From its 2018 beginnings as Music.ly, a lip-syncing app, to its current user base of around a billion in its modern form, TikTok’s growth has been intense and, to most, surprising. What was initially a platform reserved for young people dancing and acting out skits to trendy songs seemed to evolve overnight into a short-form content platform used by activists, comedians, and most relevantly, businesses.
While it seems natural to stake out a space in the TikTok world, it’s the “how” that bedevils many businesses. Particularly as we know that Generation Z (arguably TikTok’s largest user demographic) demands authenticity and personalization, how can you succeed with marketing in this space?
The Lay of the Land
First, let’s be a little clearer on who is in the space. Lesley Vos gives us some extremely useful statistics about TikTok’s audience makeup: 53% are male, 37% female; half are under the age of 34, with 32% between ages 10 and 19; 41% are between ages 16 and 24; 100 million of TikTok’s monthly users are American; and the platform has users in 155 countries, speaking 75 languages.
The perception of TikTok as a young person’s game, then, has deep roots in reality. Equally important is the takeaway that TikTok is an international engine, not a purely American one. This is why Vos almost immediately urges you to ask yourself: “Who is your audience on TikTok? Who do you hope to reach here? Given their demographics and interests, will your brand be relevant to them?”
The Right Content for the Right Crowd
They’re good questions. What is your product or service? Is it already geared towards the mostly-under-34 market, or will breaking into TikTok end up being a waste of time, effort, and money? If your business is designed around cataract removal or estate planning, your audience probably isn’t on TikTok. And the audience that is won’t exactly be interested in viewing or sharing your content—because just as it doesn’t apply to their lives, it doesn’t appeal to their friends either.
If the answer to your audience question is a resounding “Yes, I want to reach TikTok users, and am confident making TikTok content will be worth my time,” your next decision is which of the “main practices” you’ll engage in to make the most of your time on TikTok: Advertising, content creation, or influencer marketing.
Three Ways to Reach Out
Advertising—especially highly direct advertising—isn’t a good idea for younger audiences. While the cable TV crowd (read: older audiences) might be more lenient on the approach, Generation Z and most Millennials won’t play along with the hard sell. Content creation and influencer marketing, then, are your bread and butter for most TikTok marketing.
Influencer marketing, in which TikTok influencers push sponsored content in a somewhat more organic way than a direct ad, can be extremely effective. “It is a great way to generate content for your own TikTok and see how the influencer’s followers respond to your products,” so if you’re able to do so, try the approach out.
Of course, the same logic surrounding age and product fit apply, but with a little more nuance. With influencer marketing, you’re thinking not only about the audience’s interest/adoption of your product, but about the influencer.
In other words, if you’re looking to hire an influencer for a TikTok video (or series) and your product is a blender, you probably want to find an influencer that’s at least marginally focused on food. It’s going to be a little weird (for everybody) if you hang your influencer marketing hopes on a video game master to promote a set of bookshelves. You might be able to make it work—but why start a campaign with an uphill climb?
In content creation (even without the added credibility or recognizability of an influencer), you want to be cognizant not only of who is representing you and how you’re representing yourself, but how you’re approaching TikTok more generally. Put differently, TikTok is about the current and the trending.
Trends: Give the People What They Want
That’s right, trending—which, in TikTok, tends to mean challenges and dances. In TikTok world, it is absolutely “vital to keep up-to-date with what’s trending on the app and make relevant, interactive content in accordance with this.”
This means that you should “take advantage… by creating content primed to go viral based on what’s currently trending, picking up on trends at the right time and capitalizing off of what’s proliferating through pop culture,” noticed and created by “people who are in touch and up-to-date.”
Just to prove the importance of having the right personnel in charge of this, do me a favor—name three of the top trends on TikTok right now. I’ll wait.
Nope? None? Me neither. So… how do we fix this?
“Research can and should be done, yes, but the best TikTok social media users don’t have to research something to recognize its trending status—they’re just tuned in,” says Fincyte. This kind of advice is reminiscent of attempts to analyze the cool kid in middle school: cool isn’t something you can teach, man, you just know it when you see it.
Joking aside, trends come and go quickly, so find the members of your team who are both quick on the uptake and creative enough to leverage those trends before they’ve faded. It’s something of a tall order, to be sure, but it can make a massive difference in the engagement of your audience.
Final thoughts on TikTok marketing? Be sure of your strategy on the way in. Make sure you know who your audience is, that your product or service makes sense for this audience, and that your brand makes sense for the youthful and fast-moving world of TikTok. And remember, TikTok marketing should not be undertaken alone: choose the right team members to keep you up-to-date and engaging. With these pieces in place, you’ll have a massive new market to reach and interest with your offerings!