Advertising to the Next Generation: A Marketer’s Strategy Guide to TikTok

It’s been three years since TikTok, originally known as Musical.ly, ushered onto the scene, gaining traction among tweens and teens around the globe. The platform has since grown in size and scale, reaching over 1 billion downloads including 96 million in the United States alone. In terms of user base, there are 500 million across 150 countries.

Beyond lip-syncing Gen Z-ers, major brands and A-list celebs including Coca-Cola, Nike, Google and Khloé Kardashian are turning to TikTok to push sponsored posts or run ad campaigns. From a general community standpoint, the app also serves as a popular hub for extracting meme-able content.

For those unfamiliar, TikTok revolves around sharing 15-second video clips often set to music that is licensed from artists and record labels. If you’re a brand looking for new and creative ways to reach younger audience members, let’s take a look at what the app is all about and the basics for navigating its interface.

Setting up an account

By downloading the TikTok app, you can instantly browse any videos uploaded to the platform. However, to upload any yourself, you need to set up your own profile. Here are the basics for carrying out the process:

  • Set up an account by providing your email, phone number, or a third-party platform like Facebook
  • You will automatically be assigned an initial username by TikTok. If you provide a phone number this will take a very generic form such as user1234567 whereas providing your email will result in a more personalized result.
  • When you’re ready to change your username, tap the icon in the right bottom corner resembling a human’s upper body. Then hit ‘Edit Profile.’ In addition to swapping your picture, you can proceed to fill out a bio and set a Profile Video.

Browsing, sharing and reacting to TikToks

TikTok is divided into two basic feeds. Primarily, you’ll be shown the default titled, ‘For You,’ which contains algorithmically generated content comparable to Instagram’s Explore page. By swiping left, you’ll navigate over to the second of the feeds, ‘Following,’ which collects uploads from people you personally choose to follow. These can be influencers, comedy-focused accounts, whatever suits your daily entertainment needs.

To help curate your feed, hard press on a video to trigger a ‘Not Interested’ button that you can then select if you’d like to opt-out of that type of content going forward.

Each video you browse, you’ll see there are options to give the user a heart, like on Instagram and Facebook, and the ability to leave them a comment. To share your favorite TikToks to other platforms or via a text message, look for the symbol depicting a right-pointing arrow. By clicking on this, you’ll be provided with the specific link to use directly to that video,

Finally, to track a specific song that is being played in a TikTok, look for the symbol of a spinning record with music notes emanating from it. Tapping this will show you the track name, artist, as well as other TikToks that feature the song.

Recording and sharing your own TikTok

Now that you have that lay of the land, let’s walk through the steps for recording and sharing your own TikTok videos.

To record, select the plus sign symbol at the bottom of your screen. This will open your camera and reveal a red record button, much like you’d see if you were recording a video on Snapchat.

Here’s where you have a few options. You can either stick to the standard 15-second limit or record multiple clips and string them together for up to 60 seconds of total recording. Alternatively, you can upload even longer videos outside of TikTok and bring them into the platform later. Whichever you choose, you have the ability to use the timer feature so you don’t have to hold the record button the entire time.

To drop a song in your video, click ‘Add a Sound’ to the right of the recording screen. A menu of artists akin to what you’d see in your Spotify account will appear where you can either pick from the most popular tracks at the moment or look up a specific song in Apple Music. A caveat to note with this, however, is that TikTok’s short videos can’t be edited, meaning you can’t handpick a certain segment of the song to use. Some users have tried to get around this by using a third-party source to stream the full song, but at the risk of getting copyrighted.

AR integration, duets and video reactions

Aside from music, TikTok offers an abundance of AR effects that can be accessed by selecting ‘Effects’ on the left-hand side. These range from filters intended for animals including dogs and cats to ones designed for humans. More specifically, the Beauty button will give you an assortment of options for enhancing your appearance such as removing dark circles under your eyes.

In addition to filters, a ‘duet’ feature makes it possible to post your own video alongside another. You can also respond to someone else’s TikTok with a video reaction allowing for a much more interactive way to communicate beyond text comments or run-of-the-mill reactions like a thumbs up or thumbs down.

TikTok Challenges

‘Challenges’ are designed to bring TikTok users together through a lighthearted competition and brands are taking note for how they can get in on the action.

ABC, for instance, ran the #LikeAnAmericanIdol earlier this year encouraging users to share their singing skills. As of this past March, over 25 million users posted videos with the hashtag showing their participation. Separately, Chipotle partnered with an influencer for the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge seeing if users could replicate a trick involving the flipping of a Chipotle bowl’s lid. The campaign attracted 110,000 video submissions from fans.

What this translates into for brands are experimental ways to learn from a community, what they’re already engaging with and sharing, and then identify ways for their audiences to get involved in a way that is authentic to them.

Commenting on the creative opportunity for brands and marketers and why they’re flocking to use TikTok, Vice President, Blake Chandlee, recently shared at Advertising Week, “There’s been a real inflection point.” He underscored how the platform is unique in that it challenges marketers to produce something they can’t just replicate on other platforms.

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