TikTok has over 1.2 billion monthly users and the average age of users is 16-24. When the app first emerged in the digital space in 2014 under the name Musical.ly, users shared videos of themselves lip syncing to popular music. Then, ByteDance bought the app in 2017, changed the name to TikTok and changed the game for companies and business people.
When TikTok first took off, it consisted of videos uploaded by average users that centered around seemingly mundane aspects of their lives. There weren’t huge A-List celebrities or Fortune 500 companies producing content on the app. That’s not the case anymore, and now we’re seeing prominent figures and large companies entering the TikTok realm.
So why do companies need to use TikTok to promote their brand? Using social media to promote a company’s brand is not a new concept in the 21st century. However, TikTok provides a unique marketing experience unlike any other social media platform.
There are a few key characteristics that set TikTok apart from other platforms and incentivize companies to invest in marketing on this app. TikTok promotes creativity and individuality through allowing users to adjust audio, add special effects and filters, and add text to enhance the video content. These editing features support creative leeway and bolster opportunities to individualize content. The individualized content generates niche communities of small target audiences where companies have greater success marketing their brand to individuals.
Seemingly, the most important characteristic is that TikTok produces a laid back, more authentic look into people’s lives. Companies that do well on the app recognize this important characteristic and adjust their marketing strategies to reflect users’ interests.
Let’s look at how different companies, with varying levels of prominence use TikTok to promote their brand.
Established Companies Promote to a Younger Audience
Marketing content on TikTok looks far different from marketing content on other social media platforms. Established companies must adapt to this change and be able to engage with a younger audience whose values are different from previous target audiences.
The Washington Postexpertly adjusted to the new platform and creates content specifically geared for a younger audience. The Post amassed 1.3 million followers with 53.7 million likes on its account. What’s truly unique about this account is how it differs from standard news reporting and instead introduces humor and dry sarcasm into its content.
This personal, individualized feeling is owed to Dave Jorgenson, the face of The Post’s account. He breaks the news down into short-form videos that users who might not regularly read the news will enjoy and continue watching. Jorgenson understands he is interacting with a different generation and adjusts the Post’s content to attract viewership from Gen Z while still reporting the news.
Duolingo takes personalized content creation to the next level. The language learning company is known on TikTok for creating unhinged content thanks to their mascot and account runner, the Duolingo owl.
Duolingo understands the importance of humanizing their content to generate a mass following. The company listens to what people say about them and leans into the comments about how the owl appears pushy and slightly threatening. In response to those comments, Duolingo simply embraces the weird, slightly daunting characteristics of the Duolingo owl and uses those features to create a strong brand identity and interact with users.
By following trends, consistently interacting with users in comment sections and poking fun at itself, Duolingo expertly crafts a unique TikTok account that reflects the interests of a younger generation and remains relevant among the constantly changing trends.
The Washington Post and Duolingo are not the only two companies utilizing strategies to garner viewership from Gen Z, but these companies understand the importance of knowing what’s relevant on TikTok and then producing content that will interest those viewers. Both companies have a personal feel because users can associate a face with the company, and thus, the content feels more authentic and individualized.
Small Businesses Use TikTok to Gain Traction
It’s one thing for a prominent company to move over to TikTok and begin making content geared toward a younger generation. It’s slightly different for a small business to grow and generate a following on TikTok.
From jewelry stores to financial consulting, small creators are finding ways to promote their brand on TikTok. Though the company format and exact products differ from creator to creator, each startup experiences similar challenges and opportunities on the app.
These businesses use trending audio, hashtags and video formats to gain a following and promote their work. These businesses utilize the rise of micro influencers and their ability to promote products to a targeted set of people. Many of these small businesses develop a highly specific set of followers, and word of mouth travels far on the app.
TikTok itself even gave small businesses $100 million in ad credits in 2020 to boost and develop their products. With support from TikTok and individual users, small businesses are able to jump start their company and make money off the app.
Brands Benefit from Niche Communities
Some companies or business people didn’t expect their brand to benefit so heavily from TikTok. Thanks to niche communities within the app, musicians, authors and businesses find their work gaining popularity and viewership.
One of the largest niche communities to arise on TikTok is BookTok. Users began using the hashtag, #booktok in 2020 to recommend the top books each person was reading at the time. The community grew and now heavily influences book sales across the nation. Large bookstores like Barnes and Noble track the top books recommended on TikTok and create a curated list of recommendations based on what users are reading. Authors and publishing companies monetarily benefit from this earned media even if they weren’t actively promoting their content on the app.
TikTok also heavily influences the music industry and generates music sales. Trending audio on TikTok revives songs from decades past and increases streams for those artists. When “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac trended on the app in fall 2020, it generated 36 million global streams within two weeks. TikTok is a powerful force when it comes to promoting music and smaller musicians now promote and release their songs to TikTok communities. Instead of producing and releasing music in more traditional formats, TikTok allows creators to amass a following and listeners organically on the app.
Ultimately, TikTok has changed the game for companies and individuals marketing their products and services. Marketing strategies must evolve to meet the needs and interests of TikTok users, and from what it looks like – TikTok is here to stay.
I’m a public relations student at the University of Georgia with a passion for creative storytelling and content creation. The work I produce reflects my love for music, art and culture, and I strive to create content that resonates with college students.