TikTok has taken the social media world by storm. We created this step-by-step guide to help you advertise successfully on this mega-popular platform.

Here, you’ll find:

Our social media marketing experts in 2022: TikTok is basically the most underrated ad platform right now – super low CPMs and a lot of growth potential.

Our social media marketing experts today: TikTok is not just a place to drive awareness – it’s a hub for product discovery and purchase, community engagement, and audience growth. It’s a contender in the digital space and other platforms know it.

In the last few years, the TikTok social media video app has taken over the social media landscape. Not only that, but it’s also transformed the shopping industry as we know it.

Statista reports that TikTok’s ad revenue is more than $11 billion globally, with marketers “dedicating more time and dollars towards the app than ever.” 

TikTok’s success lies in its highly sophisticated (and mysterious) algorithm. The more you use it, the better it becomes at understanding what kind of videos to serve you. The more you like or follow a certain type of content, the more of that type you’ll see. 

With all the hype surrounding TikTok and its quickly evolving options for marketers, we tapped HawkSEM’s Senior Paid Social Media Manager Nicole Goodnough to help us make sense of it all and offer some pro tips for creating effective TikTok campaigns.

 What are TikTok ads?

TikTok ads are video content on the app that is created, promoted, or sponsored by a particular brand or creator. Along with video campaigns, advertisers can also create Branded Effects ads.

These are customized, sponsored effects that can include elements like a call to action (CTA) or a unique video filter.

“In true TikTok fashion, advertising on the platform has grown exponentially over the past couple of years,” says Goodnough.

She adds that along with TikTok Shop, the platform’s in-app shopping feature now available in the U.S., “lead gen forms can help capture leads for your business seamlessly.”

In 2022, TikTok generated $4 billion in U.S. advertising revenue. This figure is expected to double by 2024 and nearly quadruple by 2026.

The data is clear: brands who leverage TikTok successfully have a good chance of seeing increased sales and a positive return on ad spend (ROAS). 

Pro tip: TikTok Analytics can help brands track the right metrics and use this data to help create custom audiences and future campaigns. 

person holding a smartphone with tiktok homepage pulled up

You want your videos to fit seamlessly into the viewer’s For You Page. (Image: Unsplash)

 10 steps to creating successful TikTok ads:

 1. Understand the TikTok ad platform

TikTok for Business offers in-feed video ad formats, which show up in the same place and in the same way as organic content (on the user’s For You Page or FYP). 

While this is the most popular and affordable TikTok ad campaign format, the platform also offers:

  • TopView ads, which are videos that appear as soon as someone opens the app
  • Brand Takeover ads are similar to TopView ads in that they pop up as full-screen video ads when a TikTok user first opens the app
  • Branded Hashtag Challenge ads, which is where brands create and promote a unique hashtag
  • Branded Effects, where users have the option to post a video using your branded video filter or effect 
  • Spark ads are similar to user-generated content, wherein a brand takes an existing video (of theirs or another creator’s) and turns it into an ad

Similar to Instagram, TikTok allows you to create special ads or to pay to promote organic content. However, the platform makes promoting this content a bit confusing.

Spark ads technically promote organic content, but anything in Ads Manager is a minimum of $20 per day for ad sets and a minimum of $50 per day at the campaign level. 

As Shopify reports, TikTok’s self-serve in-feed ads allow you to set your own daily budget, starting at $5 per day when using TikTok’s simplified ad placement options outside of Ads Manager.

Here are the steps to getting started on TikTok as a brand:

  • Download the TikTok app and set up a business account
  • Click around to get familiar with the TikTok Ads Manager
  • When you’re ready to create an ad, choose your goal from 3 options: Awareness (reach), Consideration (traffic, interaction, lead gen, etc.), and Conversions
  • Decide on your audience segment
  • Determine your budget and campaign length
  • Create your video ad content
  • Submit your ad for review
  • Monitor the results and iterate as necessary

Pro tip: TikTok has its own guide to six principles that’ll help you create ads that perform.

 2. Identify your audience

If you think Gen Z is the only audience on TikTok, think again.

While this age range may be the majority, those 19 and under only make up one-fourth of the platform’s millions of active users. Spend enough time on the app, and you’re bound to see a range of demographics.

Once you’ve zoomed in on your audience, you can start following and interacting with their content. This will surface more of that content type, giving you a window into what’s resonating most with this audience segment.

This will prove immensely helpful when you’re creating content yourself.

Goodnough adds that, as TikTok’s Gen Z user base ages, colleges and universities should take advantage of the massive pool of prospective students on the platform – for both undergrad and grad programs. 

“Location tagging can also be a huge win for local businesses as TikTokers are leaning towards using the platform as a replacement for Google,” she explains.

