Don’t write off TikTok just yet

By Joe Coffey | The Fifth Estate

Before you declare that TikTok isn’t your thing, consider that you’ve been through this before.

Twitter was for tech nerds. Facebook was for young people. LinkedIn was just for job seekers.

Eventually, brands discovered they were missing out if they weren’t on those platforms. It made sense to at least establish a presence and experiment with content. Companies starting revealing thought leadership and workplace culture on those sites. Some went all out with big spends on advertising and follower campaigns.

Some found success. Some never found their groove. Some never tried.

So here we are, with TikTok in the news daily. Political rants, misinformation, too much advertising and lack of traction (unless you advertise) have made Facebook tiresome. People want a fresh platform but are scared of TikTok’s security protocols due to Chinese ownership.

Gen Z and millennials are not afraid – they make up most of the app’s 100 million U.S. users. President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app before trying to broker a sale to Microsoft. Analysts say TikTok’s U.S. business is valued somewhere between $20-$50 billion, and a sale is expected within the next five weeks.

And to think… all this fuss over an app that allows young people to post videos of themselves doing dance moves.

The people who get it, get it

Remember, Twitter can look like a foreign language with its abbreviations, hashtags and irregular punctuation. It’s not for everyone. The people who “get” Twitter, however, use it constantly. TikTok works the same way. You can choose to learn the conventions, innovate with them and interact with millions of people who also “get it”… or simply decide it’s not right for your brand and move on.

How to TikTok

Yes, TikTok is busting at the seams with young women rocking dance moves to “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion, but there’s a lot more to it. Your TikTok experience changes after you like a few videos, users and hashtags that actually interest you.

Do a few searches for your favorite media-savvy entities and personalities. I started with @carnegiemnh (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), @garyvee (Gary Vaynerchuk), and @neildegrassetyson. Seek out your favorite interest areas. I started with woodworking, investing and history.

The main feed you scroll through, called the FYP (“for you page”) is where the app curates content based on your actions and time spent watching clips. Quickly swipe past stuff that doesn’t interest you.

Before long, you’ll be sucked into streams of fascinating little videos. Niche interest areas often refer to their own pocket of TikTok. For example, I somehow ended up spending 30 minutes on “bassoon TikTok” after liking a random, amazing video of an incredibly talented bassoonist. My FYP then fed me more bassoonists doing their thing. The videos often started with a friendly, “Welcome to bassoon TikTok!”

If you can get past the dance vids and the people sharing confessional-style videos, you’ll see that any niche area you can think of is on TikTok. Every community’s early adapters are building substantial, highly engaged followings.

Make TikTok videos that share things with people. Help or entertain them. Don’t “market at” them. The people and brands who “get” the medium are winning.

Creativity wins

TikTok makes you feel good as you deem other users and their videos worthy of your like.

I was more than happy to like Papa Jake (@storytimewithpapajake) when he ended up in my FYP. He’s a 97-year old veteran who shares stories about storming Omaha Beach and cheating death during WWII. Papa Jake’s TikTok presence started when his granddaughter, McKaela Lola, made a tribute video to him on her own page in honor of the 76th anniversary of D-Day.

The outpouring of love for Papa Jake has since lead to the creation of a YouTube channel for longer versions of his stories and a GoFundMe page to raise money to send him to Ireland to visit a castle he once saw while stationed there. The page has already raised $4,000 of its $10,000 goal to fund the trip.

Lola’s original Papa Jake video is nestled within her own page of dance clips, vacation videos and silly sketches… precisely the kind of thing you’ll have to sort through as you find your own preferred pockets on TikTok. The Papa Jake TikTok story is the result of a savvy user who really got to know the platform before innovating with it and getting results. If your company has a McKaela Lola, I highly suggest you let her start your company’s TikTok page, stat.  •

Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.