What is TikTok?
TikTok, formerly known as Musical.ly, is being used by people all over the world to create 15-60 second, short-form videos.
The app emerged in 2018 when Musical.ly (acquired by the Chinese tech company, ByteDance) was merged with the lip-syncing app Douyin. Combined, these two apps evolved into TikTok, a global social media platform that has gained over 800 million active users in the past two years (GlobalWebIndex, 2019).
Although TikTok does not release its user data to the public, outside firms have concluded the app’s user base witnessed a dramatic increase as countries across the world mandated strict social distancing measures – colloquially known as “quarantine” – in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. Before the coronavirus pandemic, TikTok was seen as a Gen-Z hub, where the younger generation posted funny dancing videos. Quarantine was a renaissance for the platform. In February 2020 alone, there were 113 million downloads of the app and 800 million active users. Currently, TikTok is the #1 rated entertainment app available on the iOS App Store.
In the last three months, we have seen a shift in the types of demographics that use TikTok on a regular basis, and have seen it emerge as a powerful tool for targeting not only Gen-Z but Millennials as well. Currently, 28.8 million U.S. adults (ages 18+) use the video-sharing app—compared to roughly 14.2 million users who used the app in March 2019.
An average TikTok user spends about 52 minutes per day on the app (about the same as Instagram). On a daily basis, over 34 percent of users are not only scrolling through the “For You” page, but are shooting video content themselves. A thorough explanation on the “For You” page is located in the “How to Get Started” section below. TikTok is a platform that promotes creativity—driven by hashtag and video trends, the app provides unique opportunities to reach and resonate with new and existing audiences.
How Brands are Using the Platform
There are a large number of brands already leveraging TikTok. Early adopters were largely fashion, entertainment, and food/beverage brands, but this has expanded greatly as the app grew in popularity. Below are some examples of how industries are using the app:
World Health Organization
Like many social platforms, TikTok has adopted the verification indicator we’ve all grown to recognize – a blue checkmark. This symbolizes that yes, this is the official account for the organization or person. The World Health Organization is an example of a verified account, and currently has 2.4 million followers on the platform. The WHO engages members of the platform by uploading interview clips, animated videos, and even participated in the #SafeHandsChallenge, which highlighted how to properly clean your hands of viruses and harmful bacteria and encouraged others to do so.
The United Nations TikTok account has 33k followers and has engaged in the #SafeHandsChallenge created by WHO. They have posted videos with hashtags related to human rights, earth day, nurse appreciation, and handwashing which have helped attribute to their 231.8k likes. Both the WHO and UN accounts show how users can work together in a collaborative space to use their platforms to raise awareness for certain issues.
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross account posts “Here’s How” videos that talk through tips for a wide range of subjects. On May 15th, 2020 they posted a video showing how to practice escaping your home during a fire. This video received over 700k likes unlike their first video posted on March 3rd, 2020 which gained 1261 likes. This engagement increase demonstrates how fast a TikTok account can grow in popularity in just over 2 months.
For a comprehensive list of organizations that have active TikTok accounts, Nieman Lab has you covered! They’ve compiled a running list of TikTok account links to help you ensure you’re following verified sources.
Is TikTok Right for You?
Is this app relevant to your brand or company? During this unprecedented time of remote work and social distancing, TikTok is a tool that can be used to create quick, authentic, and easy to film video content.
Do you have something to communicate that is best conveyed with TikTok?
Decipher what message you are trying to portray within this mode of communication. TikTok videos can be both planned and spontaneous, resulting in funny or informational driven messages.
Who (and where) is your audience?
If your audience isn’t Instagram or technology savvy, TikTok won’t be the best platform to reach your audience. However, take into account that more consumers are starting to experiment with different platforms, especially those like TikTok which are straightforward to use. Since most TikTok videos are shared within Instagram, these two platforms are very intertwined. If your audience has these attributes above then post your TikTok videos not only on the app but on other platforms to increase visibility.
Do you have the resources?
Creating high-quality TikTok videos requires an iPhone or iPad with iOS 9.3 compatibility. By utilizing a tripod and ring light along with someone who has slight knowledge in video recording and editing, your videos will be perceived very well in the TikTok world.
Does your communication process allow for a platform like TikTok?
Some organizations have extensive approval processes for their communications that might not adapt well to the fast-moving nature of this platform. TikTok trends are constantly evolving and you may miss out unless you can move with flexibility. You can, however, post informational videos about your company which aren’t as necessary to be involved with hashtag or music trends.
