So here is the TLDR version if you have to go: Tiktok is a new kid in town that quickly rises to stardom. Recently hit 3B downloads, making it the 5th non-game, non-Facebook app to cross the threshold. Spans over 200 countries. Audiences who're twice the age of the so-called target demographic (the kids and teens) are also jumping on the bandwagon. Think 40-year-old + men and women. Marketers are rushing to profit from it. There is a pretty eerie reason behind why Tiktok is so addictive, and why anyone (including SMEs) can gain huge traction there. Without a deep wallet. It’s inescapable now, so read on if you don’t wanna miss the deal, before the market is saturated!
Let’s first talk about small businesses. Ecommerce to be exact. The Chinese version of the app (Douyin) already got in-app shopping experience integrated, hosting a whopping $26B worth of sales of makeup, clothing, and other goods in 2020 alone (that equals GDP of Iceland!).
We don’t know yet what Bytedance is up to with TikTok’s e-commerce but it’s safe to assume that it’s in their vision. Last year they teamed up with Shopify.
Big reason to care
Let’s see how some small biz are doing on TikTok:
- This is a Nail shop with 800k+ followers and 40M views, out of genuine “watch me do my nails” shoots, nail tutorials or even customers’ breakup stories (trust me it got the most views)
- This guy, a glorified trashman, nailed 40 million views for his video shooting his cleaning process, for a house whose owner smokes for 20 years. And he even got on TV. He works for a cleaning company.
- This shop sells water bottles, and got millions of likes just by turning the look and sound of the packing process into an ASMR video experience.
Want more? Go to TikTok’s discover page. That’s where I found them, after all.
Wondering why they’re so viral and got discovered? Glad you asked before you commit to the TikTok ads journey.
Don’t play by the rules
It’s not just all about crazy dance and lip-sync viral.
Wait, isn’t it what the platform is known for?
Yes, it is, but TikTok is also all about new, unexpected or bizarre things. New stuff is in fact a matter of life or death when it comes to TikTok ability to keep users stay. And stay for hours on end.
Anyone, anything can go viral here in TikTok house. From the above-mentioned examples to the construction guy with great before-after project video, electrical guy who sings good songs, the cat's slow motion, to the chef who makes music videos out of chopping sound, to the bubble effect that allows users to add them to convey dogs’ thoughts.
Remember the shiny, well touched-up photos on Instagram or the heavily edited long video on Youtube? Those are long gone on TikTok. Here you don’t have to wear suits to discuss things that matter.
In the end, this is a VUCA world where everyone is overloaded with info and too bored with everything too conventional. No wonder why they let TikTok shift them away from the beaten path.
If you look hard enough, the small brands went viral without checking any of these boxes:
- Staffed to make shiny after-effect kinda marketing videos
- Have a deep pocket
- Wear suits
But if you look harder, 2 content patterns emerge among them:
- A potential wow factor somewhere in their products and/or content
- Staying true to self and being light-hearted
- Not so many filters
TikTok champions creativity, not hierarchy. That’s good news for you
On TikTok, no one is king forever. Your glorious past doesn’t define or guarantee your future visibility. In TikTok’s own words:
“Neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system”
Why is this then? Well, you’ll have to look at TikTok's self-stated mission to gain a bit more context. It claims its ultimate guiding star is the long to inspire creativity and bring joy.
“We're building a global community where you can create and share authentically, discover the world, and connect with others”.
It then went on to ensure that users will find content tailored only for them as individuals, on the For You Page (FYP).
So you can at least rest assured that as long as you remain creative, or rather wild, and relevant to your target audience, TikTok will find an audience pool for you. With its so-called magic algorithm. But more on that later.
So does that mean you just go wild and wait for the magic to push you on FYP? That could be possible but so often luck is not on your side.
So, we have to play a bit strategically here.
No, we weren’t contradicting ourselves. Just like any other platform, you gotta be on the lookout for the basic ins and outs for your content to fit. You can’t just force a filtered image, or a 20-min video to a sound-on, short video platform anyway.
