As TikTok's popularity continues to soar and its focus shifts from silly dance moves to civil rights, we checked in with Laura Russell, director of strategy at digital agency Adlucent, about how brands should be approaching the app.
Social Media Insider: How should TikTok fit into a brand’s marketing strategy, and its social strategy specifically?
Laura Russell: Brands should understand the platform and adapt their voices accordingly. The content that will resonate well on TikTok is different than that of YouTube, which is different than that of Facebook, and so on. If the brand does not feel they can stay on-brand and true to themselves while adapting to TikTok’s content style, it may not be the best platform for them at the moment.
Before diving in, a brand should ensure they have the time and resources to dedicate to running the platform properly, creating fresh content, and engaging with followers.
I’d recommend also taking a test-and-learn approach. TikTok is a newer platform and is still growing and evolving rapidly. Brands shouldn’t expect to master it with one concrete marketing plan immediately, but instead, be adaptable and iterative as they see what works.
Brands should determine ahead of time what they’re trying to get out of it and why they want to adopt TikTok. What are the goals and KPIs, and how will they measure success and justify continuing to invest resources into it?
SMI: What sets it apart from other platforms?
Russell: TikTok’s focus is social entertainment, with the primary activity being the creation or consumption of short videos. The makeup of the content is typically selfie-style, fun, and light-hearted, designed for sound-on with innovative ways to reuse other users’ sound or add music. It encourages hidden talents, humor, and positivity in a liberating and non-competitive environment while fostering connection through content trends like lip-syncing and dance routines.
SMI: How does buying ads on the platform differ from that of other social platforms?
Russell: As a newer platform, TikTok offers IO-based CPM buying. Self-serve ads with CPC-based buying are still in beta and being rolled out. Most advertisers work with TikTok directly to place ads and should not expect the same level of flexibility and reporting detail they would get from a more mature advertising platform like Facebook. Basic metrics like impressions and views are available, with options for brand lift studies and store visits tracking.
Other TikTok paid features are also available, such as branded hashtag challenges and lenses.
SMI: What about pricing, specifically?
Russell: CPMs for TikTok are higher than other social video platforms ($10 on average).
SMI: What about target audiences on the platform?
Russell: TikTok doesn’t offer as much granularity in audience targeting options as more established social platforms do. TikTok offers geo, age, gender, OS, device type, and high-level interest only, versus Facebook and Pinterest that have a plethora of behaviors and interests available, as well as retargeting and options for custom audiences. The audience is also more concentrated on under-34-year-olds, although other age groups are growing rapidly.
SMI: How should brands be thinking about campaign goals?
Russell: Brands should be comfortable using TikTok to drive upper-funnel efforts and measuring success based on views and engagement only. Marketers should set expectations throughout the different levels of stakeholders in their organization as such.
SMI: What about creative on TikTok?
Russell: TikTok doesn’t have as much flexibility in ad formats and creative, offering vertical video with sound-on as the only option. Using other sponsorships like branded hashtag challenges or activating influencers are probably more authentic and less invasive ways for brands to reach target audiences.
SMI: Can you talk a little about bundle deals as an opportunity for brands?
Russell: The biggest opportunity I see for any type of bundle deal with TikTok is to work with an influencer to reach their audiences across all of their social platforms. Many TikTok creators are also avid YouTube and Instagram creators, so this would help a brand get a wider reach and more touchpoints with target audiences.
SMI: In the wider world of social marketing, what would you say to a brand that’s not yet convinced TikTok is worthy of special consideration?
Russell: I would tell a brand to download it, play around with it, and experience the platform before deciding to invest resources or create a strategy around it. Watch what your competitors are doing there, and also see what your audiences and target markets are doing. If you’re not ready to give it serious consideration from a content or advertising point of view, you can still use it for social listening to understand consumers better.
SMI: As TikTok becomes a preferred platform for serious civil rights issues, how should brands respond to the fact that it’s no longer solely a platform for silly dance moves?
Russell: As TikTok evolves, I expect to see its breadth of content and focus widen and for it to be used in more ways. That being said, brands should evolve their content to remain on-brand (ex: taking a stance on a political or social cause) while staying attuned to the current issues facing society and keeping the content authentic to the platform.
SMI: In what ways will the platform continue to transform over the next year or two, and what does that mean for brands?
Russell: I expect TikTok to widen its focus into varying types of content, as well as evolve their paid advertising offerings to be more scalable and direct-response-focused.
Brands will need to continue to transform with TikTok as it grows. Brands should make sure they have the proper resources dedicated to managing TikTok and testing new content and approaches. They should be willing to be adaptable, creative, and innovative as they create and test new content.
TikTok influencers will continue to rise as well. Currently, the majority of influencers on TikTok started as Instagram influencers or YouTubers. I expect TikTok native influencers to emerge, giving brands a larger opportunity to activate this network in an authentic and engaging way.