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What is TikTok? A Marketer’s Guide to Brand-Building on TikTok

February 5, 2020

The new mobile-video-sharing social media channel TikTok is growing FAST.

Is it time to start marketing your brand on TikTok?

In this article, we show you everything you need to know about the social media channel that’s giving Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter some unexpected, but serious, competition.

Here’s what you’ll discover:

  • What is TikTok and why it matters to brands
  • New! Clickable link in TikTok bio
  • How to Create and Publish videos on TikTok
  • How to advertise on TikTok
  • 8 TikTok marketing ideas for brands

Plus, we share lots of examples — so you can see how other brands are succeeding on TikTok!

Keep reading to discover what TikTok is, why it matters, and how you can begin advertising and marketing on the rapidly-growing social media network, TikTok.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a rapidly growing social media platform built on short-form mobile video sharing. 

Its mission to “inspire creativity and bring joy” motivates users to share content that sparks laughter, creativity, and warmth instead of controversy or political debates.

Tiktok mission

TikTokkers gravitate toward videos that make them laugh, sing, dance, and create.

What-do-TikTok-users-love

TikTok is packed full of short videos that include:

  • Lip syncing
  • Dancing
  • Pranks
  • Challenges

For example, firefighters lip sync in one video titled “firefighter shenanigans.”

Singing firefighters
Source: TikTok

TikTok audiences also love dance videos. 

From farmers to military personnel and celebrity dancers, everyone seems to love ”spreading the joy” with their own version of TikTok dance videos.
Dancing farmers on TikTok
Dancing military
Dancing Twitch

How TikTok Works

TikTok users record 15- to 60-second repetitive-loop vertical videos, often adding fun effects such as AR filters, text overlays, and music before sharing with other TikTokkers.

Like other social platforms, users can like and comment on content, however, comments don’t show in the feed unless a viewer clicks to see them. 

TikTok’s hidden-comments format allows users a safer type of newsfeed -- free from haters, trolls, and the politically-determined. This approach lets viewers enjoy content without negativity.

TikTokkers Love Challenges!

Challenges are an inspiration for some of the most popular content on TikTok.

For example, talk show host Jimmy Fallon created the #TumbleweedChallenge, which produced over 8000 videos and 9 million views in only 7 days.

tumbleweed-challenge

To participate in the #TumbleweedChallenge, users create videos of themselves going about a normal day until, cued by the tumbleweed music riff, they drop and begin rolling across the floor like a ball of tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed challenge tiktok
Tumbleweed challenge Tiktok ex 3
Tumbleweed challenge TikTok ex 2

How users portray challenges depends on their creativity and personality.

In one tumbleweed challenge video, the riff cues just after the poster hears “hey honey, can you do the dishes?” Instead of doing the dishes, he drops to the floor and begins rolling out the door.

Others drop and roll through workplaces, snow-laced backyards, across busy sidewalks, and even out of elevators.

While the trend toward fear-based, emotionally-driven headlines continues to pervade much of today’s news and social media, TikTok offers an escape for people wanting to join together for fun.
tiktok home page example
Source: TikTok.com

Given the explosive growth of TikTok, it seems that fun-filled, joy-provoking, creative short-form video is just what people around the world are craving.

Who’s on TikTok? 

Everyone’s on TikTok! Major brands participating on the social media channel include the Washington Post, Jimmy Fallon, and Chipotle.

brands-on-TikTok

TikTok’s audience is spread across several countries and appeals to a variety of age groups that change by location.

Generation Z makes up a large portion of TikTok users, but the app is also embraced by older generations in the United States.

One study by Oberlo finds that 41% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24.

tiktok user teens

A separate report published by Marketing Charts shows that, in the U.S., older generations equally embrace TikTok:

  • 18 – 24 years olds account for 25.8 % of TikTok users in the U.S.
  • 25 – 24 years olds account for 24.5% of TikTok users in the U.S.
  • 35 – 44 years olds account for 20.3% of TikTok users in the U.S.
  • 45 – 64 years olds account for 26% of TikTok users in the U.S.
TikTok age demographics
Source: Marketing Charts

TikTok’s success in appealing to multiple generations likely stems from its AI-powered algorithm, which serves up content based on individual user behavior.

