TikTok is a social networking app where users create and share short-form videos. With plenty of music choices, filters, and other tools for creativity, TikTok has streamlined and simplified video creation. You don’t have to be an experienced video editor to create TikTok videos—anyone can do it! It’s also the fastest-growing social media platform of all time. In the first quarter of 2020, TikTok set a record for the most downloads in a single quarter for a social app, with 315 million installs, pushing the platform over the 2 billion user mark.

TikTok’s Origin Story

The application we now know as TikTok started in 2014 as an app called Musical.ly, which people used to upload 15-second lip-sync videos to popular songs. In 2016, ByteDance, a Beijing-based technology company, launched their version of Musical.ly called Douyin (also a short-form video sharing app). After Douyin’s massive success in China and other East Asian countries, in 2017 ByteDance acquired Musical.ly to the tune of almost $1 billion, and launched TikTok overseas. In 2018, TikTok absorbed Musical.ly and all accounts were moved to TikTok. Douyin is still operating separately in China.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is an app where people create fun, whimsical videos that are 15 seconds to 3 minutes long. Users lip-sync, participate in dance or hashtag challenges as well as raise awareness and provide valuable information (broken down into short, digestible videos) on topics from fitness to life hacks to current events. TikTok is available in more than 150 markets and 75 languages worldwide. With more users signing up daily, combined with a demonstrated high engagement rate, it makes sense to create a TikTok account for your business to start engaging with users and building your brand on the fast-growing platform.

With many people—especially young generations— seeking out the app for memes, prank videos, dance challenges, responses to world events, DIY fashion, recipes, and cute animals, TikTok has become more than just a lip-synching app. Users can also create duets, reaction videos, and video replies to comments, encouraging interaction and truly making TikTok a social media network, rather than just a video-creating and sharing app. And while TikTok has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon, it also has plenty of localized content, facilitating engagement on both a global and local scale.

Understanding the TikTok Algorithm

Anyone trying to market a business or brand on social media strives to understand the platform’s algorithm. TikTok describes its algorithm as “a stream of videos curated to your interests, making it easy to find content and creators you love...powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user.” Although there is no one size fits all solution to social media marketing, understanding TikTok’s recommendation system and how it works can help marketers decide where to focus their promotional efforts.

For You Page

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The For You page on TikTok is a selection of videos the platform recommends to users. It’s also the very first thing people see when they open the app, so it’s important to understand how to land your content there. TikTok uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to determine these video choices based on users’ settings such as location, language, and device, as well as video information such as hashtags, captions, sounds, and genre. It also assesses each person’s interactions within the app. These actions can include content created in their account, content or accounts they’ve searched for, accounts they follow, videos they’ve liked, shared, or added to their favorites, and comments they’ve posted.

Just as important as what users have liked and saved, the recommendation system also takes into account the opposite: videos marked as “not interested,” creators who have been hidden, and videos reported as inappropriate. TikTok uses these actions and decisions to display certain videos on the For You page. And a bonus for any company or brand just getting into the TikTok game: the platform does not base recommendations on follower count or previous success with a high-performing video. This means that smaller and less well-known businesses, brands, and accounts have chances to connect with their target audience on TikTok in the same ways as larger, more established brands.

How to Market Your Brand on TikTok

Knowing what drives TikTok’s recommendations and the For You page can help businesses with future marketing decisions. According to Forbes, “​On TikTok, brands can become a part of the community and conversation. Brands that showcase their creativity and take risks on the platform are often accepted and even celebrated.” Morning Consult’s Fastest Growing Brands 2020 report placed TikTok at number three, just behind Zoom and Peacock. Making sure your business or brand has visibility on such a playful and creative platform used by a massive, young audience creates a great opportunity for companies large and small.

From celebrity endorsements to complete unknowns skyrocketing in popularity, TikTok is ripe for marketing. Videos start playing as soon as you open the app—allowing businesses and brands to reach people immediately, no extra clicking or links required. People keep scrolling and watching, and soon find themselves hours deep in 15-second videos!

The video-creation platform itself has a habit of creating buzz and making content go viral—why not use that to drive business to your company? Capitalize on the sheer number of users by implementing paid or unpaid marketing techniques for your product, company, or brand.

Get a TikTok Pro Account

Signing up for a TikTok pro account (as either a Business or Creator) won’t necessarily get your product or brand more clicks, but it will provide you with access to analytics like demographics of your target audience, when your followers are online, what kind of content they engage with, and more. These important insights and metrics can help shape your marketing strategy by shedding light on your success—and where you need to improve. Additionally, with a business account, you can see if your company qualifies for a TikTok ads account and begin to create paid ads on the app.

Embrace User-Generated Content

Even without paying for ads, businesses and brands can look to user-generated content on TikTok to help reach their marketing goals. TikTok is successful at inspiring people to create user-generated content, which in turn creates buzz. Why not share unique content created by friends, fans, and followers? Sharing others’ videos is a way to genuinely amplify your followers, boost engagement, create brand awareness, and even make them unofficial brand ambassadors.

