TikTok 101: Everything You Need to Know About the App Taking Gen Z By Storm￼
In 2009, TikTok was just a hit song by pop musician Ke$ha. Fast forward just over a decade and TikTok is now a viral video platform that has grasped the entire world’s attention. The short-form video app reminiscent of Vine boasts over 3 billion global installs and over 1 billion monthly active users, surpassing Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.
With 90% of users accessing the app multiple times daily, there is huge potential for brands to capitalize on TikTok’s booming growth, if they harness it in the right way. In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about TikTok, from user demographics and posting times to ad features and examples of brands that are crushing their marketing campaigns on the platform. Let’s get started.
First things first — what is TikTok?
TikTok is the new and improved iteration of the previously popular lip-sync video app, Musical.ly. After Chinese parent company ByteDance acquired Musical.ly in 2017, it rebranded to TikTok to mirror its existing short-form video app, Douyin, which was already making waves in the Chinese market. The company’s move paid off, as TikTok is now the most downloaded app in the world — notably surpassing three of the top five which are owned by Meta (previously Facebook).
How does TikTok work?
While Musical.ly focused solely on lip-sync videos, TikTok’s opportunities for content creation are virtually limitless. On the app, users can film videos on a whole variety of niches, and then choose from a database of audio clips and songs to accompany them. The app is also equipped with countless editing features, such as loops, filters, gifs and enhancements, allowing users to get really creative with the content they produce.
This diverse variety of content is collated in the app’s acclaimed ‘For You’ page (FYP). In this discovery feed, users simply swipe vertically to scroll through an endless stream of curated and personalized content based on the videos they have liked and engaged with in the past (more on that later). Viewers also have the option to tap ‘Following’ on the top left hand corner of the page to see content solely from the accounts they follow or explore TikTok’s entire backlog of videos with the in-page search function.
If users are looking for more of a personal experience in the app, they can switch over to the ‘Friends’ page, which only shows content from people in their close circles. Here they can add new friends, search accounts and react and respond to videos as they would on the FYP.
Additional pages include the account’s ‘Inbox’ – where users can connect to others and chat privately off of the main page – and the profile page, where users can set and update their account name, handle, bio and picture. This is also where brands and creators can upgrade their account to ‘TikTok for Business’ to gain insights on content performance and metrics.
Who’s on TikTok?
The majority of TikTok users are Gen Zers between the ages 16 and 24. This comes as no surprise, as this demographic consumes and shares more videos than any other age group. If your target audience is Gen Z, then TikTok is a must-explore platform.
How long do users spend on TikTok?
TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the app. And while many are on the platform to view other people’s videos, 83% are getting creative and uploading their own content. This is another reason the platform presents such a huge opportunity for marketers. As TikTok has become a top destination for user-generated content, brands who can create honest and relatable content that resonates with their target audience, are opening themselves up to significant growth as a result.
Why is TikTok so popular?
Gaining three billion total downloads and surpassing three of Meta’s social media super-apps is no mean feat. So what steps has TikTok taken to set itself apart from the rest?
The TikTok algorithm
TikTok’s unique algorithm has a lot to say for the app’s meteoric rise. While the algorithms of its competitors prioritize content from accounts you follow, TikTok curates a completely personalized feed based on the interests of each individual user.
The algorithm can also establish links between different videos that users typically interact with. Similar to Amazon’s ‘frequently bought together’, this feature allows the app to make predictions based on what others like you tend to enjoy. Ultimately, the app’s clever AI and machine learning closely watch how you interact with each and every video, to create a quality feed that will keep you hooked for hours.
An aspect of TikTok’s algorithm especially relevant for marketers is that follower count does not influence how the app ranks content, nor does having a high ranking video in the past. Once again veering from the traditional models used by competitor apps, this essentially means that anyone can go viral. This gives all users, including brands, the opportunity for their content to be viewed by billions, provided they tap into that virality potential.
Short-form video content
Another key ingredient of TikTok’s stardom is its success in tuning into the short attention spans of its predominantly Gen Z user base. Upon launch, TikTok videos were limited to just 15 seconds, and while longer video options were introduced in July last year, the app still recommends 21-34 seconds as the optimal length. In fact, one in four of the platform’s top performing videos fall into this category.
Condensing entertainment value into such a small time frame gives far more opportunities for users to achieve a ‘hit’ of dopamine (a key happiness hormone), as every new video is a new opportunity for a laugh, shock or other positive emotion to hold our attention.
This model is often compared to the appeal of slot machines, in that you are always “gambling” for the next stroke to be a win. But as TikTok’s algorithm is constantly working to make your feed as personalized and entertaining as possible, the app’s creators are well and truly hitting the jackpot for attention-span success.