Why Does TikTok Matter to Brands?

TikTok’s fast rise in popularity creates an opening for brands wanting to reach massive amounts of social media users on a channel that’s not (yet) saturated with competition.

Marketers should consider learning more about TikTok, so they’re prepared to integrate the platform into their 2020 social media strategy if they feel it’s a good fit for their brand.

tiktok-quote-mediakix

Currently, 27 million U.S. users open the TikTok app 8 times a day.

Since its September 2016 launch, TikTok has proven itself a serious competitor among major social media networks:

TikTok hit 1.5 billion downloads and continues to grow:

TikTok is now the 2nd most- popular mobile social networking app in the U.S. when rated by user engagement.

TikTok app store stats
Source: Mediakix

The Statista chart below shows the Most Popular Social Networks, by engagement, in 2019 – with TikTok placing #2, above Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Most popular social networks by engagement 2019 statista
Source: Statista

Tiktok Expands Its Features, Giving Major Social Networks A Run For Their $$$

Looks like TikTok may soon give major social platforms like Facebook and Instagram a run for their money. 

While its parent company, Bytedance, seeks out music streaming and mobile phone options, the social channel is testing e-commerce features and cost-per-click ads.

Shopping on TikTok

TikTok is currently testing e-commerce options by allowing a handful of retailers to add direct product links to their videos.

TikTok Music Streaming

According to CNN, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is currently holding discussions with global record companies to build deals for a new music streaming platform that could compete with Spotify, Apple Music, and Tencent Music.

TikTok Advertising

Ad offerings for the social media network didn’t begin until its beta ads launched in early 2019.

tiktok-2016-achivement

TikTok now provides brands with a way to reach users through advanced audience targeting and ad creation features.

The platform is currently testing cost-per-click ad pricing and transitioning to a self-serve ad platform.

ByteDance Smartphones

TikTok’s Chinese tech-firm parent company, ByteDance, is currently developing a smartphone with the help of electronics company, Smartisan.

tiktok-quote-oprah

How is TikTok Different From Other Social Media Channels?

Several unique features separate TikTok from other major social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

  1. TikTok’s AI-driven newsfeed serves up content based on your viewing behavior.

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, TikTok is owned by an artificial intelligence company and not a social media network. 

Parent company ByteDance media was founded by AI savant Zhang Yiming, known for his extraordinary ability to build addictive platforms using artificial intelligence.

Tik Tok’s algorithms build a viewing feed tailored to your habits, instead of curating content based on what you SAY you enjoy.

  1. TikTok thrives on content-based interaction.

Most social media channels are fueled by engagement with friends and followers, and that’s where TikTok differs. 

The app’s AI-driven algorithm produces interaction based on content, an objective many other social channels struggle to achieve.

  1. TikTok avoids politics. Sort of.

Political ads are banned on TikTok.

According to TikTok’s Global Business Solutions VP, Blake Chandlee, “Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok  platform experience.”

  1. TikTok’s initial success was built on manufactured content and advertising.

Unlike Twitter and Facebook whose success grew organically, TikTok’s early success was a result of marketing and self-manufactured content

From publishing its own trending memes to hiring social media celebrities to create content and investing $3 million dollars-a-day on ads, the company’s marketing strategy drove much of its early platform.

  1. TikTok makes it easier for people to create content.

The app provides plenty of user-friendly tools that allow people to easily create their own videos, including:

  • Gesture filters
  • Virtual reality-type filters
  • Overlays
  • Professional music
  • Speed control

For many, TikTok’s unique features provide the type of fun and engaging experience that people need in today’s stressful world.

how-is tiktok-different

The Pros and Cons of TikTok?

So far, we’ve shown you how TikTok’s differences make it an ideal platform for marketers by providing:

  • A sophisticated AI-driven platform
  • Newsfeeds based on user behavior
  • Rapid growth across the globe and in the U.S.
  • User-friendly tools that inspire people to create

TikTok isn’t without its challenges and controversies, though. 

