What is TikTok used for?

TikTok has cemented itself as a key destination to go to for content that entertains, as shown by its two most-used hashtags – #entertainment and #dance.

Other hugely popular categories on the app include pranks, fitness, home renovation, DIY, beauty and skincare, fashion, recipes and cooking, life hacks, advice, and pets.

TikTok is seeing an ever broader range of topics being discussed and covered on its platform including more personal and serious topics such as the following:

  • Healthcare advice. Fertility doctor Lora Shahine and psychologist and physician Dr David Puder have both attracted hundreds of thousands of followers
  • At-home hobbies such as gardening and cooking have seen a rise in popularity on the platform, an example being Garden Marcus in Texas, who has over 650k followers.
  • Sharing information around crimes as in the case of murder victim Gabbie Petito whose car was found due to footage by TikTokers, or the Kentucky girl rescued from an abductor thanks to a distress hand signal she had learned via TikTok.
  • Like any social platforms, there can also be negative activity such as the #couchboy hashtag trend that was used to speculate on a girlfriend surprising her boyfriend in college and his muted reaction.

Content that offers users inspiration, but also authenticity (a growing trend across social media for brands), tends to perform well. Many TikTok users prefer to see raw and truthful angles, unlike on Instagram where the style of most videos and images has evolved to be more perfectly polished, and, some might say, less authentic.

TikTok has launched its own campaign #LearnonTikTok, which categorizes educational content around all kinds of topics, “from life hacks to science tutorials, makeup masterclasses and motivational tips, to quick cooks”.

That hashtag has had over 198 billion views (December 2021) and contains content from the BBC, Cambridge University, and Cosmopolitan Magazine.

How does TikTok work?

TikTok users can discover videos through the use of hashtags and the specific algorithm. When logged into the app, each user views an individually-curated home feed called the For You page. This is the best place to go to discover new content and users to follow.

TikTok places content here which it deems interesting for each individual user, based on signals picked up by its algorithm. The algorithm works on factors such as:

  • Your individual settings; country, language, device
  • Video information: hashtags, captions, sounds, genre
  • User interactions; the types of video you interact with, accounts you follow, who you engage with

Content has a good chance of going viral within TikTok, as the platform selects content it deems both interesting and highly engaging for each unique user, and places that content within the For You page. This is why challenges, pranks, and dance routines spread like wildfire within the app, as it’s fairly easy to gain visibility if you are using a popular hashtag or a trending sound. If you need some guidance, have a look at some of the key attributes of viral videos.

How can marketers use TikTok?

TikTok offers a brilliant opportunity for marketers to reach younger audiences around the globe, in a highly creative and playful environment. Many social media memes begin on TikTok, and brands can boost their credibility by being at the forefront of these cutting-edge trends. TikTok does not require huge budgets for video content creation either, as spontaneous content produced in ordinary surroundings has just as much as a chance of cutting through. Many TikTok videos have been filmed in bedrooms, car parks or gardens.

TikTok provides marketers with a level playing field when it comes to reach and engagement. Unlike social media platforms such as Instagram or YouTube, TikTok accounts with zero followers can get millions of views on a new video thanks to the viral nature of the algorithm. As long as the content appeals to the audience, the engagement will follow.

TikTok experiences higher engagement rates from the app’s followers than other social media platforms (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2019) – so marketers can achieve significant buzz with a carefully-planned campaign using content that appeals to the app’s audience.

There are four key ways that marketers can begin using TikTok:

1. Start a branded channel

Create a branded page and begin experimenting with content types. Content can be created relatively quickly and with no budget. The best thing to do is follow trending hashtags and get involved with the latest memes, and apply them to your brand. Utilize the app’s built-in filters, effects, soundbites, and editing tools to create and share authentic content. The organic reach on TikTok likes is huge, but impactful engagement is only derived if your content truly resonates with your audience and plays to the rules of the platform. Posting your corporate brand messaging here simply won’t work.

