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Authenticity Sells: A Beginner's Guide to Marketing on TikTok

TikTok marketing

In the world of TikTok, genuine content reigns supreme. More than on other social media platforms, users favor raw and engaging videos over highly edited, curated posts—the type brands typically produce for platforms like Instagram and Facebook

This stylistic difference is what gives TikTok creators a connection with their audience that’s hard match elsewhere. It also makes TikTok an incredibly noisy platform, but a potential goldmine for creators who can strike the perfect balance between authenticity and marketing. 

Is TikTok good for marketing?

While TikTok has many similarities with popular platforms like Twitter and Instagram, it shouldn’t be confused with your average social media network. Unlike other platforms, TikTok uses a unique discovery algorithm that gives every video an equal chance to go viral, regardless of how popular the content creator is. This allows for the rapid scaling of a social media presence, fast growth, and virtually unlimited marketing experimentation.

The biggest difference between TikTok and other social media platforms, notably Facebook and Instagram, is that the homepages of the latter largely consist of people you already know and channels you already follow. TikTok reverses this, prioritizing videos from creators you’ve never seen before.

TikTok’s user interface is designed to keep people in the app for as long as possible, moreso than channels like Facebook and Twitter. With TikTok, you can also add a link in your bio, which makes it ripe for marketing and selling.

If you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, TikTok is an especially useful tool—62% of its audience are aged 10-29 years old. Based on these demographics, you can tailor your videos to match the content Gen Z enjoys consuming and capitalize on your understanding of the algorithm to manufacture virality.

How is TikTok used in marketing?

TikTok is a video-based social media platform where brands, creators, and influencers can express their individuality and drive brand awareness.

As mentioned above, TikTok uses an algorithm to determine what’s served up in someone’s feed. Its discovery algorithm works in a mysterious way that's meant to give every video a standing chance at going viral. TikTok doesn’t publicize what goes into its algorithm, but content creators have gained a pretty decent understanding of what works and what doesn’t: the algorithm seems to assign “points” to videos based on how many times that content is rewatched, how many people reach the end of the video, how many shares it has, how many comments it has, and how many people like it. The more “points” a video racks up, the more popular it will become.

Every video is shown on a small segment of users’ For You page, or the unique front page feed that a user lands on every time they open the app. Those initial users will be part of the creator’s cluster, and their actions will determine whether the video is added to other For You pages across the globe. For instance, let's say the video is shown to 10 people. If they interact with the video positively (through watching, rewatching, commenting, liking, and sharing), the video will be shown to another 100 people. Their reactions determine if it’ll be shown to 1,000, and so on.

So how does this all relate to marketing? Creators post videos to connect with an audience and promote brands.

TikTok marketing is largely an awareness tool, though it can also be a sales driver, thanks to the link-in-bio feature. Shopify merchant SendAFriend was able to scale to $5 million in sales in two years driven by its TikTok marketing strategy. 

SendAFriend's TikTok feed
SendAFriend's TikTok feed captures the joy of unboxing their stuffed animals.

What's more, TikTok’s paid advertising tools are becoming more advanced and feature-rich, making it another social media marketing tool to add to your multi-channel arsenal.

Building a TikTok marketing strategy

To create your TikTok marketing strategy, take the following steps to ensure your efforts are focused and will bring you closer to your business and marketing goals.

Define your audience

We know TikTok is a popular platform for Gen Z consumers, but those aren’t the only people who use it—and Gen Z by itself is far too broad to qualify as a “defined audience.” You don't have to fill out every trait, but describe what you can to paint a picture of the people most likely to convert into customers. 

Location: Where do your ideal customers physically live? Even knowing just the country can help, but if you’re a local business or only want to serve a specific area then you should isolate those places.

Age: What is the age range of your customer? Keep this as broad as possible, unless you know for sure your target customer is at a certain point in their life. 

Gender: What gender do they identify as? This might unimportant or essential, depending on your brand.

