The birthplace of Lil Nas X’s hit “Old Town Road,” major stars such as Addison Rae and Charli D’Amelio, and the DuoLingo green owl, TikTok is booming and arguably the hottest social media platform. More and more DTC brands are leveraging the platform to reach its ripe, active audience and achieve virality.
The platform promises infinite opportunities. In 2021, TikTok got more search traffic than Google, per Cloudflare. It has more than one billion monthly active users, and according to eMarketer, “more US marketers now use TikTok than YouTube for influencer marketing.”
Why is TikTok the best social media platform for emerging, DTC brands? It’s free. It’s easy to use. And, anyone can make a TikTok. (We’re even making TikToks, here at Tydo.)
In January, we surveyed Tydo’s audience and asked what you wanted to see us write about next, and 80% of you said TikTok. So, we sat down with JT Barnett—former Vancouver Giants hockey player and now TikTok advisor, creator, and strategist—to answer the most commonly asked questions about the platform and discuss the creator economy.
As the cofounder of Honey House, an adult TikTok house in Los Angeles and brand that amassed one million followers, JT knows the ins and outs of TikTok. His personal TikTok, where he shares best practices, has 249.2K followers, and his agency partners with all-star brands such as Poppi, Whoop, We’re Not Really Strangers, Spotify, and Tonal.
In our conversation with JT, he shares:
- How TikTok is all about output
- Why going viral isn’t the goal
- His thoughts on influencer content
Why Brands Should Be On TikTok
Every DTC brand wants to know: Should we be on TikTok?
The answer is yes and most definitely yes.
It’s free. It costs zero dollars to post. And, it’s the best platform for organic content.
“TikTok is all about output. Your videos have the chance to be seen by a million people, and it costs zero dollars,” explains JT.
Plus, anybody can do it and make it big. TikTok rewards authentic, scrappy, raw videos whereas Instagram is all about filters and aesthetically pleasing content.
So, how do brands get started on the platform?
Before JT dives into the content creation process, he recommends answering the following set of questions:
- As a brand, what do you want to be known as?
- What are your brand values?
- What’s your brand voice?
- Are you in an office? Can you film there?
- Do you need to bring in an outside creator?
- What are you selling? What’s your hero product?
“Transparency is one of the best ways to build a relationship with the consumer. The people crushing it on TikTok are not afraid to show everything, even the unglorified parts of the business.”
Reaching Virality: How to Go Viral on TikTok
“Virality isn’t something you can concoct. It just happens,” says JT Barnett.
What can brands do to put themselves in the best position possible, knowing they can’t reach virality every time?
Be consistent. And, that doesn’t mean going from zero to one hundred. Brands can ease into the content creation process and learn with time.
As a TikTok creator himself, JT recommends posting as much as possible, as long as the brand’s content meets the “good enough” threshold, which he defines as “content that catches your eye and makes you stop if it comes across your For You Page.”
The reality: No one knows what’s going to stick on TikTok because no one knows the algorithm.
JT admits, “There’s no perfect formula to what works and what doesn’t work. Post a ton, look at the data, and then go from there.”
To start pumping out content, JT first looks at what the brand is selling. Then, he thinks about what’s tangential to the product.
For example, if he’s partnering with a coffee brand, he’ll shoot content around the beans and also explore the larger subject of coffee. That might look like creating TikToks around productivity culture or work-life balance.
One of the best ways to achieve consistency is with an original series that’s unique to a brand—not a series of trend videos.
JT suggests optimizing for 75% series or episodic content and 25% trends and new material.
To unlock that original series, JT asks the following questions:
- Who are we?
- What is our brand?
- What do we want to be known for?
To achieve virality from a more technical lens, every video needs a strong hook.
What a viewer sees in the first three seconds can make or break a TikTok.
The visual aspect matters as much as the text and audio. So, brands need to overlay text in a readable, clear way and add audio that’s easy to understand.
“There’s no perfect formula for virality. There’s no way to figure out the formula unless you’re the person building the algorithms.”
Should I Hire A TikTok Influencer?
Posting influencer content will not grow a brand’s page.
The audience is trying to build a relationship with the human being running that account.
“You have to remember that everyone’s coming through the FYP. If they see a different person every single time, they’re not going to go and follow the page. They’re going to think they’re getting spammed by different accounts,” explains JT.
The person behind a brand’s account could be a team member, a founder, or a full-time creator. It needs to be someone relatable and comfortable behind the camera. It can’t be a hodgepodge of ambassadors or influencers.
“People relate to people more than they relate to a product.”
How to Optimize Organic (and Paid)
As brands post organic content, they should be closely monitoring performance while also recognizing that analytics aren’t the end-all-be-all.
“A video that gets 5,000 views and all 5,000 of those people are impacted is a lot more important than a video that gets 1,000,000 views but everybody is watching it because it’s funny and they don’t really care about you and it doesn’t do anything for you,” says JT.
JT Barnett’s perspective is aligned with Kevin Kelly’s theory of 1,000 true fans (one of JT’s favorite thought leadership pieces).
Some major brands are built with only 1,000 followers—at least at the start. If all one thousand followers buy a product, that’s still meaningful.
Even more important than followers is engagement.
Comments are incredibly valuable for brands. A video with 100 comments can tell a brand what customers care about, what content resonates, and what products are fan favorites. Each comment is a piece of feedback.
As mentioned, organic should be the number one priority in a TikTok strategy. Once a brand nails that, they can turn on paid.
JT has seen multiple brands take off from TikTok ads. The key is to boost organic TikToks or upload TikTok-first content. Repurposing Instagram and Facebook ads isn’t going to work for brands. It’s about leaning into TikTok’s style.
To get in touch, you can reach JT at email@example.com.
“Organic is the fire. Paid is the gasoline.”
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