TikTok is so successful, brands can’t ignore it – though they might wish they could. The rapid-fire pace of trending themes, the short-form video format, and TikTok’s content algorithm can be bewildering. Even Facebook is a far cry from the wacky clips of pets and lip-synced performances that dominate TikTok, making it unlike any other social platform.
In this new environment, savvy brands are relying more than ever on influencers to help guide their social media marketing. Not only does influencers’ word-of-mouth clout give brands credibility with new audiences; influencers can leverage viral hashtags, spin-off riffs, duets and reactions to transform brand assets into authentic and entertaining TikTok content. With savvy TikTok influencers as their guide, brands can navigate the wilds to arrive at revenue success.
What is TikTok?
The TikTok phenomenon started in 2016 as Douyin in China, and was marketed under the name TikTok for a global audience, offering social karaoke in an app that made it easy to share lip-syncing videos. TikTok’s growth trajectory began in earnest after acquiring the Musical.ly song-sharing app and its 100 million users – and rocketed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most of the world was deprived of in-person entertainment.
TikTok usage in the U.S. jumped 150% from 2019 to 2021 to 138 million users, and is now the second most downloaded iPhone app as of Q1 2022. The combination of engaging video, social sharing tools, and popular music, married with a keen algorithm that tailors content on the fly, makes the app irresistible.
Ease of use is another factor: there’s no need to set up a login or build a network of friends or favorite brands before viewing content. Opening the app immediately triggers a feed of short-form videos, the algorithm quickly adjusts to the signals of scrolling and swiping away clips that aren’t interesting to create a personalized feed.
It’s also easy to create and share content on TikTok. Creators access a library of popular music and dialogue snippets or use their own audio, and record videos of themselves lip syncing, dancing, or acting along to the track. Social features such as liking, following, and commenting are built in, with a couple of unique extras: “reaction” videos capture users’ responses as they watch something, while “duets” display users’ recordings side-by-side with existing content. Hashtags make it easy for memes to go viral. Creators can add their take to popular soundtracks, share dance moves, and respond to each others’ posts.
Who Uses TikTok?
While TikTok took off among all age groups during the pandemic, its core audience is younger users – making the platform attractive for brands seeking to reach a new generation of consumers. Among Americans ages 18 to 24, 55% use TikTok, compared with 4% of seniors aged 65 and up – and as of this year, more than two-thirds of teens ages 13 to 17 say they use the app in some way. Almost half of TikTok’s U.S. users are between the ages of 18 and 34, with another 20.2% 17 or younger.
TikTok’s users are also highly engaged with the app: 58% have saved a sound clip to use in their own videos, 55% like or comment on videos after watching, and 35% say they often share content from the platform. In addition, TikTok users are receptive to brand and product messaging, with 76% saying they’re likely to follow a brand and half saying they’ve tried new products or brands they saw on the platform in the past year. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has more than 19 billion views.
What Types of Content Work on TikTok?
One reason users are so actively engaged with TikTok content is its authentic, homegrown aesthetic. The short-form videos are anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes long, although most viewers prefer clips of under a minute. Whether video makers are lip syncing to music, dancing, filming their pets’ antics or posting other homemade entertainment, the overall sensibility is irreverent, and even informational videos from expert authorities offer facts in the form of straight talk and humor.
Because of this casual aesthetic, brands incorporating TikTok into their digital marketing strategy should avoid repurposing commercials or even Instagram videos with expensive production values. TikTok users are wary of slick, overtly promotional messaging – and can skip videos after a second if the content seems suspect.
Instead, users appreciate – and act on – authentic reviews and demonstrations of products: sales of Bissell’s Little Green Machine doubled during the pandemic, thanks to a raft of TikTok videos showing off its versatility. And when users can riff off brand content and make it their own, the results can be spectacular: the #eyeslipsface challenge that Tinuiti promoted with e.l.f. Cosmetics generated more than 3 million video contributions from TikTok users, totaling over 5 billion views.
Why Should You Work with TikTok Influencers?
Given that TikTok has a unique, homegrown sensibility, seeking out influencers who have a proven track record of engagement on the platform makes sense. Their prior experience creating content that resonates with TikTok’s audience can help develop videos that build brand awareness the right way.
Additionally, the default video feed experience makes it helpful for brands to kick-start their TikTok presence by leveraging influencers. While on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram brands can promote their official “page” to follow, the algorithmically-controlled assortment of videos on TikTok favors individual posts, and influencers have already organically built up visibility and engagement for their contributions.
“Creators on TikTok operate differently than Creators on other social platforms – they are driven by trends, music, sounds and storytelling. Their skills are unique to the platform and are looked at as experts in the space.”
– Crystal Duncan, Senior Vice President, Head of Partnership Marketing at Tinuiti
How Are TikTok Influencers Unique?
TikTok influencers tend to create content around niche categories that represent their own authentic interests, passions, or expertise. TikTok’s algorithm directs videos into users’ feeds based on their interests (as expressed via engagement with content they’ve already seen), helping boost nano influencers who share their skills and knowledge with niche communities.
While a large number of followers is usually a good indication that an influencer can help boost brand reach, size isn’t everything. Because the algorithm determines relevance based on the merit of individual videos, not the status of their creators, influencers can achieve huge results for posts without necessarily having millions of followers. The ability to go viral with a single post is different from Instagram, where influencers tend to extend reach beyond their existing followers only through active shares.
How to Find the Right Influencers on TikTok
Because authenticity is crucial for TikTok, finding the right influencer match for your brand is crucial.
