Demystifying authenticity on TikTok

Most people assume that TikTok is exclusive for Gen Z, but 50 percent of its users are between the ages of 18 to 35 – that’s 3 million Australians. Lewis Steele examines what makes TikTok tik, what relatable authenticity means and how brands can achieve success on the platform.

Who doesn’t enjoy getting lost in an endless scroll of videos featuring a good dose of humour, stacks, pranks, dance routines and games? It’s kind of like channel surfing on psychedelics.

It’s the pure entertainment, the rawness, where creativity wins over everything else. It’s almost the antithesis of Instagram where all we often see is Insta-perfect lives. The gloss has been removed and it’s captivating.

The audience stats are also underestimated – there are around 6 million active Aussie monthly users on TikTok, around half of whom are 18 to 35. And because it’s still relatively new, brands are being slow to get onto the opportunity, meaning your marketing budget can gain you a lot more attention than elsewhere – which in times of straitened finances is definitely appealing.

Recently, Kantar released a global study commissioned by TikTok to investigate the value of user-generated content (UGC), specifically hashtag challenges. I was privileged to be invited as one of 16 experts to be involved. They analysed the data of 60 branded hashtag challenges to discover how TikTok can be used for brand-building user-generated content at scale.

What makes a TikTok tik?

A branded hashtag challenge for a soft drink in Japan recorded 52 million unique user video views. That is more than double the amount of people that watched the Oscars this year. And in the United States 81 million unique users entered the Walmart #DealDropDance branded hashtag challenge. These numbers speak for themselves.

Kantar found that success of UGC, specifically hashtag challenges for brands on TikTok, boiled down to five elements:

  1. Creators: Creators on the platform who have built a following are critical to building momentum with native content.
  2. Hashtags: Hashtags are the essence of a challenge which all UGC will be shared on.
  3. Music: A unique strength of TikTok is that sound is switched on by default. In many instances, the sound is the central theme and creates a trend.
  4. Voiceover: Because it’s a sound on the platform, it’s not only music that is key for brands. Voiceover and other audio are also key.
  5. Characters: Most hashtag challenge videos feature real people with authentic character. While these might be the uniting threads, there are a few routes to success for brands on the platform.

Letting go of the reins

So how can a brand harness TikTok’s authenticity in a meaningful way and still stay true to their brand?

As Kantar identified, one option is to connect to an appropriate creator and co-create the campaign. That can be a little scary for some brands at first, but with careful collaboration between brand and creator, from concept to live campaign, you can ensure brand guidelines are met while fostering the creator’s creativity. We call this creative freedom with guard rails.

It’s in learning to trust partner creators with the brand or product that the magic truly happens. Ultimately, they know how to best entertain and engage their audience to gain attention – it’s literally what they do for a living.

The result? Something real. The brand is not hidden, it’s integrated into the influencer’s life or a moment of creativity.

A great local example of this is Nestle’s first global TikTok campaign for Milo. Milo trialled the platform during lockdown when sporting clubs across the country were closed. They launched the #MILOfreestyle Challenge, inviting young Aussies to share their best freestyle skills. The campaign generated over 13 million video views and 22,000 comments. That’s a lot of attention.

The real power of the platform is leaning into the behaviours and audience mindset, then using that to develop creative specifically for the platform to better gain the attention and engagement of your audience.

Tips for creative success on TikTok

Understanding the way people consume content on TikTok is critical to understanding what will gain attention, and what will keep people engaged.

Here are my top tips for success:

  1. People are there for entertainment – freedom of expression and creativity are celebrated. If you can entertain and match the pace and trends of the platform, you will gain attention.
  2. Use sound – in many cases sound leads content. Don’t let your audio become an afterthought, think about how to best utilise it from the start.
  3. Creators with a following are the real celebs on TikTok – Use recognisable creators for their talent, their following and their star power. Don’t forget relatable authenticity has massive appeal on TikTok and cracking that often lies in the creator approach.
  4. Trial elements that are core to TikTok, such as the challenge mechanism – The remixing of content is such a fundamental part of TikTok and it extends into a willingness to participate with brands.
  5. Brand personality fit is a great reason to use TikTok – If your brand is fun, irreverent, and high-energy, then you have an untapped opportunity of like-minded people to talk to on TikTok.

Every brand has a personality that can be carried into any advertising scenario or format. As long as you’re staying true to that, then why not sing, dance, or kick-flip your way into the world of TikTok? It might just be the best way to squeeze the most from a diminished budget.

Lewis Steele is the head of social and content at Connecting Plots.

Photo by Yan Berthemy on Unsplash.