Interests: What are their interests/hobbies/passions? These help with potential content ideas and audience targeting. (e.g. cooking, hip hop dance, yoga).

Career/Industry: What industry do they work in and what job titles have they held? Again, this might not be as relevant, depending on your brand.

Income Level: What is the income range of this buyer persona? Are they price-sensitive or are they willing to spend more money for premium products?

Relationship Status: Are they single, actively dating, or already married? This may be relevant if you’re in the wedding industry, for example.

Favorite sites/apps: What type of websites do they keep bookmarked? Do they browse Instagram or Pinterest daily? Are there specific apps they couldn't live without?

Motivation to Buy: What reasons would this person have for buying your product? Do they want to sport a status symbol or make time to work out despite a busy schedule?

Buying Concerns: Why might they choose not to buy your product? Are they worried about the quality?

Other info: Anything else that isn’t covered but would be worth mentioning, such as education, stage in life (parents with newborn kids), events they attend, etc.

Understand the landscape

On TikTok, you have two competitors: your business competition (who you’ve likely already identified), and your content competition. TikTok, like other social media platforms, is filled with people and brands alike, so you’re not only competing with other businesses but also other creators.

Take a look at your business competitors and see if they have a TikTok presence. If they do, look at the types of things they post and which posts have significant levels of engagement. This can clue you in to what their audience likes, which is probably somewhat similar to what your audience will like. Just remember to create your own unique content—no stealing ideas here!

Then spend time looking at TikTok content itself to see what is already produced in your space. Search hashtags, join groups, look at trending posts, and look for topics relevant to your brand. Notice any overlaps from these posts with your business competition.

Become a Pro user to get more data

In marketing, it can be easy to get caught up in the exciting creative aspects of coming up with and executing content ideas. But there’s more to TikTok marketing than simply coming up with popular content ideas. Building a brand is one thing, but building a brand that adds revenue to the bottom line is another.

It starts with knowing what to measure and why. Fortunately, TikTok gives Pro accounts (which is free and easy to sign up for) detailed analytics about their followers, traffic, and engagement. You can view data for things like: 

  • 7-day and 28-day lookbacks at follower count
  • Video views, play time, likes, comments, and shares
  • Traffic source
  • Profile views
  • Audience demographics like gender, location, age, etc.
  • Other content your audience likes (videos and sounds)
  • Your trending videos

You can also look at global data points like hashtag views and use the Discover tab to see what’s trending.

So how does this all relate to your bottom line? TikTok marketing is largely a brand awareness play—it’s a channel you can use to put your brand in front of a younger audience and continue to create content to keep them engaged and stay top of mind. You can use TikTok to build relationships with these young consumers that hopefully will reap benefits down the line as it manifests into a true customer-brand relationship.

"TikTok users want to be entertained or informed, not sold to."

You’ll also want to let your followers know where else you’re active on the internet so they can follow along the journey. Having your loyal TikTok fans explore the other channels you run is an awesome way to grow your personal or business brand. Be sure to do the same on other channels too by sending people to your TikTok.

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Easily create TikTok video ads to reach engaged audiences.

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10 tips for using TikTok to market your ecommerce business

With your strategy set, it’s time to put your plan into action. Keep these TikTok marketing best practices and tips in mind when creating and posting your content.

1. Be authentic

With so much noise in TikTok, it’s important to be authentic and stand out with your content. You don’t want to post videos that sound like sales pitches—that’s not why users are on TikTok. TikTok users want to be entertained or informed, not sold to. Before starting your TikTok marketing efforts, spend time on the app yourself. Once the algorithm learns what you like, it’ll feed you quality content you might find inspirational, which can boost creativity for your own content.

TikTok was designed to feel like a community of individuals posting relevant and authentic content. 4K videos, fancy edits, and “cinematic” or “corporate” content may alienate users.

