound icon. It will then find and group related videos by this sound or piece of music.

At the end of this exercise you should have content that seems relevant to your brand and your customers.

Engagement is Key on TikTok. UGC is Even Keyer

Engagement is that name of the game on TikTok. Like YouTube, some videos “go viral” and videos by people who are already famous definitely have a leg up. But the big successes are videos that hook into the needs, wants, desires, thoughts, etc., of users. Two brands that really get this are Chipotle and Wendys, not surprisingly youth-oriented fast food brands.  Notice, for example, how Wendys’ piggybacked on the massively viral Dreams by Fleetwood Mac trend as did Jimmy Fallon.

Ideas to encourage engagement are thus –

Engage with users. Brands like Chipotle and Wendys have very passionate, youth oriented fans who will do literally anything to be “sponsored” by the brand or win “free stuff.” Leverage your fans and superfans via challenges and contests. For example, check out this video pleading to have Chipotle sponsor him. Note that while music and viral-related dancing and music are the most common content types on TikTok, there are also how to videos, especially with respect to cooking and beauty.  There’s even poetry.  Check out channels like @fentybeauty or @herfirst100k that are building brands around “how to” content.

Example (Marketing) Accounts that Do TikTok Well

Here are some accounts that do TikTok well and have a marketing angle –

  • Zach King – note that some of his videos cross into influencer marketing, in which he “endorses” a brand. For example, watch his video supporting GrubHub.
  • Block Masonry – who thought masonry would be video-centric?
  • Crocs – the shoe type that will just never die.
  • Chipotle – probably the “post child” for a consumer brand that is really crushing it on TikTok.
  • Jimmy Fallon – where does the comedian end and the brand begin? Don’t miss his pro-voting video.
  • Wendys – another consumer brand that is crushing it on TikTok as they do on Twitter.
  • Sugar Hero – a consumer-facing candy brand that is crushing it (pardon the pun).
  • Sticky Lollies – another consumer-facing candy brand that is sticky.

Also note that “influencer marketing” is a thing on TikTok. Such a thing that it has its own influencer marketplace where “influence” is for sale. And, note that as on Instagram link-sharing is extremely limited; limited in fact to “link in bio” so monetizing your content directly is pretty difficult. It’s more about the brand and about fun than it is about making a direct sale.

Resources to Learn More about TikTok

TikTok is so new that the best way to learn it is to use it. Beyond that, there are emerging blog posts (like this one) that explain some of its features from a marketing perspective.

Oh, and is there advertising on TikTok? Of course there is.

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Jason McDonald

About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.