5 Ways brands can play to win on TikTok

Contributed by Evan Horowitz, an EO Los Angeles member and a recent guest on EO Wonder podcast. Evan is the CEO and co-founder of Movers+Shakers, a creative agency with a mission to “spread joy by connecting brands to culture.” We asked Evan how brands can leverage the TikTok platform. Here’s what he shared:

There’s no denying that TikTok is one of the fastest-growing and most widely used apps today. In fact, TikTok was the most downloaded and highest grossing non-game app globally in the first half of 2021. What’s exciting for brands is that there isn’t a single right way to approach TikTok, and as TikTok expands its capabilities and offerings, brands enjoy even more options to help them grow online.

Here are five primary ways brands can play on TikTok today.

1. Create your own brand channel

Creating a brand channel is a great way to establish your presence on TikTok. We recognize that creating content for TikTok may seem intimidating at first, since the raw and unpolished nature of the platform is vastly different from the curated and highly polished content brands typically create.

One way to “get into the flow” of TikTok (and grow your brand channel quickly) is to get involved in trends. Every week, new trends blaze through TikTok—music, skits, jokes, dances. The value of joining in is twofold. First, TikTok’s algorithm boosts the exposure of videos participating in what’s trending, giving you a boost in viewership. And second, your brand benefits from the “cool factor” from the trend, showing that you’re tuned in.

Brands that are serious about TikTok post content daily, while others choose to test the water with fewer posts. While most posts may not get a ton of traction, the occasional post can go viral. The more content you post, the greater the chances for it to go viral.

Skeptical about the branding power of TikTok? Read 3 Reasons to Reconsider the Branding Power of TikTok, From a Gen-X Skeptic on EO’s Inc.com platform.

2. Collaborate with TikTok Influencers

Influencers are a key piece to the virality puzzle on TikTok. Running an influencer campaign on TikTok can be very similar to running influencer campaigns on other platforms. One of the biggest differences? Work with TikTok-native creators. They understand how to create specifically for TikTok and generally have a better handle on viral, engaging content. A good starting point for locating creators is TikTok’s Creator Marketplace.

3. Boost your presence with TikTok Ads

The most popular type of ad on TikTok is the “In-Feed Ad,”  which mirrors Snapchat ads or Instagram and Facebook story ads. These in-feed ads run in between organic content on the “For You” page, TikTok’s individualized home page.

TikTok ads are the best way to get started on the platform if you’re performance-driven and focused on lower-funnel marketing, since they allow you to drive users to landing pages or the app store.

High-performing TikTok ads look and feel like organic TikTok content. Great ads abide by popular TikTok storytelling styles, take advantage of popular trends, and include relevant music and sounds. The last thing you want to do is create an ad that screams “AD!”

4. Launch a viral challenge

Viral challenges—what TikTok calls Hashtag Challenges—made TikTok famous. These challenges create the opportunity for unprecedented virality, allowing brands to create a true cultural moment. Top-performing challenges get billions of views and attract millions of users to create videos for the campaign!

That’s what happened with the #eyeslipsface TikTok challenge that our agency created with e.l.f. Cosmetics. The challenge became the most-viral campaign ever created on TikTok US. It generated 5 million video contributions from TikTok users, including celebrities such as Ellen, Lizzo, and Reese Witherspoon, who organically joined in and created videos for the challenge.

Apart from generating massive engagement and exposure on TikTok, e.l.f. Cosmetics earned 1.5 billion media impressions from outlets including Vogue, Rolling Stone, BuzzFeed, AdWeek and Forbes.

As powerful as they are, viral challenges can be tricky to organize and manage. The structure is so different from any other campaign: When have you relied on the general public to craft your ads? You’ll want to design a challenge concept that tees up virality, and music that perfectly coordinates (second-by-second).

5. Invite participation through disruptive activations

Interested in standing out from the pack? Do something disruptive and leverage TikTok’s participatory nature to create a true cultural moment for your brand. Rarely has a platform allowed brands to cut through the clutter and engage consumers so dynamically. There’s a big opportunity to drive audience participation and brand love.

A few of our favorite projects include an open call to the TikTok community to find a Chief TikTok Officer for Nerf and the first-ever TikTok-native reality show with e.l.f. Cosmetics.

If you want more insights or help winning on TikTok, download our TikTok eBook that goes even deeper into these strategies or sign up for one of our TikTok webinars. Happy learning!

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