Here are some secret sauce (that’s already widely known) to nail your TikTok video in case you’ve missed it
- Keep it short, ideally 9-13s. For longer videos like 30s or 1 min, you’ll have to gain better completion percentages for them to be considered on the FYP. But you might want to stay short. The average attention span of Gen Zers is no longer than that of a jellyfish (8s) so if you are lengthy, they’ll be distracted anyway. It’s not your fault.
- Keep your very first seconds hooked. You have to make it seducing enough for them to keep watching past the 9s threshold. Otherwise, that tells TikTok that no one is loving your content that much.
- Stay away from the blind spot. So first you should format your video in 9x16 vertical, and steer your important message clear from all the space that’s reserved for comment, share buttons and the likes.
- Soundtrack matters big time. Because sound waves are easily detectable, while with image frames it is not so. This guy found that stitching your video with viral video, sound or dueting what’s already successful also sometimes pushes you on the FYP.
How does the TikTok FYP work?
Now comes the most fun, and a bit scary part.
TikTok calls its algorithm magic. The FYP is tailored to that particular individual liking. If you’ve been binge-watching for a while, you’ll know the eerie feeling that it’s a bit too accurate.
As curiosity amounts, the Wall Street Journal jumped in recently with an investigation. With dozens of automated accounts, WSJ made them watch hundreds of thousands of videos on TikTok FYP.
The result: TikTok was able to learn and tailor content to the bots’ unexpressed interests in less than 2 hours.
How? Let’s look at a 24 y-o bot from Kentucky who was onboard. WSJ called it Kentucky 96. Right off the bat, TikTok served this guy a wide range of videos (to learn wide, and narrow down later). Those included religion, dances, sadness, forest, astrology, etc.
In video 15, the bot pretended to linger on a sad video and rewatched it twice.
9 scrolls later, TikTok serves it another sad video, on break up. In the meantime, it is still trying to figure out whether the user likes other vibes like funny, failure, prank, etc. by instilling high-view-count videos here and there. At video 57, TikTok still serves another heartbreak, then at 60th, it's about emotional pain. The bot lingered once more. Then TikTok responds with others about love, breakups, and dating to see whether the bot's interest was in a relationship. The bot doesn’t. So at video 80, it serves one about mental health!
So what’s the key takeaway?
If you can imagine a tree of knowledge, Tiktok first goes from the trunk, then it gets better at understanding you to bring you to the tiniest branches. At the same time, it never forgets to nudge you with a bit of newness and excitement. This is creativity at its core, when randomness plays a huge role. All too often, businesses are so quick to get in shape, follow the structure. But the more you play safe, the more easily forgotten you are.
It’s not just WSJ, this guy also found that for every terrifying video there’s a lovely cute video right around the corner so TikTok can learn what you like and don’t like.
User engagement is everything
Even the likes, comments and follows are claimed to play some role in higher visibility, it’s the amount of time a user lingers over a piece of content that matters most. Every second you hesitate or rewatch or scroll past, the app knows. This combined with the video’s description, hashtag, audio track is part of the secret TikTok is guarding to best retain their users’ eyeballs.
So focus on making content that counts! On TikTok, a little surprise can make great delight. If you keep users hooked, TikTok will reward you with higher visibility.
Once you’re there, well-prepared, got some audience, or some purchases, you’ll have to let your pixel learn about your audience, who already bought your stuff. So you can scale up. In case you might need help with adding the pixel code, hop over to this tool which offers a copy-and-paste experience. You don’t have to worry about touching your theme ever again to set up your pixel.
It’s never easy to learn the ropes of a new platform, but if you want to start sending orders all over the world, you’ll surely want to try TikTok, test, analyze and optimize. After all, Google is getting way better at solving queries but still has to wait for users to type in keywords. TikTok doesn’t need anything and is still able to tantalize content-hungry minds.