Four ways to use TikTok for marketing

By Mulesa

Photo by Kon Karampelas

For the longest time I resisted jumping on the TikTok bandwagon. I really enjoyed the clips of viral challenges and soundbites of inspirational words that popped up on my Instagram and Facebook but dismissed it as a platform for Gen Z kids on which I had no place. However, I remained deeply fascinated by China’s social media sensation and after using it myself, I’ve developed an appreciation for its raw and real approach to social media.

I was also inspired by my work in social media marketing to explore how TikTok could be used for business. Here’s a brief overview of four ways that brands, big and small, can make the most out of the platform to market themselves.

What is TikTok?

TikTok (known as Douyin in China) is a short-form video-sharing app in which users (or ‘creators’ as they are known on the app) can make and post 15 to 60-second videos with text, filters, effects, transitions, song clips, and sound bites. There is also a live-streaming option available to users with a minimum of 1000 followers. Creators navigate through user creations by scrolling up and down through a continuous feed of videos which are played immediately upon opening the app. Creators are also strongly encouraged to engage with other users, through ‘response’ or ‘duet’ videos.

I won’t get into the details of how TikTok has grown so quickly over the last year and a half. However, I think it’s popularity is due to a strong celebrity presence and, more than likely, the coronavirus pandemic, subsequent lockdowns and social distancing regulations worldwide which have kept people at home for longer than they are used to.

TikTok users span 155 countries worldwide and the app has been downloaded over 2 billion times. TikTok is more popular than LinkedIn, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest with 800 million active users and is the sixth most popular app globally as of 2019. The majority of TikTok users are quite young: 41% of them are between 16 and 24. Users spend roughly 52 minutes per day on the app, very slightly longer on Instagram (53 minutes), and a little less on Snapchat (49.5 minutes).

TikTok in South Africa

TikTok has a huge local presence even though there are no proper statistics on this yet. A few popular uniquely South African hashtags give a good indication of the app’s use locally. According to Business Insider, the hashtags #tiktoksouthafrica and #southafrica have amassed a combined 7,000 videos and 350,000 fans as of December 2019. Videos categorised under the hashtag #tiktoksouthafrica have already garnered 5.2 billion views as of June 2020. Other common examples include #mzansioriginal, #johncenachallenge, #mzansicomedy and #elbowgreeting.

Growing your brand with TikTok

1) Curate and share user-generated content

The TikTok ‘Discover’ page is centred on trending hashtags for which you can also see view counts. Your brand can encourage your fans to use your own unique hashtag or an existing hashtag in their videos as a way to capitalise on free advertising from user-generated content. Videos created using #Nike have, for instance, been viewed 3.2 billion times. These videos consist of creators wearing their Nike shoes, working out in them, dancing in them, and more.

2) Hashtag challenges, reacts, duets and collaborations

Similarly, TikTok challenges are hugely popular content trends and can also be used as free advertising for business. You can either create a challenge or participate in them. For example, Samsung partnered with TikTok to created the #GalaxyA campaign to promote the release of the Galaxy A phone series. Users were encouraged to add that hashtag when using the features on their Galaxy A phone for TikTok. Closer to home, Spur created the #spuriseverywhere challenge which has been viewed about 4.4 million times. Users were asked to lip sync or dance to the ‘Spur is Everywhere’ soundtrack. The brand further incentivised users to participate by offering the opportunity to win Spur gift vouchers.

Your brand can also make use of the response or duet feature to share reactions to videos of popular users. This is a great way to connect with customers and get influencers to partner with your brand by capitalising on the app’s features. TikTok is also great for market research in the sense that you can get a feel for what is ‘trending’ amongst youth.

3) Advertising and influencer marketing

TikTok is not yet completely saturated with sponsored content so now may be the opportune time to be a pioneer in this regard. There are a few ways to use paid advertisements to grow your business on TikTok including brand takeovers, sponsored hashtag challenges and branded effects. TikTok ads are created in a very similar fashion to other forms of social media advertising and Google AdWords. You can also simply pay influencers to talk about or use your products in their videos and link to your brand. The TikTok for Business suite has all the information and tools you need to get started.

4) Express yourself – create your own

Find what’s worked for other brands and put your own unique spin on it to tell your story. You can create content around your business’ morning routines, meetings and other behind-the-scenes moments to connect with your audience on a human level. Bear in mind that TikTok is neither as polished as Instagram, nor is it like LinkedIn which is geared more towards thought leadership – this is your business at its most real and raw. The Washington Post is one brand that is, surprisingly, quite popular on TikTok with their quirky 15-second sketches created by video producer, Dave Jorgensen.

The app, when used consistently, can be good for growing brand awareness generally. Nonetheless, before you dive in, ensure that your key performance indicators align with use of the platform. You also have to consider how much time you can dedicate to creating content as it can be rather time consuming.