Pro tip: Along with thinking about your audience, keep the funnel stage in mind. Is your goal more geared toward awareness, traffic, or conversions? This will also inform how you approach your brand’s videos.

 3. Create and edit within the app

You want your videos to fit seamlessly into the viewer’s For You Page. (This is the main section of the app where people scroll through algorithm-selected videos to find new accounts to view, interact with, and follow.) One of the best ways to do that is by creating natively in TikTok.

“Highly polished videos or animated text graphics don’t work on this platform like they do on YouTube or LinkedIn,” says Goodnough. So, rather than struggling to repurpose content you’ve used on other platforms, it’s generally a best practice to create your videos directly in-app. This will also make it easier to edit and post the content when it’s ready.

Videos created elsewhere may render poorly or not fill the specs properly.

Pro tip: HubSpot reports that the three best time frames to post on TikTok are 6-9 PM, 3-6 PM, and 12-3 PM, in that order.

 4. Start strong

The addictive nature of TikTok comes from the fact that you can endlessly scroll. But while you can technically upload a video up to 10 minutes long, don’t be mistaken: you’ve got 1-2 seconds to make an impact.

You need to hook your audience fast to keep them from scrolling on by. If you don’t? Your video will get “deranked” by the algorithm, effectively sealing your campaign’s fate. 

Through our team’s experience creating successful TikTok ads, we’ve seen that capitalizing off existing app trends (more on that below) and using trending sounds and audio clips are great ways to make those first seconds count.

Pro tip: In the summer of 2023, TikTok introduced a Search Ads Toggle. This new TikTok Ads Manager feature allows brands to create ads that can appear on the app’s search results page. 

 5. Play off of trends

This may be hard for marketers to hear, but it’s nearly impossible to predict TikTok trends. They come from out of nowhere (case in point: the Celine Dion challenge featuring her hit song from 1996) and fizzle out just as quickly.

But it’s also true that this is one of the best ways to get your ad seen by as many people as possible. When playing off TikTok trends, your best bet is to jump on the bandwagon when the trend is still pretty new — that means you haven’t seen tons of other brands play off the same trend.

Trying to capitalize on a trend that’s losing steam will likely result in viewers having a kind of “trend fatigue” that causes them to see or hear the trend and keep scrolling.

“I think showing the human side of brands and businesses can be really successful,” adds Goodnough. “Is a college president a great dancer? What about that head chef who is quippy and hilarious – could he make some great stitches? Try it out, get creative, and throw your brand guidelines out the window.”

Pro tip: There aren’t a ton of evergreen trends on the app. But one that’s proven to have some staying power is the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt tag. If you’re an ecommerce brand in particular, this tag could be worth perusing for inspiration.

 6. Focus on storytelling

Successful ads often have some sort of storytelling element to their content. Whether it’s a “day in the life” type post (those tend to perform well), someone speaking directly into the camera, or something more, keep storytelling top of mind.

When you look at high-performing ads in TikTok’s ad library, it’s clear that videos telling a story using real people and real-life settings (vs. overly stylized or graphic-heavy videos) are the ones that see success.

Basically, aim to create good TikToks, not ads. 

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to break the proverbial fourth wall. Talking directly to the viewer, even asking them a question, has been shown to help people connect with what they’re watching.

 7. Leverage audio

While it’s common for people to use almost all other popular social media apps without sound, TikTok is decidedly a “sound on” environment. 

Captions are helpful, especially for making your content as accessible as possible. But, as Social Media Today reports, “brands need to consider sound as a key part of their overall branding effort.” The app itself reports that 100% of TikTok auction ads feature sound.

TikTok offers an audio library with royalty-free music, citing a study that found TikTok was the only social media platform “where ads with audio generated significant lifts in both purchase intent and brand favorability.” 

Brands can use this library to explore hundreds of thousands of recordings and filter by preferences such as:

  • Region
  • Usable placements
  • Themes
  • Mood
  • Duration
  • Genre

 8. Conduct consistent testing

TikTok seems to know what we want to see before we do. 

“Their algorithm is unmatched in the social space, so I always test their auto-targeting against my own audiences I’ve built for my clients (based on interests or lookalikes), and TikTok’s algorithm performs better fairly often, which is a flip from Meta’s Advantage+ targeting vs. manual audiences,” explains Goodnough.

Testing out goals (aka campaign objectives, which we’ll get into below) can help you with campaign optimization – and can also yield surprising results.

“One client recently created a TikTok account, and one of their goals was to grow their followers in addition to running brand awareness campaigns,” says Goodnough. 