Its parent company, China-based tech giant ByteDance, purchased Musical.ly in November 2017 and relaunched it as TikTok in August 2018.

bytedance building
Source: CNN

Problems with the previous app, Musical.ly, and the fact that ByteDance operates in China, have caused more than one “bump in the road” for TikTok:

Before its relaunch as TikTok, Musical.ly was an app for kids and tweens. The Federal Trade Commission recently fined Musical.ly  5.7 million dollars for child privacy violations.

musically

Under its new agreement with the FTC, though, Musical.ly agreed to change how TikTok operates by requiring people to verify their ages and directing users under the age of 13 to a safer, more-restricted app experience.

  • U.S. lawmakers recently demanded an investigation over concerns about political censorship and American data usage potentially getting turned over to the Chinese government, and the U.S. government launched an “investigation into the acquisition as well as an investigation into TikTok itself,” according to a report by YourTango.

A year from now, we may look back on TikTok’s privacy, safety, and censorship issues as predictable “growing pains” of a previously-owned international company.  

The social network appears willing to adjust to new standards and address its privacy and safety issues. 

Marketers, however, should stay informed and updated on TikTok’s privacy and censorship issues, so you’re not taken by surprise if the problems grow rather than improve.

Despite its challenges, TikTok’s ability to compete with major social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram make the network nearly impossible for brands to ignore. 

New! Clickable Link in TikTok Bio

Great news! Beta testing is now underway for a brand new TikTok feature — link in bio.

You may notice the clickable link in some bios already. TikTok’s beta testing program allowed users to sign up and try the new link feature, but the testing program is now closed to new enrollments.

We think the close of beta testing enrollment means links options will be coming to your bio soon!

What Is Tiktok’s New! Link In Bio Feature?

If you’re familiar with Instagram, you know that adding a link to your Instagram profile means you can send viewers to your website, another social media website, or even your Amazon page.

TikTok’s bio link looks similar. It’s a clickable link that’s displayed at the bottom of your profile, before your content feed.

Here’s a peek at TikTok’s link-in-bio feature from brands that are currently testing it.

Here’s a peek at TikTok’s link-in-bio feature from brands that are currently testing it.

The new link feature already rolled out to some users, so you might want to check your brand’s profile page to see if you already have the option.

Here’s how to check if you already have the option to add a clickable link to your TikTok profile.

  • Log in to TikTok.
  • Go to the “Me” menu option at the bottom of your screen.
  • Tap “Edit Profile” in the center of the screen.
  • Scroll down to check for a “Website” option in the menu.

If you don’t have the option, you can check whether the TikTok testing program is accepting new users. 

  • Tap the “…” in the upper right corner of the TikTok app
  • Scroll and tap on the “Join TikTok Testers” option.
  • Find out if the program is open to new users. If so, you can sign up for the testing program and the “website” link option will appear in your settings. 

Chances are that you’ll get the same message we did: “This beta isn’t accepting any new testers right now.”

beta

If you don’t have the link-in-bio option and you can’t sign up as a tester, keep checking your settings and keep checking back here for updates on when the feature will be available to everyone.

Why The TikTok Link In Bio Is A Game-Changer For Brands

Adding a clickable link to your TikTok bio means you can send viewers directly to your website, landing page, or eCommerce page.

With the profile link in place, you can use TikTok as a way to drive traffic, conversions, and sales to your site.

When the new clickable profile link launches for everyone, you’ll be able to do more than build a community on TikTok. You can begin using TikTok as a tool to help you meet your marketing and sales objectives.

A link in the profile pages means you can use TikTok the same way you use many other social media platforms, significantly boosting your ROI.

The new link feature is still in the beta testing phase, but now is the time to start thinking about how you’ll work TikTok and the clickable link into your future marketing content and campaigns.

How to Create and Publish Videos on TikTok

Unlike many other social media platforms, TikTok only allows its users to publish videos — so you can’t publish images or memes unless you put them into video format.

