TikTok: Everything You Wanted to Know but Were too Afraid to Ask

If you’ve ever been approached by a group of teenagers asking you to join in on the family dance, odds are you’ve already had your intro to TikTok. 

Maybe you wanted to know more, or maybe you averted your eyes as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t blame you; for a long time, I didn’t get what all the fuss over TikTok was about either. 

Be that as it may, as a business owner trying to get your brand off the ground, it’s your job to know about, well, all things social media – especially if the demographic you want to market to includes children or teens. 

Like with any platform taking over the world, it’s important to get a handle on what TikTok is, how it works, and whether or not it can help you grow your business (which it can – for free!). 

I’m not saying you have to hop aboard the TikTok train, but there are a bunch of things you should learn about the platform before you make that decision. 

Don’t worry: We’ll cover everything you need to know below, starting with the basics.

TikTok: What the Heck is it, and Why Does it Matter? 

TikTok is a China-based social media network exclusively for short-form video, and it allows users to easily make, share and edit videos that include special effects and music. It started as a popular music video app called Musical.ly, on which people mainly posted videos of themselves lip-syncing, and it was later bought by ByteDance, which brought the world the platform that we’ve heard about today.  

If you haven’t looked it up yet, picture a social media network that’s solely dedicated to Instagram Stories (albeit with different video lengths and best practices). 

So, why should we care? 

In the last couple of years, TikTok has seen over a billion downloads per year, and it’s only getting bigger. 

Attention spans are shrinking, which is why short-form videos are gaining more and more traction. And, unlike with other social media platforms, the format of TikTok videos is specifically geared to meet that attention span – and the audience watching those videos is going to continue growing.

What’s cool about TikTok is their emphasis on creativity. The app makes it really easy for anyone to join and begin creating videos, regardless of how skilled they are at video editing or otherwise. 

In addition to that, here are a few more TikTok stats to get you up to speed: 

  • Nearly half of all TikTok users fall between the ages of 16-24, and 34% of users are Millennials
  • There are 800 million worldwide TikTok users, 80 million of which are in the US 
  • 90% of all TikTok users are on the app on a daily basis, for an average of 52 minutes per day. This means that the audience is highly engaged (and that’s more time spent on TikTok than on either Twitter or Snapchat)
  • The top 3 countries with TikTok users are China, India, and the US

However, just because the younger crowd is heavily attracted to TikTok doesn’t mean that “older” folk (read: over 30) aren’t around. For example, fitness influencer Chalene Johnson caters to a 50+ crowd, and she has over 100K followers on the platform. 

In other words, there’s a lot of opportunity for building your brand audience on TikTok whether or not your business’s potential audience is still in high school.  

On that note, let’s take a closer look at what you can actually do on the platform. 

How Does TikTok Work?

Like with other social media platforms, users have a News Feed on TikTok called the “For You” feed, which is filled with random content until you start engaging with videos you like. TikTok has a super sophisticated algorithm that can predict what users like pretty accurately, and it will take your behavior into account from the moment you’ve signed up. 

In the beginning, you’ll be shown content that has the highest engagement across the widest audience. But, after you’ve commented on, liked or spent time watching a few videos, the app will tailor the content it shows you in the For You feed to your preferences. And, once you start following other TikTok accounts, you’ll see similar content and creators in your feed. 

In the For You section, you can: 

  • Share or Like videos
  • Follow users 
  • Leave comments
  • Check out the Current Sound you’re listening to 
  • Create your own videos!

As we mentioned above, the content itself is purely video and vertically formatted, taking up your entire phone screen. Most TikTok videos are 15 seconds or less and on loop, though the platform has recently started allowing video clips up to 60 seconds long. 

Videos can be captioned by up to 140 characters, which is where you would add the video description and any hashtags you want associated with the video. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to more of this below.)  

And, here are features unique to TikTok that you need to know about: 

Sounds

If there’s one feature of TikTok that you’re going to learn, let it be this. TikTok is a music-first platform, which means it’s imperative you add sounds to your videos that you think your audience will like.

If you tap the “sounds” button, a new window will open that lets you browse through tons of video soundtracks, spanning trending clips to pop favorites. And, you can bookmark sounds that you like in order to check out all the videos currently using that sound later. 

Note: The platform recently stopped letting organizations and brands use certain licensed music in their videos, so you’ll have to choose from their library of loyalty-free tracks.  

Effects

Through TikTok’s native camera and editor, you’ll have a ton of cool effects at your disposal which are easy to add to your videos. They include voiceovers, time warp, camera splits, speed controls, and even the ability to stitch multiple clips together! TikTok is all about enabling anyone to be a creator, so the app makes it really easy for anyone to add special effects. 

Duets

When publishing a video, you can choose to “Allow Duet and Reacts” with the click of a button. This means that users can reply to a video with a video of their own, which is a great way to start a conversation and get an extra level of engagement with your content. 

Discover

This tab allows you to search for the biggest trends and latest challenges that are popular on TikTok. The algorithm both shows you trends that are relevant to what you like and new trends that are emerging based on their entire user base’s preferences. 

So what does all of this mean for your business? Is TikTok relevant for your brand or not?

Branding on TikTok

As a business owner, there’s good news and bad news. 

The good news: Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok isn’t yet saturated with branded content – which means there’s a lot of opportunity for you to come in and make your mark! While it’s gaining traction among marketers and brands, TikTok is still feeding the “first generation” of advertisers, so there’s ample opportunity for you to use it to extend your reach and grow your brand. 

