The Ultimate Guide to TikTok Marketing

tiktok marketing

Just as many small businesses have gotten the hang of social media marketing comes a new platform to consider. TikTok, a video-driven app that allows users to share short clips with others, has become the fastest growing social media platform in the world. And in short order, too. This has companies trying to figure out how best to engage in TikTok marketing, helping them get in front of new customers in ways that stand out from the usual Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn strategies.

TikTok marketing poses a unique challenge for most businesses. The app only began supporting native advertising in January 2019, meaning that the true power of advertising on the platform still has a ways to go before its efficacy can be determined. On the other hand, the platform now has more than one billion users worldwide and has been downloaded 123 million times in the United States. There’s a critical mass out there in terms of users, and plenty of prospective customers to engage through well-developed marketing strategies.

As incumbent social media platforms make room for TikTok to rise to their ranks, there are plentiful opportunities for small businesses to explore in terms of staking their claim and marketing within the app. We’ll help break down what TikTok is, who its core users are, and provide some marketing tactics to think about when using TikTok for business to expand your brand’s social media presence.

What Is TikTok?

TikTok began as a Chinese social media application—known domestically as Douyin—in 2016. The app was designed to let people share bite-sized videos to followers and the general user base, with a large percentage of uploads consisting of lip-synced and choreographed clips. Other uses included stunts, pranks, and how-to DIY videos as well. 

The app enjoyed success in the Chinese market but did not become a global player in the social media market until its parent company acquired Musical.ly, another popular app that shared significant overlap in terms of its use and audience. After the acquisition, TikTok migrated all Musical.ly accounts to their platform, helping to grow its international user base overnight. 

The global growth of TikTok led to a wider variety of content becoming popular on the platform. Instead of merely focusing on dance-heavy lip-syncing videos, TikTok now hosts a variety of 15-second videos. Popular content includes stand-up comedy, sports stunts and tricks, as well as crafting and makeup tutorials to name only a handful of categories.

Who Uses TikTok?

The user base for TikTok has expanded to a wide age range since it gained popularity globally. That said, the platform still tends to skew toward younger users—typically teenagers and people in their early 20s. A staggering 90% of users aged 16 to 24 reported that they open the app at least once per day. The most popular content producers create videos that are appealing to a wide range of users, often irrespective of age. Recent research shows that 44% of TikTok’s users are female, compared to 56% being male. 

TikTok is responsible for creating viral sensations, memes, and even chart-topping hits. The app has helped catapult rappers and artists into the national spotlight, while viral challenges have gone on to incorporate actors and celebrities to try their hand at everything from kicking the caps off of bottles to viral dances. 

Now, major brands are also getting into the TikTok business, cultivating accounts that keep up with platform trends and general cultural phenomena. The NBA was an early TikTok adopter and now has 9.9 million followers for their channel, which focuses on micro-highlights from recent games and lighthearted takes on internet culture. Chipotle is also a standout in terms of brands that have gotten their TikTok presence nailed down, featuring funny takes on their marketing and brand persona that fits the general environment of the app and its users.

How to Develop a TikTok Marketing Strategy

With big and small brands jumping onto TikTok every day, there might be a ton of upside for your business getting on board, as well. Whether you’re new to social media marketing for small businesses or consider yourself a social media maven, there is plenty to learn about TikTok’s unique quirks that can help you get followers and results.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to use TikTok for business, including account setup all the way through marketing tactics to make your account further your brand. 

Start a TikTok Account for Your Business

Unlike Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, there’s no specific designation for businesses on the TikTok platform. This makes it easier for businesses to open an account and start posting without the need for additional information or verification. 

To create a TikTok account, all you’ll need is a phone number and a mobile phone. If your business already has a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter account, you can use one of these to create a TikTok account as well. Bear in mind that TikTok will have some access to your other social media credentials to verify your account (but can’t log in or post on your accounts), so you may want to create an account through a phone number if privacy is a concern. From there, you’ll go through the same steps as you would for any other social media account, such as picking out a username, profile picture, and bio.

