phone with TikTok app visible
PHOTO: Kon Karampelas

TikTok is the hip new kid on the social media block. Adoption among Generation Z has soared, with TikToks — videos recorded and edited on the platform — popping up across social media. 

According to DataReportal, TikTok already had over 500 million active users in 2019, and that number has continued to grow. With that in mind, the social media platform may be a new channel for brands to consider — especially as the likes of The Washington Post and the UN have jumped on the bandwagon.  

We’ve asked social media experts who’s using TikTok, what companies are seeing success on the platform, and how they're to optimizing content for its user base.

Who Actually Uses TikTok?

The average TikTok user is changing.

“Many people still ignore TikTok,” said Nikola Medvedec, senior marketing analyst at Newark, N.J.-based Udonis, “thinking it’s a fad or only for teens.” And this may be true to some extent as the demographic on TikTok skews younger than most other popular social media platforms. “However, if we have learned anything from the past,” he continued, “we should know that platforms people deem as ‘fads’ (Facebook, Instagram, even the internet itself) often become an integral part of our lives.”

“As TikTok is so heavily promoted now in the US,” explained Sydney Liu, Co-founder and CEO of Commaful, “we're seeing older [demographics] appearing on TikTok as well.” It’s not just Generation Z, but millennials and older generations as well. “Our community often talks about TikTok and we see millennials using TikTok for various forms of creative expression as well,” he added.  

The adoption of TikTok is playing out similarly to the way it did with other big social media platforms. “Moreover,” Medvedec continued, “all top social networks we use today started by first attracting a younger audience.” Instagram, for example, was primarily used by teens and young adults in the beginning, but now a huge number of businesses are using the platform. “The same can happen with TikTok,” he stated.

Related Article: Is Social Media Marketing Dying?

Brands Successfully Using TikTok

Brands that seek social relevance have jumped on the TikTok bandwagon, too. As previously mentioned,The Washington Post is a regular on the platform boasting 388,000 followers at the time of writing.

The NBA is also on TikTok with almost 10 million followers. The association uses the platform to share match game highlights and players quotes with the platform’s younger demographic. Calvin Klein, on the other hand, has seized the opportunity to story-tell on the platform, targeting the small but relevant niche of more senior — and perhaps more financially mature — TikTok users.

More recently, the World Health Organization joined TikTok in an effort to share trustworthy information on COVID-19 with the platform's younger demographic, as well as counteract the rampant misinformation being shared on social channels.

“If a small business has established other leading social platforms like Facebook and Instagram,” Medvedec said, “then it's a good move to create a TikTok account as well.” That’s because being an early adopter has a lot of benefits and helps brands stand out from the competition and greatly expand their reach.

“TikTok is free and it's a good option for small businesses to promote their products or services via Tiktok,” added Tarun Gurang, digital marketing manager at Ahmedabad, India-based iFour Technolab Pvt Ltd. It’s a viable channel for brands that see an active user-base from their target audience. “Major businesses that are getting popularity from TikTok are health-related tips, fashion tips, education tips, etc. ... in which people are easily showing their interest.”

Related Article: Where B2B Marketers Are Winning in Social Media

TikTok Optimized Content

With TikTok becoming a viable marketing channel for some brands, here are some tips for publishing content optimized for the platform.

Use TikTok Trends

There are new trends on TikTok almost every day because the platform moves rapidly. “I've seen a few branded influencer partnerships do extremely well by tying into existing trends,” Liu said. That’s because the platform has become known for its trending memes and highly shareable content. “By having the influencer tie the brand in with the trend,” he explained, “the video gets additional distribution and has natural virality.” It’s crucial to analyze TikTok trends before getting started with the platform.

Make Videos Funny and Entertaining

You've got limited time to make an impression on TikTok — 15 seconds or less — so make your videos highly entertaining. “TikTok is very light and fun,” Medvedic explained, “so videos that are humorous, candid and informal perform the best.” He also says that music is an integral aspect of making TikTok content interesting and engaging. 

Produce Relevant Content

“TikTok is very good at personalizing your feed with machine learning, trying to get you the best content possible for your tastes,” Liu said, “and it's constantly improving as different demos join and create content.” That means content you publish that’s highly relevant has a greater chance of reaching your target audience on the platform. More specifically, Gurang added, “Businesses can create user-generated content using native content, brand takeovers and hashtag challenges to get more exposure with their videos.”

Related Article: How to Capture an 8-Second Attention Span: Be Relevant

Actively Engage With Users

“As with any other network,” Medvedec suggested, “you have to provide engagement to receive engagement.” That means businesses should frequently like and follow relevant profiles and videos. It’s also critical — as with Instagram and LinkedIn — to use relevant hashtags to expand the reach of your content.

Look Beyond the Largest Platforms

Medvedec recommends brands look beyond TikTok and the other largest social media platforms such as Snapchat and Pinterest as well. If a smaller platform is relevant to your industry or your target audience spends a lot of time there it’s worth considering. “Every platform is slightly different,” he suggested, “but knowing the platform your buyers prefer is key."