Just take it from Revlon, who worked with Tinuiti and Megan Thee Stallion to launch a TikTok Influencer Campaign for their new ColorStay Satin Ink Liquid Lipstick. As the first independent agency in the US to receive an official TikTok Marketing Badge, Tinuiti recommended that Revlon launch their Influencer Campaign on TikTok with TopView ad placement and support the reserved buy with in-feed auction ads to launch their new product in partnership with Megan Thee Stallion. The results included 224k Likes, 10 million Amazon Store visits, 3.5K Comments, and a 4.9% ad recall lift (28% higher than Kantar norms across 48 beauty studies).
But beware, an off-key endorsement that seems out of place with a creator’s personality is unlikely to be a hit. To do your research:
Do a gut check: are TikTok viewers your target audience?
Research whether your existing customers not only use the platform, but share and post content actively – indicating potential for videos featuring your brand to take off.
Don’t assume existing influencer relationships can cross over.
Even if they’ve been effective for your brand in the past, influencers with glossy Instagram accounts may not hold the same sway in TikTok’s homegrown environment.
Find videos and influencers to match your intended message.
In addition to bringing their own personalities to their subject matter, TikTok creators specialize in different types of videos. Spend time on the platform studying how competitors’ products appear, and consider what product features you’d like to showcase: Would a tutorial be the way to go, or could an offbeat skit promote items effectively?
Seek out your customers and who they follow.
You may already have an influencer among the ranks of your loyal customers – or they may lead you to the right match for your brand.
Vet potential influencers.
Once you’ve identified likely candidates, research for red flags. If brand separation is important, ensure they’re not working for competitors. Check Google and all their social accounts to ensure they’re not currently generating inappropriate content and haven’t been the subject of a scandal in the past.
“Finding the right Influencers for each campaign is a process – there is no “off the shelf” way of doing this. Each campaign is different, each KPI or goal could be different, so going through the thoughtful steps to define the right partners is what will lead you to success.”
– Crystal Duncan, Senior Vice President, Head of Partnership Marketing at Tinuiti
Ad Formats to Use for TikTok Marketing
As you develop your influencer strategy for TikTok, plan to leverage content across both organic posts and paid advertising. As on other social media platforms, a complementary mix of sponsored and non-paid posts will boost your brand most effectively. The formats to consider include:
Posting regular content directly from your brand gives TikTok viewers another way to connect, and gives the algorithm further videos to tap for the main feed. According to TikTok, it’s best to post 1-4 times per day to see which types of content will catch on with your target audience. If a certain post performs well, consider paying for Spark Ads, which will boost your video’s visibility.
Known as “in-feed ads,” these posts are a great example of TikTok ads. Brands can pay for placement within the main TikTok feed and can be purchased on a cost per click, cost per impression, or cost per view basis. A “view” is counted whenever users watch your promoted content for more than 6 seconds. You can use your own branded content, or opt to boost influencer posts for added visibility.
Using TikTok’s Top View format, your ad plays first when a user in your target audience opens the app. Tapping the ad can take users to the brand’s TikTok profile page or an external site. While this option is expensive, it’s also the top ad type for engagement, according to TikTok.
Using trending hashtags in organic posts is a great way to boost visibility; not only do users who follow the hashtag spot your content, but the hashtags help the algorithm group your videos with other similar content. You can also opt for sponsored hashtag “challenges,” which prompt users to post their own videos based on the suggested theme over a period of six days.
Through a paid add-on called Branded Effects, you can offer TikTok users playful stickers, filters, and games to incorporate into posts. Even a simple filter can take off if it’s relevant to your audience – and as users make their own videos with your effects, your brand achieves added visibility.
Best Practices for a Successful TikTok Influencer Marketing Campaign
Once you’ve identified the right influencers for your brand and budgeted your paid ad spend, it’s time for the fun part – collaborating on the content itself. To ensure your partnership is effective, follow these steps:
1. Set goals and expectations
Clear communication is key about everything from the duration of the relationship to the exact products you want to feature. Do you expect just one post or multiple videos, and if so, over what timeframe? Is the goal to win more followers for the brand on TikTok, do you want to promote a specific eCommerce site feature such as a holiday gift guide, or do you have a specific sales goal for featured products? How are you going to use the content once it’s posted? You need to define licensing rights, terms, and lengths.
Additionally, establish a process for the influencer to submit their videos for approval. How many revisions or new takes do you expect if their initial attempt misses the mark? Creating an influencer brief that outlines these details as well as payment terms can help prevent disagreements later on.
2. Let the influencer have some creative freedom
Once you’ve agreed to the basic parameters and goals of the campaign, it’s time to let the influencer do their job. After all, you’ve selected them specifically for their expertise and their ability to engage TikTok audiences; let their know-how come to the fore. Push them to follow your brief as guidelines, but let them do what they do best, which is create!
3. Build rapport with influencers
While single-post influencer campaigns can achieve instant fame, you’re more likely to find success with an ongoing relationship. Even for trusted influencers, it can take time for audiences to take note of brands and be convinced to take action. Encourage trying different message themes and hashtags to build momentum. As the working relationship deepens, influencers will understand your brand better and come up with new and more creative ways to promote your products, leading to higher effectiveness.
4. Constantly test and learn
To determine what’s working and what’s not, monitor influencer campaigns carefully and measure progress toward your goals. That way, you can double down on the themes and content that resonate with Tiktok’s audience and discontinue what’s not working, keeping your campaigns on budget and driving maximum ROI.
Conclusion: Influencers Can Guide Your TikTok Success
TikTok requires a new and daring approach to social commerce that can be tricky for brands to master. Influencers can serve as a guide to the TikTok realm; by translating brand assets into entertaining content, influencers can help engage new audiences and establish profitable customer relationships.