April 30th, 2021

5 Minutes To: TikTok

TikTok is widely regarded as the app of choice for Gen Z, but what makes it so popular? And is it possible to create a marketing strategy that suits TikTok, its users, and your brand?


Let’s Start Small: What is Tiktok?

TikTok is a social media platform that falls somewhere between Instagram and YouTube. It hosts short form content (videos up to a minute long) that can be shared publicly to the entire platform, or privately to your followers. It’s main draw (and what I personally use the most) is the ‘For You Page’ (FYP). The FYP is similar to Instagram’s Discover page, the algorithm curates a feed of videos for you to watch. Often the videos are tagged with #FYP in order to boost the chances of making it to the For You Page, however as you spend time on the platform the algorithm picks up on the content you interact with and shapes your viewing experience.

Through the algorithm, many subcultures are born and nurtured. To start with, the platform is divided into two main categories: ‘Straight TikTok’ and ‘Alt TikTok’. Unlike the names suggest they aren’t divided by sexuality, but rather defined by their ideals and interests, and so nurture different subcultures within them. Whilst ‘straight TikTok’ is more focused on mainstream trends, ‘Alt TikTok’ or ‘Gay TikTok’ is defined more by its rejection of ‘normal’. “[It’s] not that everybody's gay, but everybody's a little different", said viral TikToker, Una Smoole in an interview for Mashable

Another important aspect of TikTok is the ‘Sounds’ that are used. These are soundbites that can be up to a minute long and feature anything from pop songs to a recording of someone snoring. These can be uploaded individually as a ‘Sound’ or shared from a video as ‘Original Audio’. It cannot be understated how important sounds are to TikTok: its entire offering is video content, naturally, this would be nothing without the accompanying audio. Sounds are the main way that trends are born and shared. Audio that goes viral can be used millions of times, garnering billions of views, and it’s even having an effect on traditional music charts; ‘Driver’s License’ by Olivia Rodrigo gained most of its popularity when the sound went viral on TikTok, it went on to spend 10 weeks at the top of Spotify’s most streamed music ranking. The impact of TikTok on other digital platforms is increasingly significant, it can be used to measure the changing priorities of young people and can easily map trends and social movements.

Why is it Relevant?

TikTok is the platform of choice for Gen Z, and increasingly, Millennials. The content being produced feels joyful (for the most part) and rejects the overly-curated, almost museum-like quality that Instagram can have. TikTok is diverse, socially engaged and most of all, it’s fun. With millions of people downloading it from the app store every month, it’s here to stay, and whilst it may not currently have the highest number of users, it was the most downloaded app of 2020.



Marketeers be warned, the nature of TikTok means that it is difficult for big brands to sell on the platform. It all boils down to the idea that people want to feel like they matter. For example, small businesses often use specific sounds that allow them to show off their products but the draw of these is that they are typically 1-5 person businesses selling directly to their customers. By supporting these businesses, customers can see the product, contact the seller directly, and enjoy the benefit of supporting a small business, and in doing so, also ensure a lower environmental impact. 

The algorithm allows these small businesses to reach people who will like their products. You’re into historical costumes? Buy some stays from a one-woman business! Maybe you prefer interior design – someone will show off their living room with links to their favourite pieces of decor, and the next thing you know, you're the proud owner of a Mid-century Modern lamp.

Increasingly, large companies are trying to infiltrate the app. Some do it well by appealing to the Dada-ist sense of humour (satirical and nonsensical) that stems from its predominantly Gen Z audience. Others try to apply traditional digital marketing strategies to an app that doesn’t work on the same principles as its forebears. This results in clunky product placements and brand activations that miss the mark, typically due to companies trying to jump on the TikTok trend without any knowledge of the app itself. Think, “My boss heard about TikTok from their child and asked me to create an account”. 

This is not to say that creating a TikTok won’t work for your brand, but when it comes to marketing, and in particular social media marketing, relevancy is everything. 


