As brands start to embrace TikTok, the app is seeing ad spend grow exponentially, jumping 75x from May to November. While user base and revenue on the video-first social channel steadily rise, more companies are determined to learn how they can use it to their advantage.
Video is a consistent topic of discussion among marketers this year, so it’s no surprise that brands are asking more questions about best practices for the relatively new social channel—and evolving their content strategies to fit it in.
Though TikTok does have an option to boost campaigns with various types of ads, it also serves as a greater avenue for creating brand awareness and community involvement. Influencers naturally become a big part of this by participating in branded hashtag challenges or promoting new launches.
But working with influencers on TikTok is different to Instagram. Many TikTok stars received their fame overnight while it can take months or even years to build up a decent following on the ‘Gram. So, how do you navigate those relationships?
We talked to Lauren Nally, a TikTok unicorn 🦄 , who has worked on both the brand side (PromGirl XO) and influencer side (not to mention she spends more than 20 hours a week in the app on her own time). She shared all of her insights with us on how to reach out to influencers, repurpose content, and master the algorithm.
Definitely for more brand awareness, simply because we can’t monetize off of it. It’s an opportunity to talk and get our name out there. Because we got on the app so early we quickly grew our following. Now we have one of the highest followings out of all the prom brands on TikTok.
On Instagram, our ads look a little more polished than our regular organic posts. But for TikTok, we try not to make too many changes. Ads pop up as you're scrolling through the For You page, and they show up with the organic posts. So to make it look as organic as possible, we try to make our ads look like regular TikTok posts so that people aren't just scrolling by it.
It's the perfect place for us; it's a lot of young kids, and a lot of the trends surrounding specific dates and times are prom or homecoming related. It falls directly within our demo and, as a result, it’s become a major part of our social strategy. Before TikTok, our focus was really on Instagram—that’s where our voice was. Now we’ve put so much investment into TikTok, and it’s actually ended up surpassing our Instagram following.
We're obviously trying to get a viral TikTok every time we post, but that’s not always going to happen. I would say for a regular post, if it doesn't go viral, we hope that it gets over 20k views. When taking into consideration everything we’ve done, that's a number that we’ve found we can count on.
I never know if it's gonna flop or if it's gonna go viral. They do seem to be pretty random, but when it does happen it's usually the ones where we've stuck to the trend. I have done some reading into the algorithm and learned that loops are super important—so keeping someone watching the same video longer than just the 15 seconds. Sharing is the next important, and then comments and likes. All those things add up and then, somewhere along the way, TikTok decides it’s a great video, and pushes it to the For You Page. If it does well there, they keep feeding it to other people and then that's when you go viral.
Because we're a brand for young girls we make sure we don't use any songs that swear or are talking about bad things. There are a lot of trends that we can't participate in, where we take a step back and say, okay, that's definitely not Prom Girl appropriate. There are so many other trends beyond that though so it’s fine. Just be on the app and see what's doing well, and then do it in your own way.
We actually get in touch with them on Instagram because they don't have as many followers there. They're not used to brands reaching out to them, and subsequently working with them, so we've been getting these great relationships. It's also been a lot easier [so far] to work with TikTokers. On Instagram, it takes a while to grow your following. By the time you're at 200k you're well established in the influencer world; whereas on TikTok someone could get 200k followers overnight, and they’re suddenly thrust into quick fame. I feel like because they're so new to it, they're open to doing more.
Even though they are two separate apps with two separate demos, we try to cross promote as much as possible. We'll post a TikTok round up on Instagram to try and get our IG followers over to TikTok and vice versa. Part of that is understanding what content works on the opposite platform. For example if we were to post a TikTok on our static feed within Instagram it wouldn’t perform well, but in stories it’ll often do great.
Our best stories will always be our behind the scenes, made for Instagram stories, when we’re on photoshoots or at events. That said the TikToks definitely perform better than promoted content or sale posts. I think it’s just because it's video and it's fun.
It's actually a funny story. I started doing TikTok for Prom Girl in April and loved it so much, so I started my own account around June. I only had about five TikToks posted before I went viral. I was on my way out to get a tooth gem (basically this little stone that they glue on your tooth), and I posted about it on TikTok when they were applying it. It looked like there was like a needle near my tooth, and I captioned it saying come back tomorrow to see the reveal. There were a lot of comments saying ‘oh my gosh what is she doing,’ or ‘I've never seen this before.’ That TikTok went viral and I gained almost 100k followers from that one video, which now has over 16M views. After that I was like, okay, this is cool. I'm gonna keep doing it.
Yes and no. For people who don’t have a massive following, making sure to word them right can get an audience more interested and commenting. It doesn’t make sense for everyone though. If you have millions of followers people are going to comment and engage regardless. Charli D’Amelio is a good example. She has over 34M followers and doesn’t usually add a caption to her videos unless someone else is in it with her, in which case she’ll mention them. People want to watch her videos for her and don't really care about the caption. But for brands or even my own personal account, comments are really important. Going back to my tooth gem video and my caption telling people to come back for the reveal, that kept them wanting to know more and that's why they followed.
It’s often a middle man that will reach out, like a talent agency operating on behalf of the brand. There’s usually something specific to be done for each campaign, like for EOS I had to use a branded hashtag or for Bliss there was a dance I had to learn. From there they’ll let you know where you can make it your own.
While they may be similar in being video based, they also have a lot of differences. I've actually recognized and have seen a lot of people that started on TikTok who are now growing their following on YouTube channels purely because that's where the money is. YouTube is also a great opportunity to show off personality as well. TikTok is harder for that because the videos are so quick, often with audio over them.
TikTok is definitely here to stay. It has more features and is run so much better than Vine—don't get me wrong, Vine was great, but the company never figured out a way to monetize. I'm hoping TikTok will figure that part out someday soon. In the meantime the team behind TikTok knows what they're doing. I’d put them on the same level as Instagram. I don't see it going anywhere.