The less good news: According to TikTok’s terms of service, TikTok can repurpose your content on any platform they want (royalty-free, etc.). Although your brand would keep the copyright, TikTok can use the content however they see fit. 

Not only that, but TikTok users are particularly sensitive to promotional content; anything that looks inauthentic or like it’s trying to sneak in a sale will be put on blast – not a reputation you want your brand to have.

So, if you are going to use TikTok, it’s important to create videos that your audience will find valuable. Valuable content could include funny behind-the-scenes videos, educational videos related to your niche – anything that blends in with the overall TikTok vibe and shows your business as an authentic brand. Whether you’re a real estate developer or fitness coach, you can create concise, actionable content that will help your target audience in some way. 

Some of the world’s biggest brands are on TikTok and thriving because they’ve done just that. From NBA to Nickelodeon, each brand has found ways to bring value to their audience through a TikTok lens – which means you can, too!  

NBA TIkTok feed

How to Grow Your Brand Using TikTok

If you want to start building up your TikTok channel organically (i.e. without paying for ads or using influencers), you have to plan on posting content as often as possible – from several times a week to even multiple times a day. 

That may sound time-consuming, but there’s no getting around it; unlike other platforms, TikTok rewards users that post more, by showing each of your videos to different audiences every time you post. 

And, consistency is really important; you could have videos with 20 million views, but if you stop posting new content, you’ll disappear into the TikTok abyss. 

That said, TikTok invites a positive change from other social media platforms, in that anyone can reach new audiences without a lot of effort. Woody Mabbott would post videos of himself and his friends at lunchtime in school as a joke – and he now has nearly 900,000 followers. His first video alone got 2.5 million views, and he was able to ride the momentum to grow his following. 

Although TikTok has played around with advertising for the last year or so, they currently don’t have an official advertising program. And, what they do have in place is probably over budget for most small businesses just starting out (campaigns start a minimum of $500).

 If your primary audience is over the age of 30, you’ll probably want to focus more on creating organic content anyway, so that you don’t waste money advertising to a demographic that won’t be interested in what your business has to offer. 

However, you may want to consider teaming up with influencers, i.e. popular TikTok creators who can promote your brand and get it in front of a wide audience. Campaigns like this can include asking them to give a tutorial, giving multiple influencers your product to do something original with, creating original music that influencers can feature in their content, start a challenge related to your niche; the list goes on. 

Above all else, it’s important to create videos that are relatable. The TikTok user base is looking for personalities they can identify with, and your brand could be one of those personalities if you consistently post content that resonates with your audience.  

On that note:

Which Types of Videos Work on TikTok?

Although the platform celebrates and encourages creative freedom, there are a few types of videos that are quick to gain popularity: 

Dance videos

…or really, any videos involving movement. There are a lot of dance challenges set to popular songs that quickly gain traction on the platform, partly because of how easy it is to share amateur videos and get others involved. In fact, one of the most well-known TikTok videos ever was a short dance challenge choreographed by “Keke” Wilson to Megan Thee Stallion’s song Savage. The video went so viral that celebrities like Justin Bieber and the artist herself shared their own versions of the dance. You can watch the original video here:

Hashtag challenges

Trending hashtag challenges aren’t new (anyone remember the 2017 #icebucketchallenge to raise awareness for ALS?), but they’re a good starting point if you want to break in to the TikTok scene. To find the challenges that are currently popular, use the Discover feature that we spoke about earlier to see which hashtags people are using the most. You can use them to begin creating your own content and join in on the challenges that are relevant to your brand. 

TikTok also uses challenges to raise awareness about important issues, like the #safehands challenge they created together with the WHO in order to promote good hygiene during COVID-19. The hashtag has over 5 billion views, just to give you an idea of how powerful these challenges can be.

Skits

Do you remember Vine? It was a short-form video social network that was discontinued in 2016. They featured funny, lighthearted videos like pranks and skits, and a lot of their most popular creators moved over to TikTok after Vine closed down. Today, the hashtag #comedyskits alone currently has over 106 million views on TikTok. 

Lip-syncing

Like I mentioned earlier, lip-syncing videos were a huge part of the Musical.ly platform before it joined forces with ByteDance, and their popularity only continued on the new network. Because of the TikTok “sounds” feature, it’s really easy for anyone to add bits of a famous speech or popular song and give it your best performance. (You’ll get more points the funnier it is!) 

It seems like anything goes on TikTok, right? Not quite. Just like there’s content that works particularly well with the TikTok audience, there is also the potential for faux pas – like in any “social” setting. 

Which Types of Videos Should You Avoid?

Before you jump in to creating your own content, here are a few video ideas that may hurt your brand more than they help. 

Jumping on trends

This isn’t an absolute no, but be very cautious before trying to incorporate a trend into your branded videos. The teens on TikTok are sensitive to brands trying to encroach on TikTok territory, and using trends in order to gain visibility is often seen as trying too hard. Hashtag challenges aside, try to upload videos that connect to your brand in an authentic and genuine way. 

Too much polish

Unlike with Facebook and YouTube (and Instagram, if we’re being honest), TikTok videos don’t need to be over-edited. In fact, the more natural and DIY-like the videos, the better! 

Improper formats

Above all, stay vertical! Videos that aren’t the standard 9:16 vertical format – or under the 15/60 second time limit – aren’t going to get traction. 

Over to You

That wasn’t so scary, was it? Now that you know what TikTok is and how to use it, could you see yourself creating content that would resonate with your audience? Let us know in the comments!