Start a Branded Hashtag Challenge

Hashtags play a critical role on TikTok since they help users discover videos, identify trends, find creators and content, and communicate with other Tik Tok-ers. Users can include hashtags on the captions to their videos—enabling people to easily search for specific words or phrases. A branded hashtag challenge is a marketing technique unique to TikTok. When followers participate in a branded hashtag challenge, they are not only having fun, engaging with your company and other TikTok-ers, but they are also creating content for you and allowing your brand to take off on its own: win/win! And if your hashtag challenge isn’t getting the organic reach you were hoping for, businesses can opt to pay to advertise the challenge to help it spread across the platform faster.

Invest in Influencer Collaboration

Influencer collaboration is another way to spend your marketing dollars and reach as many members of your target audience as possible. According to Forbes, “collaborating with influencers who produce top-level creative and entertaining videos is key for making branded content or hashtag challenges go viral.” With this in mind, it’s worth spending some of your marketing budget on influencers who can help your videos gain popularity on the app. TikTok even has something they call a Creator Marketplace specially formulated to connect creators and brands.

Promote Branded Content

TikTok defines branded content on the platform as “content that promotes goods or services where you will receive (or have already received) something of value from a third party, such as a brand, in exchange for your post, or which you might otherwise need to disclose in accordance with your local laws or regulations.” For TikTok users with more than 10k followers, there is a Branded Content toggle which users can enable to disclose when a video includes an advertisement. When your followers see the videos, they will say something like #ad or #sponsored to indicate. Being upfront with your current and potential followers is key. You can work to create content with influencers who will post promotions, brand endorsement, and partnerships for your business or brand. If you go the branded content route, use analytics to ensure that the content is what your target audience wants to see.

Leverage In-Feed Video Ads

With 52% of users indicating they find new products from ads on TikTok, consider adding In-Feed video ads to your marketing strategy. In-Feed ads are TikTok’s standard advertising format: short-form videos that appear on the For You page of your target audience. These ads take up 100% of the screen, so they look similar to regular TikTok videos and blend organically into users’ feeds. Brands can add a clickable Call to Action button on In-Feed ads to send people to their company’s TikTok account or external landing page.

Opt for Top View Ads

If you want to create an engaging video to grab a user’s attention, try a Top View ad. Top View ads appear in full screen at the top of their For You page when they open TikTok. These ads can be up to 60 seconds long. Unlike in-feed video ads, these advertisements don’t immediately start playing when someone opens the app, but Top View ads remain a dynamic choice for a company or brand that wants to increase brand awareness and/or reach a large number of people.

Create a Brand Takeover

Take it one step further and go for a brand takeover. Similar to Top View Ads, Brand Takeovers are dynamic full-screen, three- to five-second video ads that appear at the top of someone’s feed as soon as they open TikTok. The ad will also show up on the For You page. Like In-Feed ads, businesses or brands using a Brand Takeover tactic can include a clickable website link or hashtag to guide visitors toward their company or product.

Use TikTok to Grow Other Social Media Channels

While TikTok is a fun and entertaining platform to lose yourself in for hours at a time, it’s also a place to help grow your other social media networks. First, add your landing page, website, or blog to your TikTok profile. You can also include links to your Instagram and/or YouTube accounts directly into your TikTok profile so your followers can find you. An easily clickable link makes it easy for current and future TikTok followers to engage with you in other places online.

Another way to connect with subscribers across channels is by addressing your other accounts directly in your videos. You can mention them verbally, or add a text box to your video encouraging those watching your TikTok videos to follow you on Instagram or other social media networks. You can also invite your TikTok followers to send you a DM on Instagram. A request that leads followers to do something is a Call to Action (CTA) and is an important way to encourage engagement. This way, you’re not only directing them to your page on another platform, but you’re also inviting connection.

Since TikTok Live videos don’t last longer than 24-hours, you can save them and upload them on your Instagram page. You can direct your TikTok viewers there to rewatch your content or share with friends who weren’t able to attend the Live session. Consider repurposing your most popular TikTok video for content on YouTube or for making Instagram Reels. Keeping accounts connected is an important way to connect with your current and potential followers, as well as provides the opportunity to boost engagement across other social platforms.

The Future of TikTok

With over 800 million monthly active users, it’s no wonder marketing professionals want to hop on the TikTok advertising train. Although it has exploded at an astounding rate, some marketing experts wonder if TikTok is the place to spend your advertising dollars. But if TikTok continues to grow at the current pace, it’s bound to be a place where marketing can thrive. Time will tell if the platform continues to be sustainable, or if it’s just a flash in the pan like other now-defunct social media platforms.

In 2021, Shopify launched a partnership with TikTok, a move that enables platform users to do in-app shopping. This move will help businesses who use Shopify achieve more reach on the platform and provide more reason for them to engage on TikTok. Although Shopify is the first commerce platform to integrate with TikTok, it likely won’t be the last. As TikTok continues to evolve and grow, brands, companies, and products that utilize the platform to connect and engage with others will grow along with it.

Learn TikTok Marketing

Want to learn how to leverage TikTok for your business? Enroll in one of Noble Desktop’s social media marketing classes. Participants can take courses in-person at Noble’s location in NYC or attend live online social media marketing classes from anywhere in the world. Noble’s Social Media Video Marketing: TikTok & YouTube class delves into how to use the platform for video-based campaigns and techniques for creating content on TikTok. Students will also learn how to monitor video trends, identify and engage their target audience, and more. You can also find other social media marketing classes in your area using Noble Desktop’s Classes Near Me tool.