What TikTok can do for your brand and how to create content for TikTok’s algorithm

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TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform thus far, reaching the coveted one billion monthly active users just four years after its international release. (For context, it took Facebook nearly nine years and Instagram nearly eight years to hit that milestone.)

There are many speculations as to why TikTok has soared in popularity, but the general consensus is this:

  • People love the short-form video
  • It creates an environment where people can be themselves
  • TikTok uses a sophisticated algorithm to show users exactly what they want to see

TikTok has proven to be successful for both creators and brands alike—but creating content that the algorithm loves is now an art form all its own.

Let’s look at why brands should invest in TikTok, how brands successfully use the platform, and how the algorithm works.

What investing in TikTok can do for your brand

With how popular TikTok has become—especially among younger generations—it’s no surprise that brands are adding it to their social media advertising strategies. It’s also no surprise brands are seeing astounding results from the platform.

Because TikTok wants to reassure its advertisers that they’re spending their ad dollars in the right place, the brand recently launched “TikTok Works,” a series showcasing how various partners have seen success with their ads. Let’s go through a few wins advertisers and brands can expect through their TikTok advertising efforts.

1. Increase ROAS

ROAS (or return on ad spend) measures how many sales were generated as a result of ad dollars spent. While many ads have awareness or consideration objectives, ads with conversion objectives want to see that return—and TikTok provides.

Based on TikTok’s findings, the app has shown that it can increase paid media ROAS from 56%-96% depending on the region.

TikTok also discovered that compared to television ads, ROAS is nearly doubled (from $2.1 for TV ads to $4.1 for TikTok ads).

2. Boost awareness and product discovery

TikTok is a great channel for discovering new products. According to one of TikTok’s partners, a post-purchase analysis study found that when consumers were asked where they first heard of a product, 15% of them named TikTok as the discovery platform—up from 4% the previous year.

With the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt having such prevalence on the platform, this is no surprise. Brands and creators alike can showcase products and their use cases in order to prove why viewers need the product. And in many cases, this can result in some additional purchases.

3. Build brand equity

The format of TikTok videos and the features provided within the app make for compelling ad creative, helping to build brand equity and cement brands in customers’ minds. Results are better when brands take advantage of “TikTok-specific traits like music, frequent scene changes, voice-overs, and text overlays.”

This helps TikTok perform better than other digital ads and television ads alike, generating 15-20% better results in metrics like persuasion, enjoyment, and more.

4. Generate engagement

While not included in the TikTok’s Works series, other studies have discovered that TikTok has the highest engagement rate of any social media platform. Socialinsider discovered that the average engagement rate on TikTok is 4.25%, compared to 0.60% for Instagram, 0.15% on Facebook, and 0.05% on Twitter.

If brands choose to work with TikTok creators, that engagement rate skyrockets even more. Global influencers see an engagement rate of about 15.86% and TikTok influencers in the U.S. see one as high as 17.99%.

5 examples of brands winning on TikTok

Let’s take a look at five brands that have generated outstanding results with their presence on TikTok. These will act as a good guide to help other similar brands fine-tune their TikTok strategy and experience success.

1. Chipotle

Chipotle has over 2 million TikTok followers and regularly sees hundreds of thousands of views on its video content. However, one of its best moments came about by accident.

TikToker Alexis Frost was running a series where she’d try employee recommendations at various restaurants. The video about a Chipotle hack became a smash hit on TikTok—a steak quesadilla with extra cheese and fajita veggies.

@alexis.frost @alexis.frost this has been one of my faves ever since it was suggested . #mrsfrost #chipotle #quesadilla #foodie #foodtok #fastfood ♬ mario sound - mandycap

Food reviewer Keith Lee helped further propel this Chipotle hack to fame with his review.

@keith_lee125 #stitch with @alexis.frost “Philly cheesesteak” from Chipotle taste test 💕 Chipotle Sauce hack 👉🏾 @hasaneats 💕 would you try it ? #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee

In fact, in a part two video of his, he shared that some Chipotle stores were running out of the ingredients due to the hack’s popularity and that other stores were refusing to make it.

