May 15, 2023

An In-Depth Look at Marketing on TikTok

Are you intrigued by TikTok but not sure how to use the platform for your marketing and advertising activities? As one of the fastest-growing social media platforms of all time with over 3 billion downloads and counting, it's a social media network with potential. 

In this article, we'll look at the popularity of TikTok, who uses TikTok, who TikTokers are, and some great campaigns to give you some inspiration. 

How Popular is TikTok?

The short-form video app has seen rapid growth over the past few years as many users flocked to the platform to connect with their online audiences in new ways. In 2022, the rapid rise of TikTok saw the platform take the trophy as the highest-grossing app and the number of users is projected to reach 1.8 billion by the end of 2023. 

TikTok users 2023
TikTok users 2023

TikTok has over one billion active users worldwide. That makes TikTok 6th in terms of social network sites (excluding the Chinese version Douyin at over 700 million users), ahead of LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

Putting this into perspective: it took Instagram six years from its launch to gain the same number of monthly active users that TikTok managed to achieve in under three years. And for Facebook to hit the same monthly active users mark, it took the best part of four years.

Marketers are drawn to TikTok as it reflects a key social media trend for creative skills and collaboration amongst young audiences. Its fast-paced nature keeps users engaged for relatively long periods, with users spending an average of 56 minutes per day on the app according to eMarketer.

TikTokers use the app for an average of 1.5 hours every single day according to Sensor Tower while 37 percent of users discovered something on the platform and immediately went to buy it, reported Search Engine Journal. 

Who Owns TikTok?

TikTok began as an app called in 2014, a platform on which users created and shared short lip-sync videos.  In 2016, Chinese tech company Bytedance launched a version of known as Douyin to the Chinese market before introducing it overseas as TikTok in 2017.

Understanding the platform's potential, particularly to connect with young audiences that are digital natives, Bytedance bought and incorporated and it became the version of TikTok we know today. Bytedance still operates Douyin separately in the Chinese market.

What is TikTok Known for?

TikTok calls itself the “destination for short-form mobile videos.”

Users can create and upload a video incorporating music with filters and editing effects, or showing the user lip-synching or dancing to a song. Videos are often short, at about 15 seconds long though TikTok has been increasing the duration available - allowing 10 minutes as of March 2022. 

Its rapid video format is not just for dance challenges and lip-synching, although that is what it has become famous for. TikTok creators are using the platform to discuss complex subjects, campaign for change, and educate their audiences in subjects ranging from healthcare to accountancy. If you’re looking for inspiration or to grow your TikTok fanbase, check out our blog for some great social media video ideas.

For example, TikToker Taylor Price offers Generation Z finance advice to over 1.1 million followers.

Taylor Price on TikTok
Taylor Price on TikTok

Who uses TikTok?

TikTok is most popular with young people around the world (39 percent are 18-24 years of age), who are generally early adopters of new social media platforms. They figured out early on how to use and adapt the platform to their tastes and needs, and many have gathered thousands of followers over the past few years.

Millennials and Baby Boomers who join the platform may poke fun at themselves, for their clumsiness at using the app, or the content they produce. Many claim that they have been encouraged or inspired to use the app by teenage family members.

For example, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey has attracted over 37M fans on TikTok (as of May 2023) after being taught how to use the platform for dance challenges with his Gen-Z-aged daughter, Tilly.

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Even though TikTok very much appeals to young generations, it does seem to be retaining its audience as they age.

TikTok is available in over 150 countries and penetration is at its highest in Asia, where over one-third of users aged 16-64 had an account. There’s not much to split the rest of the world, with penetration of between 12 percent (North America) and 10 percent (Latin America and Europe).

Global brands have recognized the importance of TikTok as a key way to engage with young audiences, encourage user-generated content, and partner with relevant influencers. TikTok has seen both paid and influencer campaigns on its app from Nike, Skittles, Fenty Beauty, Pepsi, Calvin Klein, Sony, and FIFA, to name a few. If you’re a brand looking to connect with TikTok creators, use a tracker tool to identify relevant influencers.

TikTok has seen a huge increase in celebrity users, such as Selena Gomez, Lizzo, Will Smith, Kylie Jenner, and Miley Cyrus.

