Why it’s time your influencer campaigns were on TikTok

TikTok is huge, really huge. The Chinese-owned social media platform which currently boasts 600 million active users and was the most downloaded app of 2018. See? Huge.

source: wired.com

TikTok – which describes itself as the world’s leading short video platform – is aimed at Gen Z, or those under the age of 24. Following its China launch in 2016 (then called Douyin), TikTok came to the UK in August 2018, gathering 4.7M UK active users in just over a year.

If you went on TikTok right now, what would you see? A lot of 15 second videos, many of which are funny – subjectively speaking – shot by mostly users in their mid-teens to early twenties. While the videos are essentially quite raw – shot on their phones, usually in a bedroom or at school – the app’s creative filters and stickers mean users can get creative with their videos too. One interesting thing to note is that most of the videos are watched with the sound on, because lip-syncing and choosing the most-relevant soundtrack for each clip is a huge part of the storytelling. And story telling they are – the most engaging, viral videos aren’t just sharing a snapshot but telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. There’s pretty much always a payoff.  

Brands are starting to take note too –  unable to ignore the power of TikTok as well as its exponential growth. There’s a few ways brands can get involved, the obvious creating a profile and in turn, your own TikTok videos. Then, like most platforms – you can have ads within the channel– which appear in every 8-10 posts. So how can these ads work within the look and feel of a platform whose success lies in the originality and authenticity of its content? While it is clearly new territory, a handful of brands have braved the way and spent time and money targeting Gen Z, exactly where they are.

Take Ralph Lauren. As sponsors of the US Open Tennis Championships this year, the brand wanted to extend its campaign to a younger demographic. RL partnered with TikTok to sponsor the platform’s weekly hashtag challenge feature. It activated its audience by asking them to share how they’re winning, using the #WinningRL. Ralph Lauren then gave branded US Open clothing and accessories as prizes to the three videos with the highest engagement. Cleverly, by creating US Open-themed stickers on Giphy for users to use within their videos, RL could also use tracking on those stickers-used as another way to evaluate the campaign’s engagement scores. The result? Ads shot really sensitively to the platform’s visual identity, short, sweet and not too in your face in terms of branding. Take a look here

There is then influencers, either creating the content for a brand and promoting their product or as part of a large campaign. In August TikTok influencer and singer Chloe Rose – who has in previous years used her channel to help promote Childline and anti-bullying campaigns – partnered with Too Faced Beautyto promote the new Damn Girl mascara using #TFDamnGirl. Pretty Little Thing also sponsored its very own#PrettyChallenge earlier this year. Influencers along with TikTok users created videos wearing their favourite items from Pretty Little Thing – lip-syncing along to Will.I.Am’s new release of the same name. The music element is key because that’s what makes this platform so unique, and is famously the reason why Old Town Road by Lil Was X became the longest-running #1 in history. A lip-sync friendly song choice is an absolute must – and helpfully Will.I.Am’s lyrics are for the most part “You’re a pretty little thing”, so the message was heard loud and clear. The results? Videos from over 11.5k creators all using the hashtag have been viewed over 18.5M times.  

Calvin Klein – saw similarly impressive views while promoting its most-recent “My Calvins” campaign on TikTok. According to Glossy, within 24 hours of launching on the platform, it became the brand’s most-viewed digital campaign to date. Another luxury brand to experiment on TikTok is – somewhat surprisingly – Burberry. In June this year the British catwalk brand partnered with TikTok – again sponsoring a challenge (called #TBChallenge). An international campaign running across the UK and US, the brand really tapped into the mindset of Gen Z by not just offering clothing as prizes but rewarding participating content with the unlocking of a new lens to use within the app – social (media) currency in the most literal sense. All users had to do was cleverly arrange their hands into a shape resembling the new Thomas Burberry Monogram motif. A powerful translation of branding into a physical and visual connection with creators. 

Creators AKA influencers are very much on TikTok’s radar, they’re paid to promote TikTok across other channels such as Instagram to help migrate new users to the channel too. With the platform soon to launch its shopping function for UK users (similar to what you’ve seen recently launch on Instagram), now seems like the golden moment to embrace TikTok from both a brand and influencer perspective. Though whether TikTok has plans to take a commission from paid-for content published on the platform, has yet to be revealed.

So where does the opportunity lie for influencers, as well as brands wanting to work with their preferred influencers on TikTok? The opportunity though huge, isn’t by any means as easy-to-understand as Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, so will take need a totally bespoke channel strategy. Unlike the others, followers and subscribers aren’t the be all and end all. The app is powered by AI – so isn’t just an integration of an algorithm, but is 100% algorithm. This means that your follower count doesn’t matter in the same way –  TikTok will naturally promote videos that are doing best and are well received. The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast last week explained that each video uploaded is shown first to a tiny pool of users – around 10 people – and then based on their instant first reaction, will be shown to many more in a bid to go viral, or alternatively, be deemed hidden. Of course these rules won’t apply when it comes to sponsored weekly hashtag challenges, but in terms of building a profile for influencers or transitioning them from Instagram over to TikTok, it is important to note.

With personality, humour, storytelling and of course – a catchy soundtrack – at the heart of TikTok’s most-successful content, it is influencers that can autonomously and authentically create teen-friendly assets that will thrive on the platform. We’ve already seen makeup artists, singers, comedians, dancers and other creatives flex their talent within the app, and my wish is that TikTok becomes not just a place to capture a younger customer or audience, but a platform where influencers with stories to tell and creative ideas on how to do so, can really find their voice. Even if it is lip-synced.