How to Get Started
To create a TikTok, first, download the app from either the iTunes App Store or GooglePlay which are both available on a smartphone. Next you’ll register your account by using either your email, phone number, Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Apple ID. Once logged in, you will see the “For You” and “Following” Page.
The “For You” page is where you’ll see viral trends take shape. This page uses a complex algorithm that sends out videos to a specific group of people based on their hashtag and engagement history. For example, if you rewatch, like, or comment on videos that have similar hashtags within the caption you will notice more related videos populating on your “For You” feed. Think of this page as a search and discovery process that works to give you content catered towards your interests.
The “Following” page is an area that houses all of the videos of the accounts you follow, giving you easier access to the content that you choose to watch. Two ways to use this page to your benefit include following your intended audience as well as companies in the same sector of business. By seeing their posts you can evaluate what type of content has the highest engagement rates, as well as what trends are being utilized. With this information you can cater your content directly to what your audience enjoys.
Next, tap the square + sign symbol at the bottom of the page. This will take you to the landing page for recording a video. From here you can add music by pressing the “sounds” button at the top or you can simply record a video and talk.
If you choose to use music you will notice a page that has favorites, trending, and other music genres. Most of the trending music listed connects with a hashtag or video trend.
Although music is not required it is an important part of the culture as TikTok was created in conjunction with Musical.ly. If you don’t want to include music make sure to either talk or add a voiceover to keep your audience engaged.
After a music selection is made you can record between a 15 and 60-second duration. After the recording, you can edit clips and add text, emojis, filters, and effects. Once you have made a video you can add a caption along with hashtags and you’re done!
TikTok Pro Account
We recommend updating your standard account to TikTokPro which provides key insight into how users can best tailor their content to reach a target audience. In Pro, users can see the dates and times in which their videos are most often engaged with as well as follower counts. These analytics are great for a company looking to promote their account and build a larger following.
To switch to a free TikTokPro account, launch the TikTok app on your device, tap on the “Me” icon in the bottom right corner of the screen, tap on the three vertical dots on the upper right corner of the screen, tap on “Manage my account”, then tap on “switch to pro account”, and finally, press continue to view your analytics.
- Adapt to trends. While it’s important to be authentic, it’s also important to pay attention to what is trending on the app. Is there a song that you keep hearing in videos? An effect that has been increasing in popularity? Give those a try if they fit with your content.
- Use hashtags. Using hashtags in your video captions on TikTok will help you target your intended audience. Add relevant hashtags to your video before posting – keeping in mind what’s currently trending. These hashtags will help your video get published onto someone’s “For You” page based on similar interests and their previous engagement. This is similar to increasing your SEO.
- Remember that TikTok is for everyone. And the content extends far beyond lip-syncing and viral dances. You can start a conversation about recent news or post interesting projects your company is working on.
- General set-up. If you’ve seen any of the “viral” TikToks, you’ll notice the quality is above average.
- Lighting is key. Before shooting your content, find an area with natural light or invest in a ring light that also holds your phone. You don’t need fancy camera equipment, but we suggest cleaning your smartphone camera before hitting record.
- Audio. Bad sound can ruin an otherwise exceptional video. If you are filming a voice over, using a microphone that connects to your smartphone can help increase audio clarity. This could be your earphone microphone or even an external device.
- Orientation. Film your videos vertically to keep the correct orientation when you post your video. It also helps to have a tripod to stabilize your phone and minimize shakiness.
- Speed. When you record you will notice that there are different speed options on the bottom of your screen. Keep it on “1x” for regular speed. If you want to slow it down select the times on the right hand side. To speed up the video select a time on the left hand side.
- Background. If you are creating a Q&A or educational video keep your background uncluttered and professional. This will help the watcher keep their attention on you and the words you are saying.
General Video Ideas
- Create a new hashtag trend. Creating a new hashtag trend can quickly bring brand awareness to your company. TikTokers tend to respond better to companies who create challenges or trends to engage with.
- Cover current events. TikTok can be a great resource for information related to current world events. The amount of media outlet accounts have risen in the past few months, offering trending news and resources for the TikTok community to learn from.
- Show off your skills. How-to videos are very popular within the TikTok community. When looking up #howto on TikTok there are over 6.3B views. These videos show off a wide range of skills that people from all over the world want to share, making TikTok a very educational space. Certain niche profiles offer advice on careers, cooking, DIY crafts, and much more.
- Impromptu videos. Always be camera ready. Some of the most popular videos are ones that were unplanned and made in the moment. Within a company, you can do this by filming behind-the-scenes.