Since most content is shot, edited, and uploaded on smartphones, it’s normal for your TikTok page to feel a little less on brand than the rest of your social media channels. Brands like Chipotle and Wendy’s are excellent at swapping their otherwise finely tuned corporate messaging for a genuine connection with many of their followers.

@chipotle

cool @haleybiemiller #chipotle #fyp

♬ original sound - Chipotle
@wendys

If you stare at this long enough, you’ll get tired of waiting for a 444 and you’ll just go out and get one. #Wendys #oddlysatisfying #444

♬ FLUTE BOSSA - Stefan Dulov

2. Get the gear

Having experimented with several methods of video content, I’ve found that videos should be filmed directly from the TikTok app on an iPhone. You’ve got access to a bunch of beauty filters and lighting options in-app, which can make up for sub-par lighting or a fancy background.

Some videos I’ve created have been built in Adobe Premiere and exported into TikTok. While some of the videos have done well, the time required to create content wasn’t worth the results. Depending on your cluster, this may not be the case.

Sound is something that shouldn’t be compromised on, however. My personal setup includes a Blue Yeti microphone plugged into the Lightning jack of my iPhone using a USB-to-Lightning adapter.

While your standard iPhone mic may do just fine, quality audio goes a long way in maximizing potential replays and shares. I’ve seen other Lightning microphones sold online that may be a more portable option.

Go live

One way to build a human connection with your audience is by taking advantage of TikTok’s LIVE feature, which lets creators connect directly with followers through a livestream. Going live is one of the best ways to stand out on TikTok. The app will push a notification to your followers you’ve started live streaming, and your stream is pinned to the top of their For You pages. With millions of creators currently on the platform, this real estate is priceless. TikTok heavily promotes the going live feature, and it’s surprisingly easy to do.

It’s totally normal to be overwhelmed or even a little shy when it comes to live streaming. “What if I misspeak?” “What if I’m not sure how to answer a question?” These are common fears we all share but often they disappear as soon as you hit the “Go Live” button.

To calm your nerves, jot down a few talking points for common questions and update your list after every TikTok live. Do your best to answer all appropriate questions during a live and be sure to thank followers who “gift” you stickers/emojis, as there’s a small monetary value associated with them. Consider it a little more aesthetically pleasing than users donating a nickel to you for creating cool content.

Scheduling is also super important. While spur-of-the-moment live streams are awesome, sticking to a live stream schedule will help build community around your stream. Some excellent formats include Q&A sessions, behind-the-scenes videos, informal hangout streams, “work with me” sessions, and interviews with special guests.

Some creators’ weekly live sessions work well to establish a deeper connection with their followers while also appeasing the TikTok algorithm.

PRO TIP 💡: If you’re setting a livestream schedule, be sure to account for your followers’ time zones, and pick a time where most people aren’t at school or work. This is a great way to boost viewership when you’re first starting to grow your community.

Keep it simple

You can’t pack an entire novel into a tweet, and you can’t fit an entire movie into a TikTok. To keep content digestible, your videos should be short and sweet. Stick to 15-second videos sharing high-level information, and pepper in 60-second deep dives to explain details further. If a topic is super important, you’re welcome to break it down into multiple 15-second videos, to keep viewership and replay-ability high.

Think of each piece of content as a unique story you’re sharing with your audience. Too little content and they might be unsatisfied, too much content and you may lose interest. A great example of a creator who walks this delicate balance are content creators Parii and Adi.

@pariiandadi

Student Loans are like a smelly roommate. Tax deductions are air freshener? #BiggestFan #tiktokschool #learnfromme #tiktoktaughtme #invest #stocktok

♬ original sound - Parii and Adi

With the average video on my For You Page hovering between seven and 10 seconds, a 60-second upload will feel like a movie—something many users don’t have the attention span for.

Skipping introductions in place of calls to action at the end of a video is a great way to remind users who is behind the content and encourages them to click to your profile to learn more.

