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How can brands stand out and succeed on TikTok?

This is a guest post by Tara Johnson, Lead Content Strategist at Tinuiti.

TikTok is a free social media app that allows users to create and share 15-second videos. While videos can be created on any topic, TikTok’s claim to fame is its large collection of dance, music, and comedy videos. 

TikTok has over 800 million active monthly users that view over 1 billion videos a day. 90% of TikTok users visit the app multiple times throughout the day, resulting in high engagement numbers and content visibility. 

All this and more make TikTok an excellent venue for brands that want to be noticed. But is it as simple as uploading a video? 

No, it’s not. 

How can brands stand out on TikTok?

TikTok offers brand partners many different options through which they can stand out.

User-generated content

On TikTok, user-generated content (UGC) takes shape in the form of a video in which real consumers interact with your brand or product in a positive way. You can encourage the TikTok community to create UGC by asking them to “duet” or “stitch” your brand’s videos. 

If your budget allows, you can sponsor hashtag challenges or partner up with a TikTok influencer. 

Hashtag challenges

A hashtag challenge sets up opportunities for TikTok users to participate in viral moments by creating a video related to a specific hashtag. The #bottlecapchallenge, for instance, encourages users to kick the cap off a plastic bottle. 

Brands can leverage hashtag challenges, too. TikTok offers Branded Hashtag Challenges as an advertising option, which allows companies to invite users to participate and create content around your campaign theme, with all UGC aggregating in the hashtag challenge page. Leading brands like Netflix, L’Oreal, and NYX have leveraged this feature

In order for the hashtag challenge to succeed, it needs to be brand-appropriate and creative enough to capture users’ attention. One great example of this is the #pepsicanbalance challenge. 

Influencer marketing

Influencers can have a tremendously positive impact on your TikTok campaign. Many brands partner with influencers to amplify their own branded content and connect with their viewers. 

Once contracted, the influencer creates content that recommends your brand or product to their audience. This expands your reach to this target group and helps raise both awareness and trust. 

While brands can choose to favor one partnership option over another, the best brands utilize as many campaign types as they can in a coordinated and strategic manner. One brand in particular was able to pull this off: e.l.f. Cosmetics.

Why was e.l.f. so successful?

How did e.l.f., a brand that was relatively new to the TikTok platform at the time, manage to generate over 2 million videos and 8 million streams, obtain a partnership with a record label, and get multiple high-profile celebrities to participate over the course of a single campaign?

They knew their brand and their audience

e.l.f. Cosmetics had laid the foundation for their success long before they began their historic campaign. 

“There were over 3 million views to e.l.f. Cosmetics before we had any brand presence or campaigns,” said Kory Marchisotto, e.l.f. Cosmetics’ CMO. 

Much of this can be attributed to how well the company knew their audience–and themselves. “I understood very clearly what consumers loved about our brand; the original superpowers that made us great, the ones our consumers couldn’t get enough of.”

“Through our consumer research, we found themes that resonate with our audiences,” Kory said. “We unlocked the power of what they love about our brand and brought it to life in an incredibly relevant way.”

The brand had already drawn consumer attention through clever and relevant content, such as their new lexicon of e.l.f.isms like “what the e.l.f.” and “why the e.l.f. not?” that was adopted by its community. 

Creativity took center stage

Most creators on TikTok (whether brands or individuals) use popular songs in their videos. And while this is standard practice and perfectly normal, e.l.f. wanted to take it a step further. They partnered with Movers+Shakers, an agency that specializes in developing original music for brands, and created the original song “Eyes.Lips.Face” exclusively for e.l.f.’s TikTok campaign. The first version was 15 seconds long and written by Grammy-award winning songwriter iLL Wayno and Holla FyeSixWun. 

The song was so incredibly popular that they soon released a full-length version, which was then streamed over three million times across Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. 

“Eyes.Lips.Face” marks the first time any brand used original music on TikTok, and the payoff was tremendous. 

e.l.f. engaged the community

Just releasing an original song on TikTok was impressive enough. But e.l.f. magnified the impact of their campaign by tapping into the community at the same time. 

They ran an #eyeslipsface hashtag challenge, asking users to record themselves dancing to their new original song. Millions of people rose to the occasion, creating their own videos and sharing it with their own circles of friends. 

The challenge went so viral that celebrities like Jessica Alba, Terry Crews, and Reese Witherspoon joined in on the fun — without being paid by e.l.f. 

What are ‘musts’ for brands on TikTok?

You don’t have to have an original song and a large budget to win on TikTok. You just need to know how to make the best of what you have.                                                                                                            

Brands must be authentic

A large part of e.l.f. Cosmetic’s success was due to their being true to their brand. They had a powerful identity: that of being a digital disruptor. And so e.l.f. applied that philosophy to how they used TikTok.

Your brand should do the same. Don’t stray from your brand identity just to match what other people are doing on TikTok. This is a sure way to confuse your customers (and yourself). There is opportunity for different kinds of content on TikTok, whether it’s flashy car videos or simply mixing paint colors

Brands must be adaptable

TikTok is a fast-paced community where trends can come and go in the matter of hours. Brands need to be able to detect and act on whatever is the hottest thing at the time. 

For instance, your song choice matters more than it would on other platforms like Instagram. In TikTok, users can search for a specific song or sound and all content that uses that song will be shown in the search results. This doesn’t just work for new songs; even older songs can trend if they’re being used for a hashtag challenge or have been used across multiple videos.

What roles do strategy and creative play?

No brand should enter a social media platform without some sort of plan in mind. Simply throwing up random videos is a waste of time and resources, and won’t benefit your business in any meaningful way. 

What is your social media presence supposed to accomplish? Who are the people you want to connect to? What are those people supposed to do?

Once you figure out the answers to those questions, you’ll have a better idea of what your creatives are going to look like. Tie those into your brand personality, and you’ll be able to produce relevant content that connects to your best customers. 

Your company can achieve great success on TikTok — and that’s no song and dance.

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