The good news is that its user interface provides so many creative options that you won’t know the difference.

Posting videos, even when you include effects, music, and images, is so quick and simple that it’s easy to understand how TikTok became so popular!

How to Create a TikTok Video

First, film your video:

1. Tap the “+” icon in TikTok (usually at the bottom center of app).

2. Tap the large red button to begin filming.

3. Tap the red checkmark to end your recording.

Next, add special effects:

4. Add a song: tap the sounds icon to add a song, then select a song from the TikTok library of free songs. Then, tap the scissors icon just above the song selections and drag to select your song’s starting point. 

5. Add effects: tap the effects icon, then select by tapping and holding your choice. You can release the hold and switch to different effects throughout your video.

6. Add text: tap the text icon, then write your message. Next, choose a font type and color.

7. Add stickers: tap the stickers icon, then scroll through to tap and select your animated sticker.

TikTok add text to video
TikTok add effects to video

8. Add filter: tap the filter icon (located on the right side for IOS) to select your filter.

9. Add sound effects: if you want to add sound effects such as chipmunk, echo, helium, and more, tap the sound effect icon located near the filter icon.

10. Complete your special effects: when you’re finished adding all your creative elements tap “next” to access your post options.

11. Lastly, choose your settings and publish your video:

TikTok choose video setting
  • Add a description.
  • Add #hashtags or mentions by tapping the labeled icons.
  • Select your cover.
  • Choose your privacy settings. Choose from public, private, or friends.
  • Allow comments? 
  • Allow duet and react?
  • Save to album?
  • Tap the red “Post” button to publish your video.
how-to-film-a-TikTok-video

How to Upload and Add Music to Existing Videos

If you’ve already filmed your video, you can upload it to TikTok from your phone’s library with the steps below.

To get started, tap the “+” icon that allows you to create a video, then:

1. Tap “Upload” button

2. Tap “Add Sound” icon

3. Tap “My Sound” in the upper right corner 

4. Select a song from your library by tapping on it

5. Tap “Record” and film your video

6. Tap the red checkmark in the lower right corner when you’re done filming.

Remove Background Noise

Does your air conditioner make humming noises? Did your dog bark during the video? Does traffic outside interfere with your song quality? 

Remove background noise from your video with the following steps:

7. Tap the mixer icon in upper right corner

8. Lower the original sound to remove background noise (optional)

9. Adjust the soundtrack volume if needed.

Choose Your Song’s Start Point

10. Tap on “Trim” icon in the upper right corner

11. Drag the blue slider to select your ideal start point for the song

12. Tap the red checkmark in lower right corner to finish.

Now that we’ve walked you through some of the TikTok publishing basics — give it a try! The platform is user-friendly and super-fun to use!

How to Advertise on TikTok

TikTok opened its platform to advertisers in early 2019, attracting big-name companies such as Grubhub, Nike, Fenty Beauty, and Apple Music, who have used its ad platform to market products in original and visually-compelling campaigns.

Currently, TikTok ads aren’t available in the U.S., but recent reports say they may be available to the U.S. soon.

TikTok ads are currently available in JP,IN,TW,TH, KR,MY,ID,VN, RU,TR,SA,EG, and AE.

Should You Advertise on TikTok?

The company’s ad platform is new, and its prices are currently more suitable for enterprise-level businesses than small businesses on a budget.

According to a report by Social Media Examiner, TikTok ad costs start at $10 per CPM, with a minimum $500 investment required. TikTok advertising can run about $300,000 for larger campaigns.

How to Prepare for TikTok Ad Campaigns

To advertise on TikTok, you’ll need to fill out a form and wait for a representative to contact you. 

While you’re waiting to hear back from a TikTok ad rep, you can get ready to create your ad campaigns by preparing the following information and assets.