2. Collaborate with influencers

A smart way to utilize TikTok is to leverage influencer communities – the stats on influencers leaves no doubt as to how powerful they can be. Influencers who live and breathe TikTok have established highly engaged followings through posting high-quality content which resonates. They understand TikTok and know how to use its tools, features, and trends to their advantage. Brands can approach and collaborate on campaigns which use these influencers’ skills and knowledge. TikTok has its own Creator Marketplace, designed to link up brands and creators.

3. Start a hashtag challenge

Creating a challenge for users to enter provides a great way for brands to start a cultural trend or meme. Top-performing challenges attract millions of users to create videos for the campaign. A great example is the E.l.f cosmetics #eyeslipsface campaign which saw over 4 billion views and 5 million video contributions, and has been stated as the most successful TikTok marketing campaign by AdWeek.

4. Run TikTok advertising

TikTok is one of the most exciting new advertising channels because it has the scale of other platforms such as Instagram, but it’s not yet saturated with advertisers. This means it can be more affordable to generate impressions and clicks.

Marketers can run in-feed adverts, sponsored hashtag challenges, and banner ads within the homepage of the app. As well as targeting age, location, and demographics, advertisers can target people who have viewed similar content to theirs. Advertisers can sign up to TikTok for Business to run self-serve advertising campaigns.

Another social app to keep in mind when trying to connect with a young audience is WhatsApp. The instant messaging app is growing in popularity across the globe and provides great marketing opportunities once it is integrated with Facebook and Instagram.

Who is using TikTok well?

Many marketers are beginning to explore the power of TikTok by running influencer marketing campaigns on the platform. There are countless examples of the fashion industry and beauty brands enlisting the help of influencers to promote and review products, as well as getting involved with particular challenges that have been set by the brands.

1. Chipotle

One brand which has received regular praise for its understanding of TikTok as a platform is the fast casual restaurant brand Chipotle.  In 2019, Chipotle’s GuacDance Challenge, which urged guacamole fans to show off dance moves dedicated to avocados, received 250,000 video submissions and 430 million video starts during a six-day run. It resulted in the brand’s largest amount of guacamole ordered on National Avocado Day.

In 2020, Chipotle launched a new “Chipotle Royalty” challenge giving TIkTok users a chance to win $10,000 by proving why their Chipotle order is the best among more than 4 million possible combinations. The campaign calls for videos to be created with the hashta #ChipotleRoyalty. Chipotle will feature the three winning entries as an official menu item on its app and website for a limited time.

2. Gymshark

Fitness wear brand Gymshark uses ambassadors on TikTok to gain maximum reach. The brand encourages user-generated content from its fans by enlisting their ambassadors to set fitness challenges and dance and fitness routines. This collaborative approach is performing well, as it fits with the communal mindset of Gen Z.

An In-Depth Look at Marketing on TikTok

3. Ryanair

The low cost airline has faced its fair share of difficulties due to Covid, but that didn’t stop the brand from creating some excitement on social media. Ryaniair’s TikTok account does not seem a likely one to get tongues wagging, but its funny and quirky videos have attracted a following of 1.2 million.

Speculated to be run by a popular influencer, Ryanair’s TikTok features a series of videos from the cabin crew’s Point Of View (POV). From a baby crying to the crew being too young or a customer not having enough leg room, it pokes fun at itself and resonates with a Gen Z and millennial audience.

4. BBC Education

British broadcaster, the BBC, is using TikTok to directly engage with school-aged audiences through its BBC Bitesize account. Content about exams, revision, and STEM subjects are covered, with young presenters sharing ideas and useful tips.

5. Duolingo

The language education app Duolingo has 1.4 million followers and like Ryanair is tapping into the younger generation in its videos. Many of its videos feature its bird logo mascot in the office saying and doing hilarious things. It also uses trends to show it has its finger on the pulse such as the POV craze across TikTok. It’s a great example of a brand that’s capitalizing on organic content that surprises and entertains.