Where to Start

When deciding whether or not to start a TikTok there are certain things to consider:

  • Do Your Research - Spend some time getting to know the platform and the kind of content that succeeds. Look at how the audience interacts with creators, and really get to grips with this new way of communicating.

  • Understand Your Audience - Who are you trying to reach? This is where creating really good buyer personas can help you get ahead, as you’re able to target and tailor your offering to your ideal audience. Want to know more about creating effective buyer personas? Read our blog post  here.

  • Start Small - Match a single product or service to each of your buyer personas and create content ideas around that. TikTok is less forgiving than other social platforms, so getting it right is key!

  • Create an Attractive TikTok - This may seem obvious, but creating an attractive, easily understandable piece of content will serve you better. People are much more likely to watch an aesthetically pleasing video with a clear message – don’t overcomplicate it.

  • Pick Your Trends Carefully - Interacting with popular trends and sounds on the app is a great way to boost viewership and interactions, but only if they make sense for your brand. Understand which trends are going to work for your brand, because if you really have to force a connection, or search for how to make it work, then it probably won’t make sense to your audience.

  • Consider Product Placements - Perhaps starting your own account isn’t the right route to go – instead, think about collaborating with established TikTokers. I will caveat this by saying that relevancy is important for this to work, for example, a furniture brand collaborating with a home makeover channel makes sense, but sending out products to seemingly random channels is a surefire way to become a punchline. 

  • Have Fun With It - We can sometimes forget that the main draw of social media is to have fun and interact with people. Exploration and experimentation are often overlooked in favour of pushing your own agenda, which in turn, can come across as tone-deaf or pushy. Take time to understand and enjoy TikTok.


Who is Doing this Well?



The first company that comes to mind when talking about brands that have seamlessly integrated themselves into the TikTok community is RyanAir. Now, I know what you’re thinking: how does a cheap, Irish airline appeal to millions of people without talking about their prices? The answer is this: RyanAir have created a strong brand presence that strikes the right balance of surreal and youthful, on purpose. 




They understand that they aren’t going for a hard sell. Instead, they are focussed on having fun with their viewers and taking part in (relevant) TikTok trends. Their audience even regularly comment on how the person responsible for creating their TikTok content deserves a raise. 





This is an interesting type of popularity, as unlike RyanAir, they are not known for their videos, but rather for commenting on TikToks created by regular users discussing their dating lives. Whilst they don’t have a significant following on their channel, they have perfected commenting on popular TikToks, which arguably gives them a greater reach than they might otherwise have. Their main goal is brand awareness through relevant interactions. 


What do these brands have in common that helps them to thrive on this platform? In a word, authenticity. Despite selling different products to different audiences, in different ways, these brands are often acknowledged for creating entertaining outputs, through a combination of viewer interaction, and consistency in uploading content, both things that are common in traditional digital marketing strategies. The real difference is that they interact with their audience without trying to hard-sell to them. This type of inbound marketing is proven to generate interest and goodwill. 

A sense of goodwill towards a brand can go a long way. Surveys have shown that in 2020, the things that people most valued in a brand were authenticity as well as social and economic responsibility. Doing good is good for business, and upholding good socio-economic values appeals to consumers. 

It’s worth mentioning that popularity on one social media platform doesn’t mean that this will translate to another. This is a result of many factors including, demographic, content, and relevancy. Cross-posting doesn’t typically work well, due to some changes that Instagram made to their algorithm deprioritising reels that weren’t made specifically for their platform. We’ve found that one size doesn’t fit all and a key way of fostering positive interactions on social platforms is to treat them like siblings. They may have the same parent, but they have their own personalities (content) and friends (followers). 


So, Is TikTok the right platform for your business?

The answer is… It could be? Marketing on TikTok is more than skin deep, it requires thoughtful, consistent, and relevant upkeep which can certainly be a bit of a commitment. Ask yourself why you want to be on the platform - does it align with your goals, your target audience, or even your budget. Sure, uploading is free, but your employees’ time isn’t. It all depends on what you want to achieve.


Get in touch with us if you have any questions or like to find out more about social media marketing.