How do brands use TikTok

TikTok: What brands and companies should know about it now

TikTok is considered a surprising hit in the digital industry and some even see the next Instagram on the horizon. In this article, Jan Firsching explains what the TikTok app is all about and how it works. It also shows which options there are already here for companies and which first steps make sense.

The development of TikTok

Instagram is without a doubt the hottest social network right now. Instagram has been around since 2010 and, as is customary in the digital industry, potential Facebook and Instagram “killers” come and go. Almost every year there are hype about new social networks, but they usually disappear just as quickly.

But then came TikTok. With the takeover of the musical.ly app plus an enormous marketing offensive, the Chinese video app is currently on everyone's lips.

TikTok is a purely mobile social network and, like the popular story formats, relies on vertical short videos. But TikTok also has some special features and basic requirements that could keep the app long beyond the current hype phase.

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User numbers and target groups

Country-specific user numbers for TikTok were published for the first time at the end of January 2019. If you believe the reactions from the industry, many were surprised by the numbers.

In Germany, 4.1 million people use TikTok at least once a month. That is an impressive number for such a new offer. For comparison: Snapchat and Pinterest each have around 10 million monthly active users in Germany. The two social media giants Instagram (approx. 20 million) and Facebook (32 million) still have a comfortable lead.

The number of active users in Germany is also interesting in a European comparison. Germany also has more active users than Great Britain, Spain, France or Italy. So you could say: Germany is TikTok country.

In addition to the pure number of users, the time of use and user activity are also interesting indicators. And they are also impressive: On average, users open the app eight times a day and spend 39 minutes with the short videos.

That applies at least to the young target group, as can be assumed. Official statistics on age distribution have not yet been published.

The TikTok feed

If you open TikTok, the first content is presented immediately. The app relies on the feed principle, in which the content is displayed one after the other, but only in the form of vertical videos.

The content selected here is the first decisive difference to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter: TikTok selects it automatically. The future feed fills up depending on how the content is interacted with.

Of course you can follow other profiles on TikTok, but that's not absolutely necessary. Even if you're not following anyone, there will always be a feed full of short videos.

Of course, this approach influences how content is displayed and how many users it reaches. While the profiles with the most subscribers often enjoy the greatest visibility on Instagram and YouTube, individual videos can also achieve extremely high reach with TikTok if they are recommended by the algorithm. Disadvantage: There is no guarantee for this. Just because one video worked well doesn't mean the next one. For example, one video may have 20,000 interactions and the next only 100. That is entirely possible.

With the TikTok feed, it is also important how the areas "For you" and "Following" differ:

  • “I'm following” is the classic feed from social networks, in which you can find content from profiles that you actively follow.
  • “For you” is the content curated by TikTok, which is compiled based on previous interactions.

What is important for the back of your mind is that a large part of the range and interactions on TikTok is created by the algorithm, i.e. an automatic one.

Content on TikTok

The feed then revolves around short videos. The short videos can either be created directly on TikTok or uploaded. The videos run in a loop and the use of music plays a very important role here.

Here are some examples:

"Lip Sync" videos were the beginning of muiscal.ly and helped many accounts to reach very high levels: To play back the music, you mime the vocals - sometimes more, sometimes less seriously. In the meantime, however, you can find a wide variety of types of videos on TikTok: Topics such as recipes, animals, sports, comedy and gaming are fixed components of the feed and are enriched with songs from TikTok's extensive music library.

Since music is a crucial element on TikTok, videos are often backed up with currently trending songs in order to create additional reach and visibility. Even if it's not a lip-sync video.

As you know from Instagram and Snapchat, the videos can also be alienated and embellished with all sorts of filters, stickers and effects. There are also live streams that inform all subscribers of the profile.

One of TikTok's great strengths is content sharing. As usual, the content can also be distributed in other social networks. For example, the link to Instagram Stories should be mentioned as an important function. Furthermore, GIFs and live photos can be created from the videos - all directly in the app.

Functions and mechanics

Many TikTok functions are known from other social networks. Content can be shared and commented on, you can follow profiles and, last but not least, increase visibility with the right hashtags.

Hashtag challenges

Hashtags are also used on TikTok in a different and very popular way: the so-called hashtag challenges. They are all based on a similar principle: the hashtags specify the topic and users create content for it. The content is presented on the challenge page. Most of the time, the hashtag challenges are for entertainment. But they can also be combined with competitions, for example if TikTok has a current cooperation with a brand.

