Place Rewind: ‘Creative is King’ on TikTok

How is TikTok emerging as not only a cultural phenomenon but an SMB marketing channel? And what unique TiKTok properties and user interactions signal opportunities for SMBs to stand out? We set out to answer these questions in a Place Conference interview with TikTok itself — the topic of this week’s Place Rewind.

As background, TikTok’s global user base is 700 million — 100 million of whom are in the U.S. This makes it a social platform that can’t be ignored. But beyond dance routines and viral recipes, TikTok in its still-early days as a marketing platform. That means brands are still finding their footing and developing a playbook.

TikTok Pulls Ahead of Instagram Among U.S. Gen-Z Users

Not a Social Graph

First, understanding what TikTok is and isn’t can help to formulate that playbook, says Head of SMB & Operations Rebecca Sawyer. And there are many misconceptions. For one, TikTok is a content graph, not a social graph like Facebook. That basic distinction is critical in developing a TikTok-based marketing plan.

For example, performance and exposure for any given piece of content is based on discovery. TikTok’s algorithm learns users’ interests through behavioral tracking, then suggests content accordingly. This is similar in some ways to Facebook and Instagram, but with less influence from social signals and connections.

Therefore, it’s all about the content, as opposed to building followers. This makes it a bit of a double-edged sword: it’s democratized so that newcomers can have as much influence as more established entities. But the downside is that the latter can’t build social capital in the ways they can on Facebook and Instagram.

Focusing on the democratization angle, this means that SMBs can find a level playing field from day 1, says Sawyer, and can “find new communities and consumers.” But while this level-playing field exists, it’s not a free lunch: businesses still have to create compelling content. “Creative is King” says Sawyer.

Will Small Businesses Flock to TikTok?

Think Native 

So what is the TikTok playbook for content that resonates? Like other platforms, it’s all about thinking natively for the unique attributes of the channel. In other words, don’t port assets and campaigns from other social channels on TikTok. The most successful campaigns build content that’s purpose-built for TikTok.

“Brands should approach the platform in a way that feels native and is similar to the way any user would approach the platform,” said Sawyer. This means that brands should engage the experience as if they were an organic user. Get to know the language and style of the platform, advises Sawyer, and “create with intent.”

What is that language and style? It’s all about content that’s raw and genuine, such as behind-the-scenes footage. For SMBs, that could be everything from a restaurant kitchen to a pizza delivery ride-along. Sawyer cites a particularly-popular beekeeper who builds narratives around the honey production process.

These examples also signal TikTok’s broad applicability. There are all kinds of SMB verticals using it says Sawyer — everything from bars to beekeepers. The common thread for success across the board goes back to being native and genuine. Also utilize sound, says Sawyer, as TikTok is a “sound on” platform.

We’ll pause there and cue the video for more color from Sawyer. See the interview in full below and stay tuned for periodic installments of the Place Rewind series with more insights and session coverage.

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