Ever come across a TikTok video even though you’re not on the platform? Odds are you’ve probably seen at least one of those viral lip-syncing videos, or screencaps and gifs from meme-worthy content across your other social channels, like Instagram and Twitter.

One great example of this type of meme spreading across social is the “Kombucha girl” meme. Here’s one example repurposing stills of the video for a Twitter meme:

kombucha girl meme

This meme originated from TikTok, where 22-year-old Brittany Tomlinson shared a video of her trying Kombucha for the first time. Her reaction launched thousands of memes, with the original video getting over 365.5k shares and 2 million likes. And she became an overnight sensation.

That’s the power TikTok has in the current social media landscape. As marketers see memes take off, it stands to reason that with the right content, the platform can help you reach millions of people and make your brand go viral.

But what is TikTok really? How does it work and how is it relevant for marketers? Most importantly, can you actually use it to reach your target audience?

This post will answer all those pressing questions so you can understand the platform better and decide whether or not it’s relevant for your brand.

TikTok 101: Platform and features overview

First, let’s start with some TikTok 101 by analyzing what the platform does and what features it offers.

TikTok is a video-sharing social media platform, which we originally knew as Musical.ly. It has a few similarities with the now-defunct Vine app in that its main focus is on short, bite-sized videos.

Users can customize their videos with filters, stickers and background music, and then share them with the TikTok community. Once shared, people can like, comment on or share a video.

Although TikTok originally made a name as a lip-syncing app, it’s a lot more than that. Here are some of the features that users can explore on the platform:

1. Create videos

TikTok lets users create videos by recording them directly using the app. But you can also upload a video from outside the app. The video recorder lets you choose whether to create a 15-second or 60-second video.

If you want to upload a longer video, you’ll have to combine multiple videos from your drafts. This option lets you upload videos of up to five minutes.

2. Add music

Music is the cornerstone of the TikTok platform. Users can even discover new content by clicking on a track link and conducting a search of clips that use the song. So adding a popular song in your video will increase your chances of trending in the community. With its Apple Music integration, the app lets you browse through a robust music library and find the perfect sound to add to your video.

3. Co-create content using duets

TikTok also boasts of features like duet, which helps to nurture engagement within the community. This feature does exactly what the name suggests–it lets you create a video with another creator and will split the screen in half to show both cameras. Most users use this feature to sing or dance to the same song. Some even use it to develop corresponding videos much like comedy shorts.

tiktok users using duet

Credit: @susan.the.nana

4. Add filters and effects

What users love about the app is the ability to edit their videos with different filters and effects. You can even add stickers, emojis, text, transitions, GIFs and time effects to make your videos more visually compelling.

tiktok user adding filters and text to video

Credit: @earlmustang

5. Live stream

TikTok also comes with a feature that lets you stream live video broadcasts. But note that this feature is only available for select users with more than 1,000 followers.

Who uses TikTok?

Like with social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok seems to appeal most to a teenage and young adult audience. A GlobalWebIndex analysis found that 41% of the app’s users were between the ages of 16 and 24.

App Ape also found that 66% of the app’s users were younger than 30 years. So although it has a higher concentration of young users, it’s not entirely off-limits for adults older than 30 years. It’s particularly popular among those in their 40’s, who make up 16.8% of the app’s user base.

age and gender distribution of tiktok users

Interestingly, TikTok seems to be more popular among male users than with female users, which is usually not the case with other social media platforms. Both Facebook and Instagram have more female users than male users. But according to the App Ape analysis cited above, TikTok’s users are 55.6% male and 44.4% female.

On a geographical aspect, most of the app’s users are from India and China. But the United States ranks third with 123.8 million downloads coming from the country and making up 8.2% of the app’s total downloads.

Why is TikTok so popular?

Most of us hadn’t heard of TikTok until a couple of years ago and it’s been quickly rising in popularity since. Now even celebrities like Kevin Hart, Usher and Jenna Boyd have joined the platform to engage with fans.

If you look at the numbers, the app’s rapid growth in popularity becomes much more apparent. While it was the third most downloaded app worldwide in Q1 of 2019, it had surpassed Messenger to become the second most downloaded app during Q3 of the same year.

most downloaded apps worldwide during q3 2019

By November 2019, the app had amassed over 1.5 billion downloads overall. And according to SensorTower, it took just under nine months for TikTok to generate the additional 500 million installs after it surpassed the 1 billion downloads in February 2019.

So what makes TikTok so popular? Why is it getting so much recognition and why is it growing so fast?