TikTok has fostered a highly engaging and collaborative platform through its fast-moving trends. What started with dance videos, soon moved to countless other areas, such as voice overs, lip syncing and challenges which serve to connect and entertain users.
They are usually centered around a specific audio, be that a song, remix or voiceover, that creators dance, lip sync or act out scenarios to. One of the hottest trends this month is centered around Harry Styles’ new hit single, As It Was. Creators line up different images over the chorus to show how much they have changed over the years, switching to a new picture with every ‘As it was’ lyric.
Another key ingredient of TikTok’s popularity is its vast selection of online communities. From cooking to reading, clay throwing to roller skating, you can guarantee that it will have its own niche on TikTok.
By providing a space for users to view and create content related to their interests and hobbies – and connect and collaborate with those who share them – TikTok communities are yet another feature that have fuelled the app’s impressive success.
Types of TikTok content
TikTok was built on the 15-second video. While there is now an option to upload videos of up to 10 minutes, shorter clips are still the predominant content used on the platform. The most popular videos include lip-syncing, choreography, art, travel, cute animal videos, makeovers and tutorials.
Tiktok Stories are one of the app’s most recent additions. Following the success of stories with competitors such as Instagram and Facebook, TikTok has launched the feature across the entire app, allowing users to post videos to their profile which only appear for 24 hours.
If someone has uploaded a story, a blue ring will appear around their profile picture, visible to those who follow them. Users can tap to view and react and comment as they would an in-feed post. Upcoming features include being able to share the story directly to your main account when the 24 hours have come to an end.
TikTok creators can also collaborate in a ‘duet’ by replying to another user’s video, which will split the screen and allow viewers to watch both videos simultaneously. Creators can continue to ‘duet’ duets, starting an endless chain of reactions among their audiences. These are a popular video type among celebrities – only adding to their viral potential.
Similar to duets, stitches are another way for users to respond to and evolve another user’s content. Instead of presenting the clips side by side, users can ‘add on’ content to the end of the previous video, to keep the story going or add a new spin to the punchline.
How to gain followers on TikTok?
If it wasn’t already clear, TikTok offers huge potential for brands looking to make an impact with a Gen Z audience. But it’s not as simple as repurposing the same content from other platforms and hoping that it sticks. So, what kind of content works best on TikTok?
Think short and sweet
TikTok is designed for short-form video consumption. “Make every second count” is not only TikTok’s slogan, but also a crucial tip for marketers to grab their audiences’ attention on the platform. And because Gen Zers have an average attention span of just 8 seconds, short, yet entertaining content is the key to success on TikTok.
From the beginning, TikTok’s landscape has allowed users to easily create content by shooting directly on the app in a vertical format. Unlike YouTube, which tends to favor long-form videos with high production value, TikTok lends itself to shorter, less-polished content, which is very well received by its gargantuan user base.
This is gold dust for brands looking to make their mark with Gen Z. Studies have consistently shown that Gen Z consumers favor authenticity in their chosen brands, with 56% of users expressing a greater affinity to brands that publish unfiltered, human content. Needless to say, on a platform built for authenticity, this gives brands an opportunity to make a huge mark with the right content.
One brand which is holding the court for authentic content is the NBA. With a casual and laid-back approach to its account, the association has amassed over 12 million followers and 300 million likes. Contrary to the more refined content shared on its Youtube and Instagram, its TikTok content typically consists of motivational footage of the players on court, alongside light-hearted clips from half-time performances.
Follow hashtag challenges
Every day, TikTok releases new hashtag challenges that creators and brands can attempt to complete. Videos that are relevant to these hashtags are favored by the algorithm, meaning that any content tied to the challenges is more likely to appear on users’ FYP.
One of the trendiest hashtag challenges this year is the ‘Shoot in the Sky’ challenge, in which creators mimic shooting a bow into the sky and then fast track to a future shot where the sky is a different color. This is commonly done during a beautiful sunset or showing a popular city day to night.
Best times to post on TikTok
While producing high quality and relevant content should always be the top priority, there are a few steps brands and creators can take to maximize the chances of their content being seen by as many people as possible. One of these steps is timing.
Choosing the best times to post on TikTok will depend on a few things, including where your audience is based and what time they are likely to be awake. It’s not an exact science, and trends for online behaviors are changing constantly, but by thinking inclusively in terms of varying time zones and the preferences of your target audience, posting times can make a big difference.
So what are the best times to post on TikTok? Influencer Marketing Hub recently conducted research on over 100,000 posts to determine the optimal times for improved engagement.
