According to latest estimates, TikTok has over 1 billion users across the globe. It has experienced explosive growth during the pandemic as people looked to it to amuse themselves and each other. An increasing share of TikTok users are older than its initial teenage fanbase: a recent report stated that over 37% of US TikTok users are aged 30 and above.
As its shifting demographics denote, TikTok is changing: it has become a serious advertising platform for a number of leading brands including the luxury marque Celine and the juice maker Naked. Individual businesses are increasingly using it to advertise their goods and services. The hashtag #smallbusiness presently has 24.5 billion views.
Getting it right with TikTok can be challenging: first, TikTok doesn’t allow embedded links in posts. This makes success difficult to measure. Second, as has been often stated, all social media marketing is a fight for attention. TikTok’s algorithms are constantly going through a process of refinement and change; the key tenets of the algorithm are murky at best. Given this, reaching users who are interested in your wares can be tricky.
However, there are a number of means by which you can establish yourself. The first step is to build a personal following. But how does one do that?
TikTok can be daunting for a new user: there are a lot of posts which are merely “lip syncs” of existing sounds. Original content is far more rare. It may seem rather difficult to discern which is the best way forward: latch onto a soundtrack, or do something original? Which gets more traction?
TikTok is grappling with the question of what content should be prioritised. Last year, it launched the “Learn on Tik Tok” initiative, pushing forward household names including Bill Nye, the “Science Guy”. TikTok believes that its target market, mainly users from “Generation Z”, are hungry for educational content.
The success of the #learnontiktok hashtag suggests that TikTok’s suppositions are correct: at the time of writing this hashtag has earned 89.6 billion views.
Some of the most popular videos convey recipes and instructions: a TikTok from user B. Dylan Hollis had over 8 million views. Mr. Hollis specialises in producing recipes from yesteryear: in this case, he created a Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake using instructions dated 1956. He previously found fame by baking a Chocolate Potato Cake with a recipe from 1912; this video had 5.1 million likes and 19.8 million views.
Note the pattern: he mined for content, found something unique, if not peculiar, then presented it in his own inimitable style (Mr. Hollis has a habit of shouting, albeit in an amusing manner). Information was conveyed. The feedback on his videos indicate that others will try the recipes for themselves.
It would be comforting to think that all TikTokers could be just as successful if they could peruse a dusty cookbook hidden in one’s attic and find a hidden treasure. However, the key to building a following may lay in fervent, persistent experimentation and finding an individual voice.
If you make furniture, for example, it may be worthwhile providing instructional videos on how to repair a scuff or dent in a coffee table. If you produce greeting cards, teaching penmanship or graphic design principles perhaps are a first port of call. These videos will have to be basic as there is only so much that can be said within 60 seconds.
The TikTok algorithm apparently learns via engagement: the more a particular type of video is liked, the more that one sees of those particular type of video. This creates an issue of algorithmic “cul-de-sacs”, whereby one sees the same content regularly. However if one of these cul-de-sacs leads to your content, this can be a benefit.
Leaving comments on others videos will lead to other users finding you. A popular comment can get thousands of likes on its own. Although the implications of “neighbourliness” – comments, likes, and shares – are unclear in relation to TikTok’s algorithm, there is anecdotal evidence which suggests that it does increase your account’s reach.
Let’s say that you have been providing videos which pick up on the #LearnOnTikTok hashtag. You have taught Generation Z how to get unsightly stains out of their coffee table or the best method to repair their socks. Once you have this following, it then is time to sell yourself and your products and services.
Take the example of Brian Moller, a comedian from Boston, Massachusetts. His account (@bmotheprince) has over 1.2 million followers. His original content arose from his experience in communications and writing humorous pieces. He regularly produces TikToks featuring himself in a variety of costumes, representing himself as the year 2020 (dressed all in black) and God (dressed in a white t-shirt and carrying a mug saying “Be a Nice Human”), among other characters. Later, he used these characters to later sell avocado chips.
Similarly, a small business owner can leverage TikTok content to first engage, then sell. Instructions on how to mend socks may be a starting point, but then there could be a follow up for those whose socks are beyond repair.
While TikToks don’t allow clickable links in the comments, prominently displaying easy to remember links in the video itself can aid your business. UENI regularly uses the link, “join.ueni.com” in its video content. Results are measured by viewing organic content driven to the site correlated with the launch of the video. It is also possible to put a clickable link in one’s TikTok profile. However, this requires an additional step on the user’s part to find the link; a combination of having an easy to recall link as well as one on a profile may be the best option.
TikTok may be an overnight sensation in terms of its growth but as with any other medium, it takes time, diligence, and persistence to go viral. It will require regular updates and experimenting with new content. Some TikToks will get thousands if not hundreds of thousands of views, some will wither on the vine. There is no set pattern to ensure success, much like it’s unclear what will be truly popular from the creation point of any new piece of content. Don’t give up: keep experimenting, keep persisting.