Updated: Nov 1, 2020
Companies want a piece of the TikTok action. It’s easy to see why; with 800 million active users and a huge 16 – 24 user base, it seems like the ideal way to attract a younger audience to your business. I’ve had many people approach me about using TikTok. They want to set up an account for their business, start posting videos and rack up millions of views. If only it was that easy!
Like any social media channel, you need to put a lot of time and hard work into TikTok to make it successful. In fact, you probably need to work even harder to make TikTok work (compared to other platforms). You’re trying to promote your products/services to an audience who is far more tech-savvy and who grew up with social media as an integrated part of their lives. They can tell when you’re trying too hard to appeal to them, and they’re far more cynical of brands than the generations before them.
So what exactly do you need to consider before establishing your TikTok presence?
Learn about the platform first
What’s the biggest problem I’ve encountered with companies asking for my help with TikTok? It’s that they know nothing about TikTok at all. They’ve heard about how great it is, seen information on blogs and at conferences about how it’s the “hot new thing”, but they’ve never been on the app at all. Why would you want your business to use a social media platform you’ve never tried? It may be free, but you’ll want to treat it like any software you invest in; research the platform, try it out, then commit.
If you’re keen on using TikTok for your business, start by creating a personal account. Learn how to set up your profile, try making a few videos and understand how other content creators are finding success. Understand what makes TikTok different from the other platforms you use, and you’ll get a better idea of how TikTok fits into your business plan. More importantly, creating videos will not only help you develop your own style, it’ll demonstrate just how much time you need to put into it.
Make sure your content is TikTok-friendly
One common mistake I see with companies using TikTok is that their videos aren’t optimised towards the platform. They’ll upload snippets of videos they put on their Youtube channel or Facebook page and wonder why they’re not performing well. Sharing content across multiple channels isn’t always a bad thing, but you need a solid understanding of how each platform works. For example, a long-form video on Facebook won’t perform as well on platforms with restrictions on video length (such as Twitter).
My advice? Create videos specifically for TikTok. You may be used to creating landscape video for social media, but your videos on TikTok will work best if they’re portrait. Make sure TikTok’s overlay doesn’t cover important parts of your video; the text at the bottom and the buttons on the right side of the screen shouldn’t obscure significant content.
Instead of putting your big campaign videos on TikTok, create supporting content such as behind-the-scenes footage. TikTok videos don’t need to be overly polished either, so try using your phone instead of high-quality cameras. Avoid heavy marketing or sales content – instead of trying to sell a product or service, get people to buy into your brand. Gymshark do this well, using the platform to engage the fitness community with workouts and relatable content.
In my last job, I would sometimes take existing videos and put them in a TikTok-style format. It got some decent success, but the most popular videos were ones created specifically for TikTok. They took advantage of the platform's unique features, such as trending music. I started to see the views rack up - one of them reached over 50,000 views within a few weeks. Considering this video was published only a few weeks after I created the account, it was a fantastic achievement!
Develop the right style
One problem with brands’ TikTok content is that their style often misses the mark. Some content is too corporate and formal in style, and it’s a stark contrast to the more natural and light-hearted videos you’ll frequently see on the platform. My belief is that social media videos should not be too stiff, because you need to connect with your audience and make them invested in what you’re saying. This is especially true on TikTok, where you need to capture people’s attention in the first few seconds or they’ll swipe past you.
Some people, on the other hand, try way too hard. Over the last few years, corporate social media accounts have tried to be “down with the kids”. They’ll take part in the latest memes, use online slang such as “on fleek” or “bae” and quote popular songs/TV shows/movies when it doesn’t make sense. That’s not to say humour isn’t effective, but people can tell when you’re going too far to seem “cool”.
On TikTok, it’s good to understand what’s popular and what doesn’t work. Ultimately, you need to develop your own style. Find a middle ground between your company’s brand guidelines and the more light-hearted style of TikTok. Monitor the trends and, if it feels natural, take part in them. If it doesn’t feel natural, don’t force it. Stay true to yourself and people will understand and value you more than if you’re trying too hard. Canada’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is a great example of this – they’re friendly, share great content, and know that people respond well to cute animals.
Put the work in – if you can’t, reconsider having a TikTok presence
I’ve encountered many people who expect instant results on social media. They think if they set up an account and put out a few posts, they’ll “go viral”. That’s not the case, especially if you consider the huge amount of social media posts that get created every single day. Like every other social media platform, you need to put a lot of work into TikTok. You need to constantly create content that’ll appeal to your audience. You need to promote the channel regularly, both online and offline. You need to understand what works on TikTok and how to best use the platform’s unique features. As a social media manager, it’s insulting to hear someone disregard my advice and set up a social media channel, only for it to (expectedly) perform poorly.
If you’re going to create a TikTok account, the main thing you need is to be realistic. It’s likely you’ll also run other channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Can you fit TikTok into your current workload? Is there a long-term plan for TikTok as part of your social media strategy? Is your audience actually on TikTok, and if so how will you engage with them?
Trust me when I say this: don’t just create a TikTok account for the hell of it. It’s a brilliant and creative platform, and it can produce amazing results. Some of the most enjoyable parts of my career have involved developing videos for TikTok. However, we’re also seeing audiences becoming more aware of brand marketing; sometimes they’re more receptive, but more often than not they can reject it. Take the time to research and plan your TikTok presence, and make sure you hit the ground running.