Times varied throughout the week, but Tuesdays at 9am EST, Thursdays at 12pm EST and Fridays at 5am EST are consistently some of the top performing.
Advertising on TikTok
As we have hopefully shown so far, TikTok offers huge potential to brands hoping to tap into the Gen Z market. And due to the app’s interest-favoring algorithm and preference for authentic content, it’s possible for brands to generate strong engagement organically through the app and track performance with a TikTok for Business account.
But for those looking to expand their campaigns and push content that bit further, brands also have a variety of options for advertising directly through the platform. In this next section, we will touch on each of the options available to brands and how they can get started. But first, let’s consider the benefits of advertising on TikTok.
Why advertise on TikTok?
With over 30 million monthly active users – 60% of them born post-1997 – TikTok’s loyal and engaged consumer base is a marketer’s dream for Gen Z brands. Also, as the app is still relatively new in comparison to its competitors, it has the scale of other platforms without already being saturated with advertisers.
TikTok’s focus on authenticity is turning traditional social media advertising on its head. By encouraging branded content that is creative and inspirational – and often user-generated – TikTok has created an online environment that consumers trust for purchase advice and recommendations. 72% of users find TikTok ads more inspiring than any other platform, with 30% of Gen Zers looking to TikTok for product research and 49% leaning on the app to help them make purchase decisions.
And if that wasn’t convincing enough, the proof is in the numbers. TikTok generated $2.3 billion in consumer spending in 2021, up 77% on the year previous. The fast-growing app is set to smash that figure again this year, already hitting a consumer spend of $840 million in Q1 of this year.
TikTok Marketing Statistics
- TikTok has achieved 3 million total global downloads, with one billion active users worldwide
- TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world, surpassing Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat
- TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes in the app
- 72% of users find TikTok ads more inspiring than any other platform
- 30% of Gen Zers look to TikTok for product research
- 49% of Gen Zers use TikTok to help them make purchase decisions
- 56% of users prefer brands that post unfiltered, human content
- 82% of Gen Zers prefer brands that use images of real customers in their advertising
- TikTok generated $2.3 billion in consumer spending in 2021
- 84% of companies are increasing TikTok spend in 2022
Influencer Marketing on TikTok
When considering advertising on TikTok, there are two predominant avenues that brands can take. The first is influencer marketing. Influencer Marketing on TikTok involves partnering with influential content creators to create and share user-generated content on the platform, typically alongside the hashtag #ad. This can take the form of a tutorial, challenge or simply incorporating the product into the video in a fun and entertaining way.
One brand excelling in this field is Gymshark. The disruptive fitness brand has built an impressive 3.6 million following on the platform, through a combination of authentic organic content and influencer partnerships. Taking space in the popular TikTok niche #GymTok, the brand has partnered up with many fitness influencers to create entertaining, on trend content related to the gym and fitness world.
The influencers are, of course, dressed head to toe in the brand’s globally-recognized sports gear, furthering the brand recognition achieved through the platform. Gymshark’s influencer marketing strategy includes creators showcasing the clothes through hauls, ‘outfit of the day’ and ‘get ready with me’ videos.
While still in its infancy, influencer marketing on TikTok is already showing to produce a big impact. Engagement levels across all influencer categories – from micro influencers at less that 15,000 followers, to mega influencers at more than 1M – are significantly higher than competitors Instagram and Youtube. In light of this data, it’s unsurprising that 45% of marketers have now incorporated TikTok influencer marketing into their strategies and 84% plan to increase their TikTok spend this year.
The second key way that marketers can advertise on TikTok is via TikTok ads. With a TikTok For Business account – which we’d recommend all brands have as standard – marketing teams can plan, design and run campaigns easily through the app. Let’s recap some of the main ones here.
In-feed ads are available to users as they scroll through the FYP. They can be up to 60 seconds long – although 9-15 seconds is recommended – and creators can engage via likes, comments, and shares, much as they would with non-branded posts. In-feed ads can include a ‘Shop Now’ link, allowing users to browse and shop without leaving the app.
TikTok’s most popular ads are TopView Ads: 60 second videos which cover the full screen as soon as users first open the app. As with in-feed ads, brands can include a ‘Shop Now’ call-to-action button allowing users to seamlessly browse their offerings without leaving the app.
Branded Hashtag Challenge
Similar to the organic hashtag challenges released by TikTok daily, companies can launch branded hashtag challenges, encouraging users to engage by creating their own videos. Users can participate in the sponsored challenges by showing off their favorite products from the brand, or taking part in a possibly viral trend.
