Building a TikTok Centric Creative Strategy

TikTok has inadvertently become a part of my nightly routine; I get ready for bed, do my skincare routine, and when I’m finally tucked under the covers I grab my phone and open up the app, having the time of my life scrolling, laughing in the dark by myself, and simultaneously sacrificing more hours of sleep than I’d like to.


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TikTok has taken the world by storm in recent years - it has provided us all with a more personal way of engaging with content that is tailored to our own specific tastes. According to Oberlo’s article about important TikTok statistics, TikTok has 689 million monthly active users worldwide, 90% of whom access the app daily - even multiple times a day. Oh, and that number doesn’t even account for their users in China.


Why is this?


What sets TikTok apart from other social media apps, so much so that it has been the most downloaded app in the Apple App Store as of 2019?



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I recently watched a video called Building a TikTok Centric Creative Strategy through Sofa Summit, a social advertising summit where leaders in the industry share their insights for marketing success. In this TikTok-specific video, Kinney Edwards, Global Head of Creative Lab at TikTok, talks about the key ways to make a successful creative strategy geared for digital marketing on TikTok.


At the core of Kinney’s advice is this: to be successful on TikTok, you have to spend time on TikTok. (This is because TikTok is a content centric app, not social.)


This key difference of “content over social following” highlights what sets TikTok apart from social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even YouTube; people don’t come to TikTok with the intention of catching up with friends or checking in on people’s lives - they come to watch quick, short-form videos that align with the unique culture the app has created. They come to engage with content that will make them laugh, think, and connect to something within themselves. This unique characteristic is also what must drive creative strategies for the app.


Creating for TikTok

Kinney says that one of the most important parts of creating for TikTok as a brand is to “engage like a user”; see how the community is developing content, find out what’s trending and what isn’t, and choose to partake in what’s happening. In building your brand narrative Kinney advises to define your objectives, put the audience first, and craft your story. Try something out and even if it doesn’t work, you can change direction - diversifying content helps brands capitalize on swiftly changing trends. TikTok allows for creative freedom while being super simple at the same time.


Above all, Kinney says that, “Content creation should mirror the way the community creates since [TikTok] is not a socially driven platform.” Showing that understanding of the platform and its community is key.


Remember to create with intention - what you’re trying to produce is an emotion.

TikTok Celebrates All Storytellers

Kinney tells viewers that the type of creative that performs best is by, “Someone who has taken the time to understand the trend, not just jumping on it.” When brands can understand how their own story connects to a given trend, it has the power to take content even further.


"A brand has an opportunity to show this human side; they can laugh at themselves and have fun in a way they can't do on other apps," says Kinney.


“Don’t make ads, make TikToks.”

Kinney cautions that, “Content has to come from a real place, and not be overly produced, so ads need to connect to the flow of content.”


And it’s true that most ads stand out like a sore thumb on the feed; as an avid user, I can spot an ad immediately just by the visual content, because traditional ads don’t adhere to the same flow and continuity of content that the community on TikTok creates.


Kinney advises that when creating ads for TikTok, ask yourself, “Do you feel like you’re showing up to the wrong party?”

Honestly, this is a great metric. It’s so true! If it feels like your content is the equivalent of a parent trying to act cool around their teenage kids, you might be at the wrong party.


Playing it off like you know what’s going on without actually taking the time to immerse yourself in it won’t lead to success. Authenticity matters.


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Ok sure, not everyone has to scroll on TikTok into the wee hours of the night like I do, but taking the time to exist on the app and see the way content gets created (and goes viral) in the shared space, is integral in opening an opportunity to partake and be well-received in that community.


By the time our agency started creating content for TikTok, I wasn’t aware that all of my personal time spent on the app was actually providing me with an important knowledge base as an insider, for us to then be able to create effective content. From the outside looking in, brands might think they know what TikTok is about, but they can’t really know its ins and outs unless they spend the time just being users. TikTok trends are very specific and fleeting, but once you know them and how they function, it’s like you and other TikTok users like you are all sharing something together - kind of like an inside joke.


Spend some time on TikTok and your creative strategy will help build itself - that’s my biggest takeaway from Kinney.