- Duet video. Think of the duet tool as creating a personal reaction to the video that everyone will be able to see. The duet tool can be found by tapping the “share” button on the right hand side of the screen when watching a video. The selected video will appear on the right side of the screen. Your personal video recording will show up on the left side. Many people use duets to learn new dances and respond to videos. Click here for a detailed guide on how to create duets on TikTok.
When to Post
Usage rates play hand-in-hand with popular posting times. Posting a video during a certain time-frame can significantly change the amount of follows, likes, and comments that you receive. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach below are the general times that users are more active.
Catering to Your Audience
16-24 Age Range
Posting creative yet educational content to target the younger generation can be a great tool when trying to increase your brand awareness. These are ways you can utilize TikTok to target these younger audiences:
- Partner with a famous influencer. Famous users have millions of followers and they start hashtag trends that companies can use to increase traffic to their profile.
- Leverage current hashtags and video trends. Content that includes hashtags has a better chance of being published to the “For You” page.
25-49 Age Range
The interest in creating and watching TikToks hasn’t stopped with age. In fact, 24.5% of U.S. users are between the ages of 25-34. The main difference between this group and Gen-Z is that they frequent the app less often. They are more likely to use the app after a long workday or on the weekends as a new approach to entertainment. However, as recent events push TikTok into a more widely known and mainstream platform, these users are starting to take advantage of the news sharing features that TikTok offers. An example of these features is the landing page for official Coronavirus updates to help inform the public of health and safety matters. These landing pages are very similar to those of Twitter, a platform that is widely used as a news sharing space.
- Use the new TikTok live stream features. TikTok recently released this feature during the global pandemic to allow for even more human connection and transparency. Recently, there has been a rise in both celebrities and companies hosting live stream Q&A’s to engage with their audience.
50-80 Age Range
It’s not hard to find older TikTok creators who have gained millions of followers by finding a unique niche group within the app. For companies with an older range of consumers, TikTok can be beneficial to you by expanding your social media plan in a new way.
- Post relevant and accurate information. Post quick interviews, informative tutorials, recent news, and health facts to provide these users with information that is relevant to their lives or interests.
- Authenticity is key. Look past the pop-culture and post positive content that has a direct purpose.
Update: Information on the Release of Instagram Reels
In response to the recent TikTok popularity and the app’s uncertain future in the United States, Instagram has launched Instagram Reels, a short-form video platform linked directly to Instagram accounts. This TikTok inspired feature utilizes music to create 15-second clips that can be posted on the feed or stories, as well as shared to the Reels tab which permits Instagram to feature the Reel on the explore page. With an algorithm that is influenced by who you follow, what content you interact with, and where you are geographically located, Reels seems very similar to TikTok. This reimagined way to create and share content on an already global platform seems promising, but it’s worth noting that the two apps cater to two different audiences.
At the beginning of TikTok’s rise, user demographics consisted of mainly 13-18-year-olds. The COVID-19 pandemic altered this, resulting in a much older demographic that vaulted the app into mainstream status. Opposite of TikTok, Instagram consists of mainly 18-34-year-olds. Due to the uncertainty of the TikTok platform in the US, Instagram may see a similar trend that accounts for a rise in an unfamiliar demographic. In Instagram’s case, a rise in younger consumers may be substantial due to the potential of users leaving TikTok– whether by force or choice.
Aside from differences in age, TikTok attracts an incredibly unique and diverse audience that thrives off of having small communities within a larger platform. By using a specific algorithm, TikTok users find themselves on a certain “side” of the TikTok world. This ultimately generates connectivity between users, giving TikTokers a community to interact with every time they open the app.
Instagram does hold a competitive advantage over TikTok, one that derives from the user-friendly technology seen in Instagram features. By providing a straightforward filming and editing process, making unique Reels is easy and quick to master, unlike the substantial learning curve required within TikTok technology. In addition, Instagram has partnered with big-name labels to offer a large suite of music to all users without the potential of getting a copyright infringement, something that has seemed to be an issue on TikTok.
Avid TikTok users may argue that TikTok is for creatives while Instagram is for influencers, but creators who have gained 50+ million followers on TikTok have become an influencer of their own kind– ones that are less focused on sponsorships and more focused on influencing others to share their personality and creativity with the world. Both TikTok and Instagram have advantages and disadvantages to one another which is why research should be conducted before any content or campaigns are launched through either platform. The best way to determine which platform is best for your goals is to create a video and explore.