Here’s What You Need To Do To Prepare for Creating TikTok Ads:

  • Set your campaign objectives: choose from traffic, conversions, or app installs.
TikTok ads Advertising ObjectivesTikTok ads Advertising Objectives
Source: TikTok
  • Determine your optimization goal: conversions, clicks, or impressions.
  • Name your campaign
  • Set a daily budget, plus decide whether you’ll spread your budget out over time or allow the ads to use up your budget as quickly as possible.
TikTok ads Advertising budgeting
  • Decide what time(s) of day you’d like your ads to run, or if you’d rather run ads continuously.
  • Choose what platforms you’d like to run ads on. You’ll have the option to run your ads across TikTok’s family of apps such as BuzzVideo and News Republic. Or, you can choose automatic placement and let TikTok choose the platforms for you.
TikTok ad placement options
Source: TikTok
  • Get your information and images ready: you’ll need your URL and images, plus about 20 keywords that describe your site or app.

TikTok ad targeting allows you to create your own audience using TikTok IDs, target your current audience by engagement, activity, and traffic, or exclude your audience.

Alternatively, you can define a new audience using demographic indicators:

  • Gender
  • Location
  • Age
  • Languages
  • Interest Category

You can also narrow your audience by the types of devices and connections they use:

  • WiFi, 2G, 3G, or 4G
  • Specific mobile carriers
  • Price of device
  • IOS or Android O/S
  • OS versions (iOS8.0 and above or Android 4.0 and above)
TikTok Ads defining audience options
Source: TikTok

Creating your TikTok Ads

While its related apps provide several ad-format options, TikTok currently allows only video ads.

You’ll have plenty of creative options, though! 

TikTok provides advertisers with its Video Creation Kit which includes customizable templates that help you produce beautiful ads quickly. 

You can run horizontal, vertical, or square videos and images.

For example, the Landing Page Tool is an excellent way to create ads quickly while also lowering your ad production costs. The tool uses the landing page URL you provide to create customized video ads in batches – allowing you to generate 10 or more ads in 3 minutes.

Video Ad Specifications for TikTok In-Feed Ads

Currently, the only type of ads available on TikTok are in-feed video ads, according to its video ad specs below.

Aspect Ratio: 9:16/1:1/16:9 recommended

Resolution: ≥ 720 * 1280px / ≥ 640*640px / ≥1280*720px

File Type: .mp4, .mov, .mpeg, .3gp, or .avi

Duration: 5 – 60 seconds, but TikTok recommends 9 – 15 seconds

Bitrate: 516kbps or more

File Size: file size 500MB or less

Profile Image:

  • Aspect Ratio 1:1
  • File type .JPG, .JPEG, or .PNG
  • File size: less than 50K

App name: 4-40 English characters, no emojis

Brand name: 2-20 characters, no emojis

Ad description: 12 – 80 characters – emojis, {} and hashtag symbols (pound) not allowed in ad text. Longer descriptions may not display on some screens.

Please note that the display of names and descriptions may vary according to users’ phone models and operating systems, and long text may not show up on all screens.

*Source: TikTok Video ad requirements

tiktok-video-ad-specs

8 TikTok Marketing Ideas for Brands

Wondering how to get your brand started on TikTok?

8-tiktok-marketing-ideas-for-brands

Here are 8 ideas for winning social media content you can use to connect with TikTokkers.

1. Participate in a TikTok Challenge

Challenges are a popular activity on TikTok, and they provide an excellent way for brands to participate!

  • The #RaindropChallenge has over 685.7 million views on TikTok.
  • Jimmy Fallon’s #TumbleweedChallege created 8,000 videos with over 9 million views in seven days.
  • There are more than 5 million #InMyFeelings challenge videos on TikTok

Source: Mediakix

Let your employees participate in TikTok challenges while wearing your company uniform, or displaying your logo in the background.

Consider joining in a dance challenge, such as #Danceforchange, that raises awareness of global warming and other important issues. 

The #InMyFeelings challenge, set to Drake’s “In My Feelings” song, is another way your employees might enjoy participating.

InMyFeelings challenge tiktok

2. Create a Branded Hashtag Challenge Plus with Shoppable Items

TikTok recently began offering brands the opportunity to sponsor a Hashtag Challenge Plus, a promotion that features a separate tab allowing viewers to make purchases within the social media app.

