This blog has been adapted from our latest white paper, which you can download here for free!
You’ve got a burning question, one that’s been smoldering in the back of your mind since you first heard the term “TikTok Influencer.” It’s a question hundreds of marketers like yourself have been silently wondering as a new generation of influencers has risen, solidifying TikTok as one of the most talked-about places on the internet.
What the heck is TikTok, and why is everyone talking about it this much???
It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly critical to understand, as more and more of the world’s top brands are partnering with TikTok influencers to forge strong connections with a new generation of multi-platform consumers.
So fear not! This white paper is here to answer all your pertinent TikTok questions (and maybe a few you didn’t even know you had). By the time you’ve finished this guide, you’ll be able to not only stand up and explain to a group of fellow marketers how TikTok influencer marketing works, you’ll be ready to effectively and confidently add TikTok to your future influencer marketing strategies.
What is TikTok?….And Why Won’t Everyone Stop Talking About It?
TikTok is a mobile-first social media platform, the latest in a long line of massively popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. TikTok is dedicated entirely to short-form vertical videos that last anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds.
The easiest and most commonly used point of comparison is the now-defunct platform Vine, but another way to wrap your head around it is to imagine a platform made up of Instagram’s massively popular Stories format.
Despite being the youngest of the big social media platforms, TikTok is already home to some of the most creative and engaging video creators on the web. It’s powered by an extremely advanced AI system that continuously shows users a stream of fresh content, learning, and adapting the more they watch and interact.
When Did TikTok Blow Up?
TikTok truly hit its stride in 2017 when it was merged with the popular lip-syncing app Musical.ly, which had a substantial user base in the United States, particularly among teenagers. Much of Musical.ly’s original DNA still can be found on the platform, such as the extremely popular genres of lip-syncing videos and dance challenges.
However, TikTok quickly got to work expanding its audience and innovating its functionality, introducing powerful artificial intelligence to curate and sculpt the user experience. It also added a suite of editing tools that, with a bit of practice, allows the average user to make truly impressive and dynamic videos all within the app.
TikTok captures the joyous spirit of creativity and expression, combined with the excitement of the Wild Wild West. TikTok truly is the platform for the mobile-first generation who speak video as if it were their first language.
Many have described the platform as “addicting,” citing the many hours they’ll suddenly find themselves spending while sucked into its steady supply of entertaining, engaging and inventive content – behavior fueled by a home screen and UI designed to pull you in and keep you swiping.
How Does TikTok Work?
TikTok presents you with its main focus from the get-go: the For You tab, an infinity-scroll of bite-sized videos filtered one after another using Swipe-Ups. The secret sauce behind TikTok’s ability to hook users is its powerful Artificial Intelligence that analyzes each piece of content and ranks it based on real-time user behavior. Their algorithm is so good at predicting what users like, they stay on average for over 10 minutes at a time, the highest of any other platform including Instagram at almost 3 minutes.
TikTok captures data such as Likes, Comments, Watch Time, Exit Rate and more, and is able to quickly discern what types of content each user wants to see, even after the first few minutes post-signup. The algorithm starts by showing new users a stream of videos it’s previously identified as having the highest engagement for the widest audience to instantly hook them. Within minutes, TikTok can combine thousands of data points from their behavior including Repeat views, hashtags within the content, audio cues, and more to create a comprehensive profile of what each user likes to watch.
Who Uses TikTok?
Everyone! TikTok boasts 800 million monthly active users. For reference, Twitter, which has been chirping along since 2006, is currently home to 330 million users worldwide. For being the new kid on the block, TikTok has already earned itself quite the reputation, being downloaded more than two billion times and consistently landing on the most-downloaded app lists.
While a noteworthy 60% of TikTokers are between the ages of 16 and 24 according to a November release from Reuters, anyone can use the platform and grow an audience. A quarter of US users, for instance, are aged 45-64, demonstrating that the app holds sway with a wide array of people beyond the teenage demographic.
