These days, it feels like TikTok is all everyone who’s anyone in the influencer marketing space is talking about. And given the rapidly growing platform’s massive, young network of users—many of whom are not active on other social channels—and reputation for producing overnight stardom, it’s no surprise: TikTok is a treasure trove of opportunities for marketers, particularly those eager to reach Gen Z consumers.
However, many brands are still struggling to make their voices heard on the platform, due in part to its unique short-form video format and elusive algorithm. If you’re considering dipping your toes into TikTok influencer marketing, but unsure of where to start, or seeking to level up your brand’s existing TikTok strategy, here are a few winning tactics you can put into play.
Treat TikTok as your content test kitchen
Brands are always curious to know the “secret” to beating TikTok’s seemingly unpredictable algorithm. The answer? Because the platform prioritizes content that organically resonates with its users, there’s no way to game your way to the top. Instead, successful brands approach TikTok with a learn-as-you-go mentality, consistently testing out new ideas and iterating on those that spark influencer enthusiasm.
For example, E.L.F., which emerged as an early powerhouse on the platform thanks to its viral “Eyes Lips Face” song, continued to drive conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing a variation of the tune, “Eyes Lips Face Safe,” promoting hand hygiene and other safety-focused best practices. By building off its previous successes, E.L.F. remained top-of-mind for TikTokers at a challenging moment for many brands: to date, posts tagged #EyesLipsFace have received 6.6B views, while content tagged #EyesLipsFaceSafe has garnered 34k views.
TikTok’s mission statement is to “inspire creativity and bring joy” to its users, and this lighthearted ethos is the backbone of top-performing content on the platform. From fast-casual Mexican restaurant (and TikTok juggernaut) Chipotle’s #ChipotleLidFlip challenge, which prompted friendly competition (and 315.8M views across tagged content to date) around a simple and comically random task—flipping the lid of a burrito bowl—to the energetic dance videos driving content creation for apparel labels like Aerie and Fashion Nova, high-impact conversation about brands overwhelmingly sparks positivity and laughter. Instead of replicating the often more serious, aspirational aesthetic that excels on Instagram, brands seeking to build a presence on TikTok should champion everyday fun.
Make a splash with sound
More so than posts on other platforms, TikTok content relies on distinctive sound snippets, such as humorous phrases and stick-in-your head songs, to capture consumers’ attention. When planning campaigns, savvy brands keep this in mind by uniting influencer content around not only a hashtag, but also a memorable sound byte. Maybelline, for example, has benefited from the success of its #MaybeItsMaybelline campaign: content associated with the initiative, which invited TikTok stars including Avani Gregg (@avani) to share makeup transformations set to the iconic melody, has inspired 2.1B views.
More recently, Garnier teamed up with DJ Teesh on the song “Micellar Rewind” as part of its hit #MicellarRewind (1.5B views) campaign. The catchy tune proved an apt soundtrack for the activation, which challenged influencers to share rewound videos of themselves using the brand’s hero Micellar Cleansing Water to remove full-face looks—creating the illusion that they were applying makeup with the cleanser. By prioritizing the sonic, as well as visual, aspects of content, these brands took full advantage of the platform’s format, and holistically connected with users.
While collaboration—both between brands and content creators, and among content creators—is an integral part of influencer marketing on every social channel, its impact is especially pronounced on TikTok. This stems partly from the platform’s Duet feature: Duet allows a creator to repost another user’s video while reacting to it in real time, making public dialogue between influencers a key part of TikTok’s content ecosystem.
The centrality of partnerships to the platform’s success is evident in the rise of TikTok houses, typically Los Angeles mansions where a group of influencers live and work together. These content hubs not only serve as significant career accelerators for creators, but also furnish brands with impactful partnership opportunities. Fenty Beauty, for example, owes its relevance on the platform largely to the #FentyBeautyHouse, a branded space for makeup and skincare gurus to collaboratively hone their artistry while promoting Fenty Beauty. Thanks to the mutually empowering initiative, posts mentioning the house have won 95.8M views to date.
While buying an influencer mansion won’t fit into most marketing budgets, brands have also inspired viral excitement by teaming up with popular creators on ongoing brand initiatives. In August, E.L.F. tapped TikTok royalty Madi Monroe (@madi), Seth O’Brien (@sethobrien) and Avani to serve as “coaches” on “Eyes. Lips. Famous,” a first-of-its kind TikTok reality show in which three lucky smaller-scale influencers vie for stardom. Both the competition to enter, and the show itself, sparked a flurry of activity: content mentioning #EyesLipsFamous has received $38.5M views.
Keep owned content authentic
Because conversation between users is so foundational to TikTok’s appeal, brands that win on the platform tend to boast active owned accounts. But when top brands talk on TikTok, don’t expect the highly curated model portraits and product shots characteristic of corporate Instagram feeds. Instead, the most viral posts from brands reveal the real people behind a business, quirks and all.
Earlier this year, Benefit Cosmetics—which boasts 152.2k followers on the platform—engaged its audience with a mock Zoom conference in which team members embodied various WFH tropes, such as “the one that’s snacking,” and “the loud typer.” By ditching glamorous filters in favour of real, human fun, the brand both entertained and meaningfully connected with its fans: the TikTok earned 14.8k views and 1.6k likes.
If its surging popularity is any signal, TikTok isn’t going anywhere anytime soon—and brands would be wise to find their footing early on. Of course, adapting to an entirely new social media channel is never an easy task, but with these tried-and-true strategies in their toolkits, brands are well-equipped to build a passionate family of influencer fans on 2020s (and likely 2021’s) buzziest platform.