Bear in mind that TikTok is different from other video platforms such as Instagram in that it values genuine content from its creators. The Rock has amassed over 70M followers by posting videos of him working out, on film sets, and his family life that comes across as genuine.

TikTik users value real content that they can relate to and believe people because they are like themselves.  

Who are TikTokers?

It’s the native TikTokers who are the real stars - names that are less known in the wider media world but familiar to most 14-year-olds.

Many of these influential stars have flocked to TikTok from other social media channels such as YouTube and Instagram, but have generated a large following after quickly getting to grips with the unique platform style of TikTok.

For example, FitWaffle, a food influencer that started on Instagram, has generated over 5.2 million followers and 155 million likes (as of May 2023) on TikTok since launching in 2019. Its creator, Eloise Head, is one of the world’s most popular and fastest-growing foodie content creators.

Meet the TikTok community

There is a huge community of creative influencers using TikTok to reach new global audiences, engage with like-minded communities, and work with brands to promote their products and services to earn a healthy living from the platform.

The array of beauty, fashion, food, dance and fitness influencers on TikTok offers brands the opportunity to reach younger audiences without having a presence on the app themselves. These influencers are well-versed in TikTok’s functionality and can create reactive content that jumps on the most recent trends.

The app fueled the rise in “content houses” or “collab houses” where groups of young social media influencers are housed together in mansions to create an impressive backdrop for their branded viral content. 

16-year-old TikTok influencer, Charli D’Amelio, lived in an LA mansion known as Hype House where she amassed a following of over 100 million. Other content houses are Sway House, Shluv House and Clubhouse BH. 

What is TikTok used for?

TikTok has cemented itself as a key destination to go to for content that entertains, as shown by its popular hashtags - #tiktokchallenge and #tiktoktravel. (Be aware that trends move quickly on TikTok and so does the popularity of hashtags so it's important to keep track of the Discover page). 

Other hugely popular categories on the app include pranks, fitness, home renovation, DIY, beauty and skincare, fashion, recipes and cooking, life hacks, advice, and pets. 

TikTok is seeing an ever broader range of topics being discussed and covered on its platform including more personal and serious topics such as the following:

  • Healthcare advice. Fertility doctor Lora Shahine and psychologist and physician Dr. David Puder have both attracted hundreds of thousands of followers
  • At-home hobbies such as gardening and cooking have seen a rise in popularity on the platform, an example being Garden Marcus in Texas with over 696k followers.
  • Sharing information around crimes as in the case of murder victim Gabbie Petito whose car was found due to footage by TikTokers, or the Kentucky girl rescued from an abductor thanks to a distress hand signal she had learned via TikTok.
  • Like any social platform, there can also be negative activity such as the #couchboy hashtag trend that was used to speculate on a girlfriend surprising her boyfriend in college and his muted reaction.

Content that offers users inspiration, but also authenticity (a growing trend across social media for brands), tends to perform well. Many TikTok users prefer to see raw and truthful angles, unlike on Instagram where the style of most videos and images has evolved to be more perfectly polished, and, some might say, less authentic.

How does TikTok work?

TikTok users can discover videos through the use of hashtags and a specific algorithm. When logged into the app, each user views an individually-curated home feed called the For You page. This is the best place to go to discover new content and users to follow.

TikTok places content here that it deems interesting for each individual user, based on signals picked up by its algorithm. The algorithm works on factors such as:

  • Device and account settings: country, language, device
  • Video information: hashtags, captions, sounds, genre
  • User interactions: the types of video you interact with, accounts you follow, who you engage with

Content has a good chance of going viral within TikTok, as the platform selects content it deems both interesting and highly engaging for each unique user, and places that content within the For You page.

This is why challenges, pranks, and dance routines spread like wildfire within the app, as it's fairly easy to gain visibility if you are using a popular hashtag or a trending sound. If you need some guidance, have a look at some of the key attributes of viral videos.

How can marketers use TikTok?

TikTok offers a brilliant opportunity for marketers to reach younger audiences around the globe, in a highly creative and playful environment.

Many memes begin on TikTok, and brands can boost their credibility by being at the forefront of these cutting-edge trends. TikTok does not require huge budgets for video creation either, as spontaneous content produced in ordinary surroundings has just as much chance of cutting through. Many TikTok videos have been filmed in bedrooms, car parks, or gardens.