Videos over 30 seconds will feature a little white bar at the bottom of the interface to show viewers how much video is left. If your video comes in just shy of the 30-second mark, consider adding a couple seconds to gain access to that feature, so users have an idea when your video will end, which can hold their attention longer.

Connect in the comments

TikTok’s discovery algorithm is amazing at getting your video in front of potential followers, but that’s only half the battle. Once the algorithm grabs someone’s interest, it’s your job to reel them in.

TikTok comments are an amazing place for conversation, communication, and explanation. As often as you can, hop into the comments and communicate with your viewers. Your responses will be accompanied by a “Creator” badge alongside your username, making audience interaction super easy to spot for potential followers (and you’d be amazed how many users are thrilled to see a “Liked by Creator” notification pop up on their screen). You can also "like" comments that you want to acknowledge, but don’t warrant a written response. 

As your posts gain traction and replying to comments takes up too much time, address them at scale. Create a document to break down frequent comments and which types you can reasonably respond to. Then respond to recurring comments in a longer video, a live stream, or video response. TikTok also includes generous filtering functionality to make your life easier, automatically removing comments that use certain keywords or phrases. 

TikTok tracks the ratio of comments to views on each video you release, and given the sophistication of its algorithm, it’s safe to assume it’s tracking how many comments are left ignored versus interacted with. 

If you have a verified account, a simple like or comment response will be virtually impossible for users to ignore. Liking a comment can often lead to a new follower. Do this a couple hundred times and you’ve converted a steady stream of warm leads into followers.

Comments are an important part of the TikTok experience, and there’s no excuse not to interact with every single comment until your channel has grown to the point where that isn’t possible. Few brands do this, and you’ll stand apart.

PRO TIP 💡: It’s OK and even encouraged to remove inappropriate comments. You can do this by long-pressing + and then opting to delete.

Master the trends

Before posting content, take a look through TikTok’s Discover page and see if you can produce content that jibes with the day’s trending hashtags. Doing so will cater to TikTok’s algorithm and can boost your follower numbers. While we don’t suggest using these hashtags if your video is totally off topic, it can be a great way to understand what’s trending on the platform and give you an idea on how to better shape your content strategy.

Trending hashtags change on a daily basis and are a prime example of what keeps content on TikTok fresh and fun. While creating draft posts is completely acceptable, having a finger on what’s trending is an excellent way to display relevancy and appear more human to your followers.

If you notice a particular sound pop up on your For You page a few times, get creative and see if you can use it in one of your own videos. You can always add it to your favorite sounds for future use as you continue to brainstorm.

Unlike social networks that rely on users searching hashtags and keywords to find content to consume, TikTok feeds videos users will like directly to the For You page through the use of “clusters.”

A cluster (in this context) is a group of people that share similar video interests to what you upload. Perhaps they’ve commented similar things on similar videos, enjoy the same sounds, or have interacted with the app in a similar way.

You can use hashtags to get your videos out to certain clusters, but not as a way to garner views. You’ll notice certain hashtags have a seemingly unbelievable numbers of views, which can skew the truth as to how popular they are.

On the Explore page, TikTok once featured the “Entrepreneur” hashtag. This led to millions of users creating videos with “#entrepreneur” in the bio, hoping to capitalize on a few extra video views, even if their content had nothing to do with entrepreneurship. This practice dilutes the hashtag’s relevant videos, which in turn decreases the hashtag’s popularity. Create video content based around trending hashtags for more views, but only if the topic itself is relevant to your content and your cluster.

TikTok success story: Partly Sunny Projects 🌞
Meet Sonja Detrinidad, the 50-something founder who quit her job to sell plants online—and went viral. Learn her strategy for winning at TikTok for business.

Accessibility and legibility

There’s a reason you see successful TikTokkers bake in titles at the start of their videos. If you’re scrolling through their profile, it’s an easy way to get a preview of what’s to come. You can use colored titles to help categorize your videos in an effort to help direct viewers to content they might be interested in and boost viewership.

