Filled with dances, challenges and trends, TikTok has catapulted creative influencers into viral superstars. TikTok’s short-form video model lends to the preferences of younger audiences, who gravitate to the bite-sized content that combines pop culture, music, memes and their favorite influencers. As a result, TikTok has boomed to an estimated 800 million users worldwide, with about 25% of U.S. users between the ages of 18 and 24.
Given its global audience, brands are recognizing TikTok’s marketing potential and seeking ways to capitalize on its popularity. But while creating a branded account and surfacing memes might be tempting, marketers must carefully consider their approach.
My company has worked with the platform in the past. Through that experience, I learned that to navigate this compelling new world of creator content, marketers should take time to evaluate the landscape and devise a strategy that naturally fits with TikTok’s content, creators and audience.
Once a big-picture plan is in place, they should approach engagements with authenticity and partner with influencers who have already mastered the trends. Marketers should also consider tapping into tools such as artificial intelligence that will allow them to make data-driven decisions with confidence.
Be yourself: Embracing brand identity
TikTok presents an opportunity for brands to start anew and forge stronger relationships with young audiences. But to succeed, they must balance the company’s identity with platform trends. Rather than only plastering TikTok with ads or pumping out content from a branded account, brands should weave themselves into existing communities and conversations by utilizing influencer partnerships, participating in challenges and selectively following platform trends.
With a reliance on audio and meme culture, TikTok stands apart from other social media platforms, making it more alluring to prospective audiences. Content discovery is another differentiator. TikTok populates content based on user preferences, with videos featuring everything from top influencers and viral hashtags to trending dances and challenges. This unique model encourages creativity from influencers looking to spark the next trend.
TikTok is also filled with popular challenges that allow brands to break out of the stale text-based communication found on other platforms. Brimming with variation, these vibrant challenges are a core part of TikTok, and as long as they align with a brand’s identity, brands should take part in them.
Creators have the keys to the kingdom.
For the greatest impact, brands joining TikTok should partner with influencers who have already found success on the platform. These creators have built dedicated audiences, but given the novelty of the platform, they have fewer opportunities to monetize their content in the way that Instagram influencers do.
Some cross-channel creators have been able to tap into brand partnerships. Take David Dobrik, for example. A nationally recognizable name, Dobrik partnered with Chipotle for its #ChipotleLidFlip challenge, which earned more than 230 million views. The partnership created an authentic moment for Chipotle that drove natural engagement from audiences. Without influencers’ guidance, brand integrations might feel forced, and marketers are more inclined to make cringe-worthy mistakes with content that seems out of place.
To remove uncertainty, brands should foster connections with a range of carefully curated influencers who tap their audience segments. Forging these relationships will not only enable brands to diversify their content strategies, but also permeate TikTok in a meaningful, long-lasting way.
But with the massive amount of content uploaded each day, it can be difficult for brands to determine the best brand partners. This is why some advertisers might opt for AI, which can arm you with data-driven recommendations on which content creators best align with your target audience. (A number of companies, my own included, use AI to aid in influencer marketing.)
AI technology can help brands better analyze unstructured data points, such as images, text and audio, which are difficult for a human to quantify but make up much of the data marketers need to consider. In doing so, AI can enable brands to execute the best possible influencer marketing campaigns across platforms.
That said, implementing AI isn’t foolproof. It can become difficult to effectively employ the technology if a brand lacks an appropriate amount of historical data. This is because the more information AI has to sort through, the stronger data-driven recommendations it can give. If brands want to use AI to its fullest extent, they should carefully store all of their data for each campaign, thus making it easier for customized algorithms to be designed for new projects.
As marketing on TikTok evolves, the same rule will apply: Brands must hold on to all of their numbers from the platform so that AI will be able to function to the best of its ability.
Become a part of the community.
TikTok doesn’t just allow creators to reach new peaks; it encourages a deeper community. Content houses, where influencers live and produce content together, are growing more prevalent and opening the door for unprecedented branded opportunities.
To become a part of the action and empower creators, brands can consider sponsoring content houses or specific activations within houses. (It’s possible that AI can support the success of these initiatives as well.) Once these content houses are established, brands will have greater access to influencers and become an integral part of their creativity and business.
Brands can also boost influencer relations by establishing a TikTok-centric award competition or sponsoring an event that brings content creators together and shows respect for their craft. This will create more exposure for brands because influencers will not only film and promote the experience, but also establish genuine relationships with brand sponsors.
While still in its infancy, TikTok will only grow more relevant to ad-averse audiences. A one-size-fits-all approach will not resonate with digital natives. Marketers should consider using data-driven processes enabled by advanced technology, trusting the instincts of established influencers and finding innovative, natural ways to connect with TikTok’s community. With the right partnerships and creativity, a brand could very well take over social media, thus proving its ability to become a viral sensation, without the cringe.