Video downloads fuel more shares

What sets TikTok apart from other social media platforms is that users can freely download videos from other users. They can then share these videos to other social media platforms to reach an even bigger audience. This is perhaps the main reason why the platform has gained so much popularity over the past few years.

Since each video has the platform’s watermark along with the username of the original content creator, it leaves little room for plagiarism and gives due credit. Plus, when people watch those downloaded videos on other social platforms, they’ll know exactly where to go to and which users to follow if they want more of it.

Viral challenges

In addition to this, viral challenges have also contributed to the platform’s growth. Users and brands alike come up with challenges that eventually become viral and compel other users to participate. These challenges are also highly effective for enticing non-users to join the platform.

In fact, it was one of these challenges that fueled the massive popularity of Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road”. In April 2019, users began creating videos where the song served as a signature element of these videos, which urged fans to find it on streaming services. This eventually pushed “Old Town Road” to the Billboard charts.

tiktok post with a cat participating in the old town road challenge
Credit: @mytiktokcats

More recently, TikTok users have come up with a new challenge called #seeya, which creatively uses a specific video filter effect and has already garnered over 1 billion views. However, TikTok moves at such a rapid pace that even by the time of this article’s publication, you’re likely to see a completely new set of trends and hashtags dominating the Discover page.

search results for the seeya hashtag challenge

How can you use TikTok for marketing?

As mentioned earlier, TikTok gets millions of downloads in the U.S market. Compared to other social media apps, it also sees the highest percentage of active users aged 20 and lower. On top of this, American users are spending more and more money on the platform. By October 2019, they had collectively spent $23.1 million in TikTok in-app purchases.

Apptopia analysis of TikTok spending by US users

In spite of these numbers, marketers are still not utilizing the platform to its full potential. In our Sprout Social Index 2019: Empower and Elevate, we found that only 4% of marketers were using TikTok. This makes it the least used social platform for marketing.

These numbers are understandable since TikTok is still fairly new, not to mention slightly different from the social platforms that we’re used to. So many marketers are still in the process of understanding how it works and how it fits into their content creation and marketing campaigns.

Here are a few TikTok marketing ideas that might help:

Launch a branded hashtag challenge

We’ve already discussed how viral hashtag challenges can get and how much power they hold. So if you’re going to market your brand on TikTok, why not launch a branded hashtag challenge? All you need to do is come up with a catchy challenge name that’s relevant to your brand or product. Then create a video using the challenge name as a hashtag and share it with your followers.

That’s exactly what Chipotle did to promote their brand on TikTok. They shared a video, previously made popular through Vine, of a woman dancing to a song about guacamole and tagged it #guacdance.

chipotle post of the guacdance challenge

Till date, the challenge has seen over 1 billion views.

search results for guacdance hashtag challenge

Although Chipotle didn’t necessarily urge their followers to participate, the challenge became viral anyway. But we recommend being specific and adding a call-to-action in your caption to encourage more participation.

When Guess launched the #InMyDenim challenge, their campaign saw a 14.3% total engagement rate. Plus, their business account gained 12,000+ followers from scratch.

Work with influential content creators

Influential content creators on TikTok have millions of followers and drive tons of engagement. So if you’re going to promote your brand on the platform, work with them to amplify your efforts. You could have them create content featuring your product or brand, or in a theme relevant to your industry. Plus, you could even use their influence to jumpstart your branded hashtag challenge.

For Universal Pictures, TikTok influencers played a major role in the promotion of their movie, “The House with a Clock in its Walls”. They partnered with 10 influencers who each created ‘magical’ stories using the hashtag #FindYourMagic. These videos garnered a total of 1.3 million likes and even resulted in 19k+ more videos from other users.

The brand also gained 11k+ new followers in just six days. Till date, the hashtag has amassed over 80 million views on the platform.

search results for findyourmagic hashtag challenge

Final thoughts: Is TikTok a good fit for you?

While TikTok marketing can be extremely powerful when executed strategically, it may not be the right move for every brand. Since it’s best for reaching a Gen Z audience, B2C brands that are targeting older generations should take caution before deciding to use the platform. In addition, TikTok might not have much potential to reach the target audience of B2B companies in its current state.

Our takeaway: If your brand is targeting Gen Z and younger millennials, TikTok is an essential addition to your marketing mix. So if you don’t use it already, it’s time to include it in your game plan.

Will you be using TikTok for marketing any time soon? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to follow Sprout on Twitter to get the latest updates on social media marketing trends.