Not only has TikTok earned itself a cult-like following of casual viewers and bonafide influencers, it’s home to AAA talent like Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith to legacy organizations like The Washington Post and the World Health Organization.
The growing presence of traditional celebrities on TikTok is indicative of shifting viewer preferences. Hollywood talent and other traditional celebrities are mirroring influencers and are connecting their audiences on a more personal level, inviting people into their worlds, and giving them access to pieces of their lives beyond the screen and stage.
Where is TikTok Popular?
All over the world! Owned by Chinese conglomerate ByteDance, AKA the most valued start-up on the planet, TikTok boasts a massive audience in China, followed by India and the United States. India in particular is leading the charge, responsible for a third of all downloads in Jan 2020, followed by Brazil at a little over 10%.
While these three are currently the largest markets, TikTok truly is a global platform, with its parent company operating in over 150 markets and in 75 languages.
What Content is Popular on TikTok? AKA Why Is Everyone Suddenly Dancing All the Time?
TikTok is the first social media platform that, theoretically, doesn’t have anything to do with your social network.
Instead, TikTok connects people around trending ideas, topics, and challenges via the use of hashtags. It encourages everyone to join in on the fun through reinterpreting trending videos and putting their own unique spin on them.
While trends change on TikTok by the day, some formats that have remained consistently popular are:
Dance videos were a huge component of Musical.ly when it was acquired and melded into TikTok, and they’ve remained popular ever since. Many popular challenges revolve around easy-to-learn dances set to popular songs, such as the Yeehaw Challenge set to Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road (but more on that later).
Users can choose from a number of popular licensed songs or pantomime along to any sound, usually to great comedic effect: bits of famous speeches, trending sound bites, the only limit is your imagination.
TikTok actively promotes positivity and lighthearted content, which initially led many to call it Vine 2.0 in its early days. In fact, many of Vine’s funniest and most beloved creators, who focused largely on skits, eventually made their way to TikTok after Vine closed down in 2016, finding a new home to showcase their talents and express themselves when the platform began to rise in popularity.
Trending Hashtag Challenges
If you ever wonder where to start on TikTok – whether as a brand or as a content creator – the Discovery tab is the best place to start. There you’ll find trending videos aggregated by key topics, which you can put your own spin on to use as a launching pad for your own content. TikTok curates many user-driven trends, which are found and spread through the use of hashtags, but brands can also purchase direct placement on the Discovery page in the form of branded hashtag challenges.
TikTok also knows when to get serious with its trends – such as their recent partnership with the WHO to spread key health messages around COVID-19. So far, videos containing the #safehands challenge have been seen over 40 million times.
All in all, content on TikTok is always fresh, new, and insanely relevant. And wherever creators are breaking barriers and forging new genres, brands are quickly following suit.
TikTok has already been everywhere the world’s biggest brands are, from New York Fashion Week to behind-the-scenes of your favorite NBA games.
What is TikTok Like For Brands?
TikTok may be the new kid on the block, but it’s wasted no time making itself home to some of the world’s biggest brands. Maybe that’s because TikTok’s endless stream of highly-addicting content makes for some of the most engaged audiences online, with users spending roughly 52 minutes a day on the app, right up there with Facebook (58 minutes) and Instagram (53 minutes).
There are several ways that brands and organizations can either advertise directly with the platform or with their creators such as:
- Branded Hashtag Challenges
- Native, auto-play videos
- Branded AR filters
- More products in development
- Influencer partnerships
For example, Warner Bros. branded hashtag challenge #WhatWouldHarleyDo was featured at the top of the Discovery tab and encouraged users to create their own movie-inspired content, using the hashtag to spread the word about the film’s release.
According to TikTok, over half of creators have participated in at least one hashtag challenge, which means that engaging with or starting your own hashtags are an extremely effective way of generating audience participation and massive amounts of User Generated Content.