Find out how to make your products look stunning with flat lay photography.

Cover - Create the Perfect Flat Lay Images for Instagram

Creating a Hashtag Challenge Plus for your brand can be an excellent way to expand your reach and boost sales from TikTok.

For example, the #ChipotleLidFlip campaign challenges customers to flip their lids and make them land on top of Chipotle plates. 

The challenge is 100% goofball-silly, with no deeper social cause or meaning –  and customers love it!

chipotle lid flip tiktok

Fashion brand Guess Jeans partnered with TikTok influencers for the #InMyDenim hashtag campaign, encouraging users to share photos of themselves wearing Guess Jeans.

Guess influencer campaign
guess jeans inmydenim challenge tiktok

The challenge encourages jeans wearers to make their jeans look fabulous — resulting in eye-catching Guess Jean images that expand the brand’s reach through shared audiences.

3. Hold a Contest

Contests are an excellent way to drive engagement on any social media channel. 

For example, Malaysia McDonald’s “Big Mac TikTok Challenge” asked TikTok users to post a photo of themselves dancing to the “Big Mac Chant,” with the hashtag  #bigmactiktok contest.

macdonalds malaysia
Source: McDonald’s

The fast-food chain gave away a free Big Mac to all participants, plus offered attractive cash prizes to winners.

bigmac challenge on TikTok

Contests are an excellent way for brands to expand their reach and grow an audience on TikTok.

4. Create Short Music Videos

Marketing on TikTok means rethinking some of your old ideas about music videos. Remember, videos are short but you’ve got filters and features that let you pack them full of action.

For example, Chipotle syncs video clips of routine employee activities, such as mixing salsa, up with the music using special effects. The result is a music video synced to the song!

chipotle tiktok music video

The Washington Post published a “TikTok audition” music video to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.”

Washington Post on TikTok
Source: Washington Post on TikTok

Some police officers post on TikTok, helping to create a “brand” image that’s more relatable and approachable than what people often see on the news.

For example, some police officers satirically lip-sync to emotional songs, creating hilarious videos for the TikTokers.

Police officer on TikTok Oakland
Police officer on TikTok

5. Let Your Employees Dance at Work

Whether you choreograph a dance or just let your employees create their own dance video, TikTokkers love it.

Fenty beauty dance
Fenty Beauty on TikTok

If you’ve browsed TikTok, you know that inept dancers with a good sense of humor are as welcome as professional dancers with choreographed routines.

The key to success lies in sharing your brand culture in a way that’s authentic and entertaining.

6. Post Musical Duets

The musical duet feature allows you to post two videos in which one user responds to the other.

You can check out examples of musical duets by searching #musicalduets. Get creative with duets! Use them to share information about your product and its benefits.

7. Post a Nope/Yup Video 

Nope/Yup videos, in which users answer a series of questions in sync with a rap soundtrack titled “Choices,” are a hot trend on TikTok.

You can adjust Nope/Yup videos to fit your brand. 

For example, The Red Cross’s video about what to do and what not to do in first aid emergencies features good and bad examples of commonly-used first aid tactics.

NopeYup Red Cross TikTok

Nope/Yup videos turn common questions into fun, expressive, and engaging  videos that brands can use to share product info, expand their reach, and entertain their audience.

8. Partner with TikTok Influencers

Considering partnering with TikTok influencers to promote your brand using features such as:

  • Feed content
  • Brand takeovers
  • Hashtag challenges
Tiktok influencer marketing
Source: The Influencer Marketing Factory

Influencers can help you grow an audience more quickly and provide you with creative ideas for generating engagement on TikTok.

TikTok Provides Unique Ways to Promote Your Brand

TikTok’s rapidly growing network of fun-loving audiences provides many ways for brands to build awareness on the platform. 

TikTok creates exceptional opportunities for employee advocacy content and user-generated content, which are some of the best types of marketing videos for brands looking to gain trust from consumers.

Have you tried TikTok? We’d love to hear about it! Tell us about your TikTok content and ideas in the comments section below!

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