“We tested Video View campaigns and Reach campaigns, but they weren’t resulting in audience engagement and growth. So we switched to Community Engagement campaigns and saw a more than 13,000% increase in paid followers after 30 days.”

If you’re new to the platform, want to see if it’s right for you, or have a limited budget, you can start off by publishing organic, free TikTok videos.

This way, you can test a few different strategies out and see what resonates. From there, you can use ad options to amplify your content. This is also a great way to grow your presence and following. 

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to have fun and try new things with your organic videos. A great example: The language learning site and app Duolingo gained a ton of visibility (over 62 million likes and counting) for posting funny, ridiculous videos that played on trends and featured a person donning the company’s mascot owl costume.

Video content creator dancing with friends in Venice Beach, Los Angeles

While it’s common for people to use almost all other popular social media apps without sound, TikTok is decidedly a “sound on” environment. (Image: Rawpixel)

 9. Keep your messaging direct

From your caption to your calls to action (CTAs), less is more. As with most marketing copy, you want to be direct, concise, and appealing right out of the gate.

Plus, if you’re going for a goal other than brand awareness, you’ve got to have a strong enough message that’ll inspire viewers to navigate away from the app. If you’ve used the app, you know that’s no easy feat. 

Pro tip: When creating TikTok ads, Search Engine Journal recommends best practices such as balancing promotion with entertainment, using partnerships to boost awareness, using a 9:16 video format, and having captions.

 10. Keep iterating

As mentioned above when it comes to TikTok trends, it’s nearly impossible to predict what videos will hit their stride on the app. Because of that, rather than throwing in the towel on a campaign that’s not getting views, it’s best to keep iterating.

Changing up the first few seconds, speeding up the video, or changing out the music could be just the tweak a video needs to start performing well. So if you have a good feeling about what you’ve created? Keep fine-tuning it to see if performance improves as a result.

Pro tip: Creating TikTok-specific landing pages can help you track how many people are coming to your site from the app, since tracking is currently limited on the platform.

 TikTok ad objectives

TikTok ads let you select an “objective,” which is the goal you want your campaign to achieve. Here are your options:

  • Awareness – These campaigns are all about growing your brand’s awareness and reach, getting you the max amount of impressions from your target audience.
  • Consideration – This middle-of-the-funnel goal aims to grow your brand’s traffic, video views, and community interaction, aka getting more people onto your profile page.
  • Conversion – These action-oriented campaigns are meant to encourage someone to complete a task, like app installs or purchase completion. Think: website conversions, lead generation, app promotion, and product sales. 
smartphone on table with tiktok account pulled up

You’ll likely continue to see more brands joining in and creating TikTok content. (Image: Unsplash)

 How much do TikTok ads cost?

When it comes to TikTok ads, $1 is the average cost per click and $10 is the average CPM. Goodnough points out that a common misconception about advertising on TikTok is that it’s pricey.

In reality, CPMs (costs per mille aka 1,000 impressions) average out to be $10 on TikTok at the campaign level. By comparison, CPMs are around $7 on Meta (this is an average across all campaign types: reach, engagement, and conversion). TikTok has a minimum cap of $500 to be spent per campaign.

The average CPC (cost per click) is $1 on both TikTok and Meta ad platforms.

At the ad group level, daily budgets must be over $20, while lifetime budgets are calculated by multiplying the minimum daily budget and the number of scheduled days. 

 The rise of TikTok Shops

TikTok just recently began its U.S. rollout of TikTok Shop, a new shopping platform that allows users to buy and sell items directly in-appl

“With the recent rollout of TikTok Shop, I think ecommerce and lifestyle brands would perform really well,” says Goodnough, “since TikTok creates a seamless shopping experience from discovery to research to purchase — hello, #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt.” 

 Creating TikTok ads: What not to do

Along with all her helpful expert insights, we wanted to get Goodnough’s thoughts about common pitfalls she’s seen advertisers fall for when it comes to TikTok – and how they can be avoided.

“What works on LinkedIn probably won’t work on TikTok – and vice versa,” she says. “When it comes to social advertising, you can’t just slap a ‘TikTok Strategy’ sticker on your LinkedIn or Meta strategy and expect it to work.”

Rather, she says each platform has its own purpose and strengths. Your TikTok strategy should plug into your holistic marketing strategy for your brand in its unique way, “not just replicate another platform’s strategy.”

The takeaway

When compared to other popular social platforms, TikTok’s current growth just can’t be beat. That’s why you’ll likely continue to see more brands joining in and creating TikTok content.

If you want to reach the right audience in a new, direct way, create fun organic content that shows off your brand’s personality, or simply keep up with the competition, TikTok is where you want to be.

This post has been updated and was originally published in March 2022.

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