TikTok provides marketers with a level playing field when it comes to reach and engagement. Unlike social media platforms such as Instagram or YouTube, TikTok accounts with zero followers can get millions of views on a new video thanks to the viral nature of the algorithm. As long as the content appeals to the audience, the engagement will follow.

TikTok experiences higher engagement rates from the app’s followers than other social media platforms so marketers can achieve significant buzz with a carefully-planned campaign using content that appeals to the app’s audience.

There are four key ways that marketers can begin using TikTok:

1. Start a branded channel

Create a branded page and begin experimenting with content types. Content can be created relatively quickly and with no budget. The best thing to do is follow trending hashtags and get involved with the latest memes and apply them to your brand.

Utilize the app’s built-in filters, effects, soundbites, and editing tools to create and share authentic content. The organic reach on TikTok is huge, but impactful engagement is only derived if your content truly resonates with your audience and plays to the rules of the platform. Posting your corporate brand messaging here simply won’t work.

2. Collaborate with influencers

A smart way to utilize TikTok is to leverage influencer communities - the stats on influencers leave no doubt as to how powerful they can be. Influencers who live and breathe TikTok have established highly engaged followings by posting high-quality content which resonates.

They understand TikTok and know how to use its tools, features, and trends to their advantage. Brands can approach and collaborate on campaigns that use these influencers’ skills and knowledge. TikTok has its own Creator Marketplace, designed to link up brands and creators.

3. Start a hashtag challenge

Creating a challenge for users to enter provides a great way for brands to start a cultural trend or meme. Top-performing challenges attract millions of users to create videos for the campaign.

A great example is Fenty Beauty created by Rihanna which launched 'The Next Fenty Face' campaign contest on TikTok to mark its fifth anniversary. The contest encouraged people to follow the brand on TikTok, post a video and tag the brand.

The campaign resulted in over 37 million views on the #thenextfentyface page and drive brand awareness with the winner modeling in the brand’s 2023 campaign, attending Fenty events, and receiving Fenty products for a year.

#thenextfentyface TikTok campaign
#thenextfentyface TikTok campaign

4. Run TikTok advertising

TikTok is one of the most exciting new advertising channels because it has the scale of other platforms such as Instagram, but it’s not yet saturated with advertisers. This means it can be more affordable to generate impressions and clicks.

Marketers can run in-feed ads (this includes video, images, playable, spark and shopping), branded hashtag challenges, TopView adscarousel ads and Pangle ads (through TikTok's Audience Network) in the homepage of the app.

As well as targeting age, location, and demographics, advertisers can target people who have viewed similar content to theirs. Advertisers can sign up to TikTok for Business to run self-serve advertising campaigns.

Another social app to keep in mind when trying to connect with a young audience is WhatsApp. The instant messaging app is growing in popularity across the globe and provides great marketing opportunities once it is integrated with Facebook and Instagram. 

What brands use TikTok well?

Many marketers are beginning to explore the power of TikTok by running influencer marketing campaigns on the platform. There are countless examples of fashion and beauty brands enlisting the help of influencers to promote and review products, as well as getting involved with particular challenges that have been set by the brands.

1. Chipotle

One brand which has received regular praise for its understanding of TikTok as a platform is the fast-casual restaurant brand Chipotle.  Along with its successful GuacDance Challenge, which received 250,000 video submissions during a six-day run, the brand uses trends on TikTok as part of its long-term strategy.

The hashtag #chipotletastetest is a challenge that encourages creators and Tiktokers to post videos to get their food creations added to the menu (people also use it to review new menu options). With 18.2 million views and counting, it's a strategy that drives engagement and brand awareness. 

#chipotletastetest on TikTok
#chipotletastetest on TikTok

2. Gymshark

Fitness wear brand Gymshark uses ambassadors on TikTok to gain maximum reach. The brand encourages user-generated content from its fans by enlisting their ambassadors to set fitness challenges and dance and fitness routines. This collaborative approach is performing well, as it fits with the communal mindset of Gen Z.