Hashtag challenges will also play a role in TikTok ads. Hopefully TikTok will be very picky here and only accept the challenges that the users are entertained.

Incidentally, the challenges can be used to quickly identify verified TikTok users with high coverage, as their content is highlighted by the note "official".

The search

Hashtag challenges are displayed directly in the search. In addition to a list of challenges, there are teasers that highlight special campaigns.

The search offers further options. You can search for general hashtags and check whether there is already content on your own products or your own company. You can search for other users and for songs that you want to use for your videos. For the songs, TikTok always shows how many videos there are. Similar to the hashtag challenges, all associated videos are also displayed for the songs.

While the hashtags are often in the foreground on Instagram, on TikTok it is a combination of hashtags, challenges and songs.

Marketing on TikTok

So TikTok is an interesting new platform. But what about the possibilities for marketing? TikTok is still at the very beginning. Although there are regular campaigns and collaborations, TikTok is still very far from the scope and diversity of a Facebook or Instagram.

Company profiles and verified profiles

After all, there are already verified profiles for companies on TikTok. They are similar in structure to other social networks: there is a profile picture or video, a direct message function, as well as an overview of subscribers, shared content and interactions received.

Incidentally, influencer profiles are also provided with a corresponding note if it is the "official" profile. This is also necessary because there are numerous fan accounts on TikTok, or profiles that simply copy content elsewhere and republish it.

Last but not least, other social networks can be linked in the profile. Instagram and YouTube are currently possible here. External links to websites, however, are not provided.

Like Instagram, shared short videos cannot be linked. For companies, this ultimately means that it can primarily be about branding and dialogue.

There are already active brands and companies from Germany. The early adopters mainly include radio stations, sports clubs and media companies.

Influencer on TikTok

There is hardly a way around influencers on TikTok. In the days of musical.ly they were still called "Muser", now they are "Creator". The advertising hashtag #Ad reached over 2.3 billion impressions in April 2019. The German-language counterpart #advert is 4 million impressions.

Influencer marketing can work on TikTok and is currently often a good choice for companies to gain initial experience on TikTok. It is important not to be blinded by statistics and to check exactly how the influencer content actually worked during the evaluation. To research influencers, you can either use TikTok yourself or, depending on the target group, search for well-known Instagrammers and YouTubers on TikTok. After all, many of the better-known names are also active on TikTok.

TikTok ads

Ads on TikTok are still in their infancy, and it will be some time before you can post ads like on Facebook. Nevertheless, it is helpful to know which formats TikTok offers:

  • Sponsored hashtag challenges: A sponsored hashtag challenge works identically to the actions initiated by TikTok, for example. The aim of the campaign is to generate user videos in order to achieve the greatest possible visibility on TikTok.
  • Native video ads: With this ad format, videos are played in the TikTok feed. All ads are marked and seamlessly integrated - identical to ads on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Brand awareness can be increased through the reach and interactions in the feed.
  • Brand Takeover Ads: This ad format is a classic banner that is displayed when the app is opened. Here it is possible to direct users to a website or to a hashtag challenge within TikTok.

Ads can only be booked directly through TikTok. It is to be expected that the app will significantly expand the advertising products.

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Conclusion: what you should do with TikTok now

TikTok is a platform that a company should have on the screen. At the same time, this does not mean that you have to create a company profile directly. The more than 4 million active users in Germany are considerable, but as always it is a question of whether the channel supports your marketing goals, whether you can reach your target group and in what form you are even able to use another platform. If you want to address a very young target group, TikTok is already an exciting option.

Then you can either create your own account or reach users via influencers and ads. These last two points are often recommended as a first step. This generates insights, data and results that you can use to improve your understanding of the platform and for the users of TikTok.

In short, you should watch TikTok, understand its content and features, without rushing into anything.


This article belongs to: UPLOAD Magazin 70

Photos, videos and stories are becoming more and more important in order to successfully spread your messages on the web, to win customers and to impress them over the long term. In this edition we give you a detailed introduction to why the visual is so important on the Internet. We show how visual storytelling works. With TikTok we present the latest app hype, which is also all about short videos. And we also give you tips and tricks for Pinterest. Bonus contribution: How augmented reality and e-commerce inspire each other.

Blogger at Futurebiz, speaker, author and senior digital marketing & social media consultant at the BRANDPUNKT agency. Jan Firsching advises brands and companies on the development of digital and social media strategies.

Keywords UPLOAD magazine 70