Keep in mind that TikTok’s user interface is overlaid on the bottom and right sides of your screen, so make sure those titles fall in the middle. Since each phone uses a different aspect ratio, keeping important content away from the edges can help ensure everyone can see them.

To cater to all TikTokkers, use closed captions on your videos wherever possible. This ensures your videos are accessible to all audiences, in all contexts. The app’s timed text feature makes this super easy, and it only takes a couple of extra minutes.

Features, features, features

TikTok always pumps out new features—animated GIF stickers, titles, and new filters are among some of the recent upgrades. So while the algorithm is kept secret, you can focus on using these new tools to keep your feed looking fresh for your audience.

We also suggest looking into TikTok’s beta program, as it may offer you brand new content creation tools that most users haven’t seen yet. This can be a great way to stay on the cutting edge of what the platform is working on so you can stay a step ahead of your competition.

Post consistently

Again, we don’t know the algorithm, but many creators have seen amazing results from sticking to a posting schedule. We suggest posting one to two times each day and going live a couple times each week. This cadence keeps your content fresh and interesting without overloading your followers with videos.

Check your analytics to see what time your audience is most active, because this varies depending on who you’re talking to and where they’re located. We’ve created a general guideline based on our research:

A schedule of optimal posting times on TikTok
Oberlo

 

If your followers are more active on certain days of the week, consider doubling up posts on those days to maximize viewership. Since so many new videos are constantly added to the platform, it’s important to keep feeding the algorithm new and exciting content of your own.

While it’s nearly impossible to nail down a “required weekly output” of TikTok content, one thing I know is the algorithm favors consistency. Whatever cadence you and your team decide to go with, make sure you can maintain it for the foreseeable future.

Join creator groups

There are countless Facebook groups full of creatives looking to take their TikTok game to the next level. Take a look at what best suits you, and join a community of creators. Being around like-minded people is a great way to find inspiration, build a sense of accountability, and keep you motivated over the coming weeks and months.

Check out TikTok Creators, TikTok Creators Support, or TikTok For Beginners to start, and then drill down into your specific area of focus. If you’re a business, look for a marketing or business strategy TikTok group. If you’re a comedian, find similar groups online. If you can’t find something for your particular demographic, it could be the perfect opportunity to create your own community.

How do I promote my product on TikTok?

In addition to investing time and energy into creating your branded TikTok profile and videos, you can supercharge your TikTok marketing with influencers and paid advertising.

Influencer marketing puts your brand and products in front of someone else’s audience, serving as social proof. And influencer marketing is especially huge on TikTok, especially as it’s a creator-focused platform like Snapchat.

Shopify merchant Peace Out Skincare partnered with an influencer to promote its acne products. The brand gifted its products to TikTok influencers, two of whom collaborated on a video. The video earned 12 million views, 2.4 million likes, 60k shares, and $15k in product sales in a single day. The video trended for months after its original posting, fueling a steady stream of sales past that initial surge.

To work with influencers in your own TikTok marketing strategy, scout influencers on the platform to see who resonates with your industry and audience. Reach out through messages directly on the platform and send free products in exchange for a video of their experience and honest feedback. This is great for marketing and also product teams.

As far as paid advertising goes, TikTok Ads Manager grants you access to a set of tools that can help you increase visibility of your ads to a defined audience. Shopify merchant Omolola Jewellery uses a combination of organic and paid TikTok posts to reach new audiences. This has been especially helpful in supporting its business during the pandemic, when customers can’t visit their physical store.

Promote your ecommerce brand on TikTok

While TikTok has become noisier over the years, and the algorithm is constantly changing, the basics of marketing and brand building on TikTok remain consistent: aim for authenticity, frequent posting, active community management, and quality posts. 

If all this sounds intimidating, just know that the hardest part is getting started. The TikTok community is incredibly encouraging, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cluster of followers will turn into your fans!

Illustration by Julia DuFossé


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