TikTok boasts 150 million U.S. users as of March 2023, and by 2025, worldwide users are projected to exceed 955 million. The average U.S. adult will spend 58.4 minutes on TikTok in 2024, according to Insider Intelligence.
In short, there is an audience waiting to find you — and it’s a hefty one. All you have to do is know how to get and hold their attention in 6 seconds or less.
The good news is, there’s room for everyone as long as you understand what users are seeking when they open the app and get creative about how your brand can provide it.
The other good news: Dancing is not required (but it is allowed).
I’ve been reporting on social media platforms and building brand social accounts for more than a decade, and over the years I’ve assembled a talk for college courses and conferences that provides insights into why people use TikTok, how brands and individuals can show up and why they should be there in the first place. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned and shared along the way.
Why people use TikTok
Your objective as a brand is to develop interesting, entertaining, visually captivating, humorous, timely, community-focused content that makes them feel connected and shakes them from the anxiety and monotony of their daily lives in short, swipeable, shareable video form. (But you don’t have to do all of those things at once.)
TikTok’s 2023 What’s Next Trend Report is an annual treasure trove of tips for brands testing the waters or aiming to amp up their game. TikTok also wants creators and brand accounts to succeed because all that content gets more users onto the platform and engaging with it—and brands are more likely to spend there. The report says that people come to the platform and engage with its content for three reasons:
- Actionable entertainment: “4 out of 5 TikTok users said the platform is very or extremely entertaining. … For brands, the most effective messages on TikTok are uplifting, funny and personalized, or entertaining their audiences.”
- Making space for joy: “Among TikTok users who took an action off-platform as a result of TikTok, 90% said the platform makes them happy and never gets boring. … messaging on TikTok — and beyond — should align with the community’s desire for levity, and empower them to make more room for joy in their lives.”
- Community-built ideals: “Sharing hyper-niche interests helps people bond with each other. From there, they broaden each other’s horizons. … TikTok is 1.8x more likely to introduce people to new topics they didn’t know they liked compared to traditional social platforms.”
What to do (and not do) with that information
A brand’s best chance to achieve virality, or even consistent performance, is to observe how brand such as Oreo, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Turner Classic Movies, The Washington Post and Gymshark play the game. You’ll note that they all do the following:
- Embrace your niche. Identify your core value proposition and what your subcommunity comes to the app for — and marry the two. TikTok is “a collection of tiny clubs where people can find new ideas on how to explore their passions and live their lives,” according to the What’s Next Report. Start conversations relevant to the audience that shares passions and values with your brand.
- Pare down your message so that your video is as short as possible. Trending sounds and memes can help with that.
- Be on the lookout for unexpected opportunities — and react to them promptly and appropriately. If your brand is relevant to a viral moment, be ready to stitch, duet, respond and riff.
- Reply, reply, reply. Respond to other brands and viral videos from creators to get more eyes on your content. The platform rewards frequent engagement with communities, and users (usually) love it. Still, make sure your brand belongs in the conversation before proceeding.
- Participation in trends must be thoughtful, authentic and timely. The content must align with your existing audience and not appear forced. Trust is earned over time and must be respected.
- Deliver value. Don’t sell things; tell people things they want to know or entertain them with relatable content. The content should provide value in and of itself, without an expectation of a purchase.
- Be inclusive and kind. TikTok doesn’t tolerate haters, and if you’re unkind or express bias or stereotypes, your brand may go viral for reasons you don’t like. Inclusion also means making sure your closed and open captioning game is on point.
- Nail the hook. Users will decide within the first 3-5 seconds whether to stay or swipe away. Capture attention as soon as possible in the video. Think of your opening actions, on-screen text or spoken sentence as a headline — or put eye-catching text on screen to keep people watching.
- Be creative. Play with trending filters, sounds and editing techniques. BUT, don’t worry too much about quality. Selfie explainer videos can be just as powerful as fully produced short films, if not moreso.
- Leverage humor. A funny video has a good chance of reaching many people.
- Experiment with themes, topics and styles. Try out many different types of content until you strike viral gold, then lean into what works.
- Build meaningful creator connections. Creators are ready and willing to collaborate, and it doesn’t take a creator with 1 million followers (or even 100,000) to help a brand connect with a relevant audience.
- Respond to news and current events that impact your brand. TikTok videos get most of their views in the first 24-48 hours and are unlikely to be served to people after a week or so has passed, so timely content can be a good way to get views.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. Be bold! Try things that make you (and your boss) uncomfy. Tread carefully when making the legal team uncomfy, however.
And finally: Forget everything I’ve told you and break all of these rules. There are none. Go make TikToks, and have fun with it.
Don’t miss PR Daily’s 2023 Social Media Strategies Virtual Conference to learn more tactics for cracking the code of the most influential platforms today.
Jess Zafarris is a content director, editor, journalist, speaker, social media engagement strategist and creator. Her 13 years of experience in media have included such roles as the Director of Content at Ragan Communications, Audience Engagement Director at Adweek, and Content Strategy Director and Digital Content Director for Writer’s Digest and Script Mag. Follow her on Twitter/Threads/IG and Tiktok @jesszafaris and connect with her on LinkedIn.