TikTok is thriving, but have you got what it takes to go viral?

It is no secret that the social media platform has taken us all by storm over the past year, but what sets TikTok apart from all the others and where does your brand fit on the platform (if at all)?

Let’s go back to the start. Vine has been and gone, the mums/Karens have taken over Facebook, Instagram is full of advertising and irrelevant content. It’s 2019. (Brighter days might I add). You see your 13yr old cousin performing some strange form of dance whilst recording themselves on the latest iPhone they got from Santa, while lip-syncing at the same time. You ask them what they’re doing. “Making a TikTok” they respond. This is a foreign phrase to you at this stage, but you’re intrigued. You type ‘Tick Tock’ into your search bar on twitter, your go-to platform these days when you unlock your phone, to find not much more than a Rolex advert and a few dodgy memes. You go about your day all the same, unphased.

Later upon opening Facebook, you come across a sponsored article posted by LADbible- ‘How TikTok Is Making Teens Thousands Of Pounds For 15 Seconds Of Lip-Syncing’. You think to yourself, ‘was my phone listening to my discussion earlier?’ You click to open the article wondering is your cousin making thousands of pounds from what she was doing earlier. You come to learn that TikTok is an app which allows for 15sec videos of dance, lip-syncing, comedy, creativity, tricks and the list goes on. You decide to download it (but vow you will NEVER post) and suddenly you find yourself down a rabbit hole of hilarious, engaging entertainment 4hours later sat in the same position as when you downloaded the app.

And we’re back in 2020. Although TikTok was founded in 2016, 2019 was when it started to really gauge traction and recognition, priming it for the success it possesses today. Since then, the app has evolved massively by listening to its consumer and improving features such as- allowing for better quality in-app editing tools, longer recording times and overall has become more accommodating and complex. It might be difficult to get a grasp of the app from a brand perspective, but if TikTok is something you’re thinking of getting on to then you must read the room first. Will TikTok reach your target audience? Do you have the budget for their pricey paid content options? Are you going to learn the latest trending dances and include product placement in your clip? There are so many things to think of before jumping on the band wagon. Hopefully I can give you advice here, as someone who’s video went viral with over 20million views while working for a popular beauty brand (shameless plug I know, but I like to think I know what I’m talking about).

You may be reluctant to join, yet there is indeed room for everyone on the app, as long as you remain true to brand tone of voice. For example, if you are a high fashion brand, it may be too cheesy and irrelevant for you to jump on the latest trends to get noticed. Instead, you could gift clothing to some of the leading ‘creators’ on the app that fit with your brand, or hone in on the creativity aspect of the app and show how some of your pieces in their journey from a design idea to a finished good. The key is to remember that you need to have your own voice/USP and to refrain from copying what the other brands are doing. I have highlighted two successful examples of viral content from completely different brands below.

  • Chipotle: With 1.3million followers, the American food chain have gone viral gaining millions of views on a single post, numerous times. Their USP is very much so humour, as it only takes a quick scroll through their videos to have you giggling. They create and partake in trends that are relevant and re-post humorous videos created by other users. They’ve ran their own #GuacDanceChallenge and more recently they launched a collaboration with an American TikTok house (house full of TikTok creators) to promote their new group ordering feature on their app. They ran a competition with the hashtag ‘#ChipotleSponsorUs’ in which users would create a video explaining why they should win a free takeout using the group feature, with 5 winners. The challenge received an overall reach of 38million, which is great for an organic, unpaid challenge on the app.

  • The Washington Post: Similar to Chipotle, TWP use humour to engage their audience. A further USP for the American Newspaper is that their staff feature in almost all of their videos, to the point they are recognisable and almost ‘influencers’ in their own right. This is a really good example of showing a more personable side to a brand that consumers wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Their content may not be heavily branded, but they have definitely succeeded in reach with over 750k followers. This is also proof that TikTok is a way to engage with consumers that may be outside your target market, as Gen Z may not physically go out to buy a paper, yet they will engage with the brand on social media.

From the examples mentioned and a quick nosey at other brands on TikTok, it is clear to see there is space for every type of brand on TikTok. The app in itself is very light hearted and this is the approach that all viral brands have in common. It’s important to think outside the box and take a risk with your content. It may flop, but it’s often the underdog videos that end up viral. My three main takeaways I will leave you with if you’re thinking about getting started on the app would be; don’t take it too seriously, get creative with your content, and stay true to your tone of voice. Go get ’em!

Grace Blaney is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.