But what really made this TikTok moment work for Chipotle is that they paid attention to the hype and responded accordingly. They’re now adding the steak quesadilla with fajita veggies and cheese to their menu so that everyone can enjoy their favorite Chipotle hack.

@chipotle Everybody relaxxxxx. It’s coming to the app in March. @Keith Lee @Alexis Frost #chipotle #quesadillahack #fajitasquesadilla #chipotlehack ♬ original sound - Chipotle

Not every brand will be lucky enough to have a viral moment facilitated exclusively by their customers. But what you can do is make sure to pay attention to conversations surrounding your brand, especially if there’s an opportunity for new product ideas and increased sales.

2. Litter-Robot

Litter-Robot partnered with influencer marketing agency Ubiquitous to launch a TikTok influencer campaign. The goal was to generate brand awareness on TikTok and Instagram and conversions on YouTube, creating a full-funnel campaign.

The TikTok campaign consisted of two posts:

  • An introductory post to incite curiosity, like an unboxing video or recording the cat meeting the litter box
  • A creative post where each influencer got to come up with their own ideas

While they mostly partnered with cat owners and cat influencer accounts, one video with @areyoukiddingtv generated 20.5 million views.

All in all, the TikTok campaign helped generate 64.5M views total at a CPM of $4.50. The entire campaign (across all platforms) lasted eight weeks and generated 100K+ website visits and 134 conversions.

3. Purdy & Figg

Purdy & Figg’s TikTok case study is another great example of how TikTok influencers can help generate a ton of awareness and sales for lesser-known brands—in this case, a DTC startup.

Household brand Purdy & Figg started with a product seeding campaign, reaching out to 1,500 influencers to see if they could send them free products—no strings attached. Nearly half (742) of those 1,500 influencers accepted.

Out of those 742 influencers, 399 posted at least one video, with 1,386 pieces of content created in total. The team working with Purdy & Figg reached out to the influencers who shared videos of their products asking if they could share the video on their own platforms, offering an affiliate deal as a perk.

When influencers said yes, their content was turned into an ad for Purdy & Figg. And all it cost was $7,420 ($10 in product per influencer) plus a small ad budget.

In the end, Pudry & Figg increased new customer revenue by 772%.

4. Netflix 

Netflix is the second most followed brand on TikTok, following only TikTok itself, so they’re obviously doing something right. The brand shares content related to shows streaming on its platform.

Here’s an example of a TikTok making fun of one of their shows, You. The show is famous for the main character’s voiceovers, with there being much less dialogue when those have been removed:

@netflix Joe without narration is always.... interesting #YouNetflix ♬ original sound - Netflix

Another crowd favorite is this compilation of awkward “I love you” scenes in honor of Valentine’s Day:

@netflix just gonna embrace the chaos and post this the day after valentines #netflix ♬ original sound - Netflix

Netflix has the privilege of being a go-to streaming service for many of the world’s favorite shows, and they have plenty of video footage to work with. However, this just goes to show that when you use your best assets (your product or service), it can help you get great results.

5. Steve Pronko Jewelry

Steve Pronko Jewelry is a great example of how even videos with a low view count can still generate results—as long as they’re put in front of the right audience.

Social media manager Elyse Notarianni shared that she focuses on reaching the right people, rather than going viral. She says, “I've had instances where I've posted jewelry or rings that have gotten under 1,000 views, but out of those are 15 people who call for the product, one who actually wants to buy it, and all of a sudden my "failed" video actually brings in a $15,000 sale.”

However, when cards are played right, there can still be viral moments, like this relatable video that generated 250k views and 11k likes:

How the TikTok algorithm works

If you talk to any regular TikTok user, you’ll hear the same sentiments: TikTok’s ability to put hyper-relevant content in front of each viewer is eerily precise. In fact, one TikTok user wrote about how the TikTok algorithm even knew she was bisexual before she herself did.

But how is the algorithm doing this? Is it in our heads, or is it just incredibly sophisticated and wildly accurate?

Obviously, we know it’s the latter—but the fact that it’s even a question is a testament to TikTok’s algorithm’s capabilities. A document sharing a few trade secrets about the TikTok algorithm was leaked to the New York Times at the end of 2021, telling us what the algorithm’s main goals are and what it uses as its biggest ranking factors.