Once your account has been set up, you’ll want to start creating content in short order. TikTok offers robust video editing tools that make it easy to create content quickly and easily. These tools allow users to shorten clips, add filters, and change the playback speed to accommodate the platform’s 15-second time limit. You can also comment on other videos as well if you like, which can be a useful strategy for building brand awareness (more on that later). 

Learn From Past Social Media Successes

Unlike other social media platforms that allow you to post a variety of content, TikTok is all about short and interesting videos. This can be a benefit for business account owners, as they don’t have to worry about creating a steady variety of content and can focus exclusively on compelling video clips. 

The downside of this, however, is that the stakes are higher in terms of the quality and creativity required to make the most of your efforts. The trick to creating an effective TikTok marketing strategy, therefore, comes down to a few must-have components: well-produced videos, interesting themes and concepts, and a savvy understanding of what’s trending on the platform. Plus, you’ll need to figure out what works for your business as well, as not all viral sensations make for interesting content for every business.

The best way to create a TikTok marketing strategy that works for your company is to first look inward: Determine who your core consumers are, considering their age and interests first and foremost. You’ll want your TikTok content to reflect the likes, dislikes, and interests of these users as they’ll be more likely to engage with your content and brand. 

Next, dive into analytics from your other social media accounts. See if there are any specific themes that performed well, posts that stand out in terms of popularity, or other signifiers that might give you a clearer idea of what your audience wants to see. This can help you as you begin to suss out what works for your business on TikTok.  

Invest in Your Brand Presence

Even though apps like TikTok and others rely on user-generated content to propel their popularity, brands and companies on social media are often held to a higher standard in terms of production value. To truly shine on TikTok, you’ll want to do more than point and shoot with a mobile phone.

If you already have a marketing or design team in your company, be sure to consult them before and during your efforts on social media. They should be empowered to create high-quality and engaging content, as this will help your account appear consistent with your other marketing and branding efforts. If you don’t have in-house marketing support, consider bringing on social media experts to help get your account and strategy in shape.

Understand the Role of Influencers (and How to Use Them)

Many business owners have at least a tangential understanding of what social media influencers are and what they do. In short, influencers are third-party spokespeople who will talk about your brand or its products on their social media accounts. These people can help broaden your audience, either by creating a demand for your products or by drawing attention to your company’s social media accounts. 

Not every business needs (or even benefits from) influencer marketing, however. The benefits of influencer marketing aren’t statistically proven, and may end up costing more than a business might make up in sales or profit driven from social media mavens hawking their products. If you run a product-based business, you may see more benefit through influencer marketing than you would if you provide professional services. 

Look toward competitors in the space to see if they’re getting mentioned by popular accounts—especially if those accounts often mention other products in their posts. This is a sure sign that they’re investing in influencer marketing. Before copying their tactics, see what kind of comments, likes, and shares these posts receive on average. If there’s not a ton of engagement, you may want to consider better alternatives (such as direct social media marketing).

The Final Word

Using TikTok for business can be a unique way to spread the word about your brand, so long as it’s the right fit for your company and your customers. As with any social media account, you’ll have to make sure you have the bandwidth (be it personally or in terms of personnel) to keep a steady posting schedule. 

Plus, you’ll want to make sure you earmark the time and resources needed in order to do it right: High-quality productions and unique content will make all the difference. With these crucial components in hand, you can take advantage of TikTok marketing to grow your business and boost your presence in front of new clients.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O’Connor is a contributing writer for Fundera.

Brian writes about finance, business strategy, and digital marketing. He is the former director of digital strategy at Morgan Stanley, and has worked at Foreign Affairs magazine, Student Loan Hero, and as a partner of a small consulting firm, too. Combined, these experiences allow him to offer a unique perspective on the challenges small business owners face.

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