Pringles set the bar high for TikTok brands with its #PlayWithPringles challenge. Launched during the pandemic, users were invited to share their own creative videos, using a Pringles can in a dance or comedy sketch. The campaign amassed a total of 230 million views in just three weeks and encouraged a total of 343,000 creators to share their own videos. A 13% engagement rate made this campaign one of the most successful branded hashtag challenges on the platform so far.
TikTok Pulse is one of the newest advertising tools introduced by TikTok. The feature allows brands to place their ads next to top content in the FYP – precisely the top 4% best performing content – choosing from 12 different categories. From beauty and fashion to cooking and gaming, brands can ensure they are placing their ads with the most relevant content, increasing the opportunity of engaging with users who will be most interested in what they have to offer.
Always Creator-first – It’s worth noting that while we’ve distinguished between TikTok Ads and TikTok Influencer Marketing in this guide, the biggest success for brands comes from combining the two. In fact, TikTok ads featuring creators foster a 83% higher engagement rate than non-creator ads, which sit at a mere 12%. Additionally, ads created in collaboration with influencers have been shown to increase ad recall by up to 27% and increase viewing time by 13%.
Get to the point – When planning the content for your ad, it’s also important to consider timing. More than half of all TikTok ads with the highest clickthrough rate (CTR) highlight their key message or product within the first 3 seconds – highlighting the importance of getting to your point quickly.
Mix up your content – With every piece of content you are sharing on TikTok – or, indeed, any platform – it’s important to keep it fresh and interesting. With ads especially, which certain users will see time and time again, it’s important to refresh the look and feel to avoid audience fatigue.
How should brands measure success on TikTok?
Alongside all of the paid and organic features offered by TikTok, the app also offers a strong set of analytics tools to help brands monitor followers and content engagement.
Once set up with a pro account, brands are given the option to view the performance of their account and campaigns under the ‘View Analytics’ page. Here, performance is split into three main areas: overview, content and followers. Across these tabs, brands can easily observe trends, view their best performing content, and discover how users are engaging with their content.
While TikTok Analytics offers a whole range of metrics and trends, there are several key success measures that all brands should keep a close eye on.
- Video views — Unlike other social platforms where virality is rare, on Tiktok everyone has the potential to be influential. Videos with high engagement have potential to be featured on the FYP, helping your brand to get in front of new users. Because of the viral nature of TikTok, an increase in video views exponentially increases potential impressions.
- Sentiment of comments — As marketers, it’s important to know what consumers are saying about your brand. Luckily, users on TikTok are generally open-minded and excited to share their thoughts and opinions. Dan Thorne of Guinness World Records explains:
“The tone of the comments is especially important for us. We tend to attract some cynical comments from our older Facebook fans and YouTube subscribers, but younger users on TikTok tend to engage in a much more positive, excited way. TikTok is all about celebrating differences and inclusivity, which fits well with us as a company.”
- Sales from TikTok — Of course, while the benefits of TikTok advertising for brand image and reputation can be monumental, tracking impact in terms of follow-through to purchase is a key measure of success on the platform. Brands can track sales via TikTok Pixel, a piece of code that can be placed on your website to track purchases which have come from the app. Check out TikTok’s step by step guide.
What’s next for TikTok?
So, TikTok is quite the modern-day success story. Soaring amongst some of the longest standing social media giants and going head-to-head with the powerhouse that is Meta, this video-sharing app is a force to be reckoned with. And with new partnerships and integrations announced weekly, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Here’s what’s coming next for TikTok in 2022:
Augmented Reality – One of the biggest upcoming ventures for the video-sharing app is augmented reality (AR), which will be rolling out to creators over the coming weeks. The feature, called Effect House, will allow users to make their own AR camera effects which can be used by other creators on the app.
Community Commerce – Aside from new effects, TikTok will also be expanding its set of TikTok Shopping tools, making it easier for brands to build their ecommerce businesses, market products and build a native shopping experience directly through the app.
Evolution of Sound – A huge area of focus for TikTok will be exploring ways to magnify the way that sound is used on the platform. As a central – if not the most central – feature of the app’s overall experience, TikTok audios have defined cultural moments, brought audiences together and, notably, made overnight success stories of many new artists. As part of its 2022 manifesto, TikTok has pledged to “think (and act) artist first” placing artists at the center of the app’s expansion plans and taking every opportunity to provide a platform for new musical talent.
With endless possibilities for both creators and brands alike, TikTok is the place to be for any brand looking to target a Gen Z audience. By thinking creatively, partnering with creators and acting truly authentically, companies from all industries have the potential to make a big impact with short-form content.
Looking to kick off your influencer marketing strategy?
Check out our full guide here. Or head over to our TikTok partnership page to explore all the ways we’re making it easier for brands to collaborate and create truly memorable campaigns with TikTok Influencers.