The document, entitled “TikTok Algo 101,” explains that the algorithm has four main goals:

  • User value
  • Long-term user value
  • Creator value
  • Platform value

The company’s ultimate goal is to add more and more daily active users, hoping that the 1+ billion monthly active users it’s obtained will come back to the app again and again and again. To do this, it optimizes for two metrics: retention and time spent.

Algorithm analyst Guillaume Chaslot says this of the algorithm’s capabilities: “In a few hours, the algorithm can detect [someone’s] musical tastes, his physical attraction, if he’s depressed, if he might be into drugs, and many other sensitive information.” (A little bit creepy).

This information is gathered based on a user’s likes, comments, and playtime, as mentioned within the document. Those three metrics are the biggest ranking factors, as shown in the calculation provided:

Plike X Vlike + Pcomment X Vcomment + Eplaytime X Vplaytime + Pplay X Vplay

Although we weren’t given information in the document about what P, V, and E might stand for, it’s helpful getting a semblance of an idea of what factors go into whether or not your video will make it onto the “For You Page.”

Your main goals should be generating as many likes and comments as possible—and creating engaging content that keeps people watching your videos for longer.

How to create and optimize content for the TikTok algorithm

The next challenge is discovering how to create content that increases likes, comments, and playtime. Follow along with these eight tips to get on the right track.

1. Find your TikTok subculture

TikTok has a number of subcultures, often denoted by the type of subculture and -Tok. There’s #BookTok, #FitTok, and #SkinTok (though some also use other hashtag formats like #Cottagecore and #WaterCult).

According to YPulse, several of these subcultures are even boosting sales for relevant businesses. This is why, if possible, try to find a TikTok subculture that your business fits seamlessly into.

For example, #BookTok is perfect for Book of the Month Club and water bottle companies like HydroFlask can fit their content perfectly into #WaterCult.

2. Hook your audience early

Playtime is a big part of TikTok’s algorithm, so to ensure more people stay on your videos before scrolling away, you need to start with a hook. TikTok is not the place for a slow introduction. Immediately jump into your video content, even including CTAs like “Stay to the end” or “Hear me out” to grab and pique attention.

3. Keep your videos around 30 seconds

Data shows the sweet spot on TikTok is between 21-34 seconds, and that many TIkTok users say videos longer than a minute stress them out. Regardless of whether TikTok continues extending its maximum video length, keep your videos short and sweet to maximize playtime and engagement.

4. Use trending audio clips

To create good TikTok content, you also need to regularly consume a lot of TikTok content. This way, you can stay up-to-date on new trends and audio clips that brands and creators are using. TikTok trends change like the wind, so you need to stay on top of them so you can use trending audio clips while they’re still popular.

If you find an audio clip you like, you can easily tap on it at the bottom of your screen and have it play in the background while you record your own TikTok video.

5. Jump on popular challenges

TikTok is also famous for its challenges. Same advice as the last point—stay on top of trends and challenges so that you can incorporate them into your TikTok strategy as soon as they pop up.

6. Incorporate relevant hashtags

Your subculture will likely have a hashtag or two. If you’ve managed to find one to fit into, always include those hashtags in your captions—they’ll help you reach viewers also in those subcultures. 

Otherwise, make sure to include other hashtags relevant to your business and video content. Plus, though it hasn’t been proven to be beneficial, many people swear by including the #fyp in their captions in an effort to make it onto the “For You Page.”

7. Write concise video captions

Just like TikTok viewers want to see short videos, they want to read short captions. Use your caption to provide just a bit more context. If you need to add more information, you can easily do so in a comment or create a “Part Two” video.

8. Post consistently

This is a rule of thumb for standing out on any algorithm—you have to post consistently. TikTok’s algorithm isn’t going to put your content in front of its viewers if you’re only sharing a new video once a month. It wants to promote creators with consistently fresh, new, and engaging content.

Don’t sleep on TikTok!

TikTok can help your brand generate awareness, sales, engagement, and so much more. If you haven’t already, start your own TikTok account, create engaging content, and invest in TikTok ads. Start reaping some of the same benefits many other brands are already seeing.

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