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DIRECT INSIGHT: What are brands missing by overlooking TikTok?

Trends are the currency of the Internet, and TikTok is the breeding ground of today’s most pervasive trends and memes. If you’ve heard it, seen it or laughed at it on social media, chances are it’s already become viral and gained followers on TikTok.

On this social network, everything happens much faster and on a larger scale than on other platforms. The absolute queen of TikTok and a member of the famous Hype House, Charli D’Amelio knows this. When you see her royal “title”, you think that she is one of the app’s pioneers, but it is not so – Charli earned her following in just 6 months. She started using the app in the summer of 2019 as a 15-year-old and was followed by more than 29 m followers in the first year (side note: the writing of this article could not keep up with her growing popularity. She is 17 and has 121.3 million followers. She gained roughly one million followers per week.) This teen has managed to achieve what other top-tier influencers and their teams can’t, even if they try for years.

It may come as a surprise to you that answers to your biggest social marketing challenges – growth, new audiences, relevance – can all be found in an app that people older than 25 tend to avoid. But with 500 million active users worldwide, and its steady growth, TikTok holds the key to success for both influencers and brands alike.

So, in a culture saturated with 15-second dance challenges and esoteric comedy, how can the world’s most popular brands find their place and make their presence in the space move the needle?

Here’s what you need to know.

TikTok doesn’t play by the rules

Social environment with a formula – share curated content, create a personal brand, amass a following, reach influencer nirvana. But TikTok rejects it all. That’s why it’s as frustrating as it is fascinating to break into the platform as an established influencer and brand.

Don’t let its Gen Z sensibilities deter you – TikTok democratizes content more than any other social platform. You don’t need a significant number of followers to land on the For You page, TikTok’s equivalent to Instagram’s Explore page. It’s a place that gives everyone a shot. In fact, the app’s running hack is that you are better off if you post your first takes. “Try less” is the main sentiment. And don’t be surprised if you get 400,000 likes for it.

TikTok is a trend incubator

TikTok’s user interface is another reason why viral content is so intuitive in the app, and why it spreads so fast and far. Unlike other platforms, where hashtags are main in search and discovery, on TikTok it’s sound. Every video published publicly becomes a searchable, usable sound. People recall sounds and feelings before campaign names and hashtags.

One of the leading brands on TikTok was the beauty retailer e.l.f.. In October 2019, the brand dropped an originally produced hit Eyes, Lips, Face in collaboration with a Grammy-awarded songwriter. Today, there are 1.7 million TikTok videos using that song and the videos tagged with #eyeslipsface have been viewed nearly 4.5 billion times. And suddenly, it’s a name with clout to a new demographic category.

Viral TikToks help physical stores thrive

Dos and don’ts?

Many savvy brands have accepted meme culture and run with it. The food and recipe magazine, Bon Appetit, for instance, collaborates closely and hilariously with fan-run Instagram account meme_appetit, where fans turn the chefs of the test kitchen into viral content. And Netflix, the social strategy show-off, is always in on the joke: the brand is never too serious to poke fun at itself and it helps Netflix fit right in on TikTok. But not every brand is built to meme.

Don’t underestimate your social audience – they’re more aware and educated than ever, and that comes with a heightened sensitivity to ad content. Some brands play right into the tropes that TikTok’s audience expects and rejects. For example, one energy drink company is known to pay influencers to feature their product in any video, then asks that the influencer prompt their audience to follow the CEO’s social handles. It’s, as the kids say, cringe.

But it’s not all bad news for brands who want to use TikTok to augment other paid digital strategies. Fenty Beauty has found a place for its sponsored content on TikTok by thoughtfully collaborating with popular, relevant creators. Beauty influencer Abby Roberts shared a creative ad that fit right in on feeds. When there is quality content, the audience doesn’t mind when the caption says #ad.

Direct Insight: New research by TikTok reveals consumers have adopted a new way of thinking

Embracing new things is good for business

Ignoring opportunities, hopping on trends too late, adopting trends that don’t suit your brand – none of these actions are strategic. It’s important to be realistic about which trends suit your business and which don’t. But to know that means to have open ears and an open heart to platforms like TikTok.

A few months ago, using ‘brand opportunities’ and ‘TikTok’ in the same sentence was funny. Today it’s the fastest-growing, most democratized social platform in the world, creating influencers by the minute.

It’s not only about brand perception, it’s in the interest of your business’s growth to step outside your comfort zone and toward making every platform work for your marketing strategy on social media.

Find out which brands inspired us at TikTok, which branded effects filled the community with joy and what TikTok for Business recommends.

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