The Top Brands on TikTok
Glancing at the top brands on TikTok, we notice a few similarities which can best be summed up with one word: relatability. Despite having access to vast amounts of premium content, none of these brands are simply copy/pasting their material and calling it a day. They know exactly how users on TikTok speak, what their ups and downs are, and can filter their vast catalogs of content through these cultural lenses to produce highly relevant posts.
The NBA was one of TikTok’s earliest adopters, creating content back when the platform was still Musical.ly! Despite being home to some of the world’s most-followed athletes and larger-than-life sporting moments, the NBA TikTok account keeps it lighthearted, with plenty of content revolving around dancing (the native language of TikTok), jumping on rising trends, and encouraging audience engagement.
The beloved children’s entertainment company knows how to filter their vast library of content into organic and wonderfully TikTok-y moments. A brand whose primary audience is Gen-Z, they understand clearly that the best form of communication is connection through meaningful content, not pushing messages.
For example, you can routinely find Learn to Draw tutorials and other useful videos on their profile. As a brand, Nickelodeon has inspired and continues to inspire millions of young storytellers, and they lean into this role by providing value to up-and-coming artists.
Nickelodeon also knows how to speak TikTok, recycling clips from old shows but in new contexts such as our universal loathing for Mondays.
If you’re familiar with Red Bull’s content in any way, you know they don’t do anything on a small scale. Red Bull is about big stunts, big ideas and big moments – but the genius of their TikTok profile is their ability to take this EPICLY-scaled content and turn it into something completely relatable and everyday.
For example, they took an exciting video of a roaring race car engine and transformed it into a relatable joke about the sound of overheating laptops while everyone is under quarantine.
Radio Disney is another great example of a legacy brand that understands what makes TikTok such a unique experience. Instead of simply reposting their content, Radio Disney makes sure that their TikTok experience feels authentic and in-the-moment, giving audiences a behind-the-scenes look of live performances that make you feel as if you’re there.
Oftentimes, their videos consist of someone sitting up close to a live studio performance and filming simply by holding up their mobile phone and pressing “record.” It’s presented – in other words – exactly like an everyday user on TikTok would capture and share these moments.
The NFL is a great example of a brand that understands what matters, especially on platforms like TikTok – people and their stories!
Their account does a great job balancing epic sports highlights with incredibly human and relatable moments, catching these mythical figures in the most mundane experiences, such as when Miami Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker was caught on camera asking his teammates to help him find his mother in the crowd.
But if every social movement is like a campfire, they all start off with an initial spark – which is why the world’s top brands often rely on TikTok’s many influencers to kick off trends and set the tone.
For example, the most-followed TikToker, Charli D’Amelio, was recruited by Proctor and Gamble to lead the #distancedance challenge, which encourages consumers to stay home in solidarity with health care workers and to help slow the progression of COVID-19.
Brands understand how powerful these creators’ voices are and the influence they carry, which is why more and more creators are being activated to spread the word and create highly-engaging content.
Working With the Influencers of TikTok
Yes, TikTok is home to some of the internet’s most-beloved creators, who are hard at work developing the latest and most engaging content formats on the web. Some of these creators have become so ubiquitous they’ve even been featured alongside NFL players and rock stars in the latest Super Bowl commercials.
These creators are popping up everywhere around the globe – some of them, such as Anna O’Brien, have reportedly grown millions of authentic and highly-engaged followers in as little as weeks.
Brands are quickly following suit. When brands partner with TikTok creators, they harness the power of integrated messaging, eschewing the interruptive and alienating forms of advertising that users have grown to ignore These creators are masters at finding organic and entertaining ways to show off products using their authentic voices – like, mind-bogglingly good!
If you want to get more influencer marketing insights we recommend our blog “Top 5 Influencer Marketing Trends for 2020.” Open Influence is trusted by some of the world’s most discerning brands with getting their TikTok influencers strategies up and running. If you want to learn more about activating on this awesome channel, connect with us here or by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.