Gymshark on TikTok
Gymshark on TikTok

3. Ryanair

Ryanair TikTok
Ryanair TikTok

The low-cost airline has faced its fair share of controversy over the years, but that doesn’t stop the brand from creating some excitement on social media. Ryanair’s TikTok account does not seem a likely one to get tongues wagging, but its funny and quirky videos have attracted a following of 2 million.

Speculated to be run by a popular influencer, Ryanair’s TikTok features a series of videos with lips and eyes superimposed onto the front of a Ryanair plane with a voiceover. These videos poke fun on a range of topics from kids finding out there's no wi-fi on the right to the merits of a capybara. 

4. BBC Education

British broadcaster, the BBC, is using TikTok to directly engage with school-aged audiences through its BBC Bitesize account. Content about GSCE exams, revision, and STEM subjects is covered, with young presenters sharing ideas and useful tips.

An In-Depth Look at Marketing on TikTok

The language education app Duolingo has over 6million followers (May 2023) and, like Ryanair, is tapping into the younger generation in its videos.

Many of its videos feature its bird mascot in the office saying and doing hilarious things. It also uses trends to show it has its finger on the pulse such as the POV craze across TikTok. It’s a great example of a brand that’s capitalizing on organic content that surprises and entertains. 

Duolingo mascot TikTok
Duolingo mascot TikTok

6. The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a TikTok channel in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to share information and trustworthy health information, offer tips on staying safe, and debunk myths that were spreading via social media.

The WHO continues to use the channel to highlight health information such as vaccines, malaria and safe abortion care to an audience of nearly 3 million followers (as of May 2023). 

WHO TikTok channel
WHO TikTok channel

7. Trojan

You might have thought it would be difficult to sell condoms on social media. Not for Trojan on TikTok! Their account features hilarious how-to videos to help choose the right size condom or tap into Halloween with a video featuring pumpkins and the tagline ‘Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes’. Its tongue and cheek humor is entertaining TikTok users with over 600k followers. 

An In-Depth Look at Marketing on TikTok

What's Next for TikTok in 2023 and Beyond?

It’s predicted that TikTok will attract over 800 million users over the course of the year, and could potentially attract 1 billion by 2025 according to Insider Intelligence. 

TikTok and Shopping

TikTok is embracing social commerce allowing businesses to have a dedicated Shopping tab on their profile to sell directly on the app. You can also link to tag products in your videos so people can click to learn more about products or services. 

While this feature is relatively new, it's worth putting some effort into optimizing your TikTok page. Review your bio and include keywords to improve your SEO to get found on the network. You should also make followers aware that they can purchase directly on TikTok so build some awareness but don't oversell. People are on TikTok to be entertained and engage, so mix up your organic posts with shopping posts to stay genuine.  

You should also consider using Hashtag Challenge Plus, which allows users to shop for products related to a sponsored hashtag. 

Longer Videos

TikTok now offers creators the option to film much longer videos, of up to ten minutes, so we are set to see even more creativity from the platform.  There will be many more examples of brands approaching TikTok to reach new audiences, from setting collaborative and creative challenges to utilizing the creative influencers thriving on the platform.

Attracting & Rewarding Content Creators

To boost usage and expand its older audiences in the United States TikTok is looking to introduce paywalled videos. This means that content creators can set a price for seeing a video putting a premium on their content and introducing a new revenue stream. 

The platform is also looking to test a revamped creator fund to increase the amount creators get for their content. The original fund is a $1 billion initiative over three years but it's been criticized for not generating much money for TikTokers. 

Become an In-Demand Social Media & TikTok Expert

The success of video as a content format across social media makes it a powerful tool to connect with prospects and customers. DMI’s certified Social Media and Marketing course will help you understand the intricacies of platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Facebook to grow and engage your audience. You will also learn how to conduct social research and devise a cohesive digital marketing strategy across channels.

First published December 2020, updated 2023

Alison Battisby
Alison Battisby

Alison is a Social Media Consultant with Avocado Social, she is a Facebook and Instagram accredited social media expert and founded Avocado Social in 2014 having worked in the social media industry since 2008. Alison has worked with a wide range of brands including Estee Lauder, Tesco, and Pringles. Alison has traveled the world training companies including the BBC, Etsy, Canon, and Cambridge University Press. She offers social media strategy, training, and consultancy at Avocado Social across platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and TikTok. 

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