Written by Caroline Cox on Mar 11 , 2022

TikTok has taken the social media world by storm. Find out how to advertise successfully on this mega-popular platform. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • What TikTok ads are
  • Why businesses should explore this social media app
  • Best practices for creating video ads on this platform
  • How trends should factor into your TikTok content

“It’s basically the most underrated ad platform right now.” “It reminds me of Facebook in the early 2010s – super low CPMs and a lot of growth potential.”

This is what our marketers are saying about TikTok — and they’re not wrong. In the last few years, the app has taken over not just the social media landscape, but it’s transformed the shopping industry as we know it.

A recent study found 84% of TikTok users say it’s a source for discovering or learning something new, and users are 1.5 times more likely to immediately buy something they discovered on the platform.

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.

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). 

Curious about whether TikTok advertising is right for your business? Scroll on.

1. Understand the TikTok ad platform

TikTok offers in-feed ads, which show up in the same place and in the same way as organic content. While these are the most popular and affordable ads, the platform also offers:

  • TopView ads, which appear as soon as someone 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 

Similar to Instagram, TikTok allows you to create special ads or to pay to promote organic content. As Shopify reports, “TikTok’s self-serve In-Feed ads allow you to set your own daily budget, starting at $5 per day.”

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.)
    • 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: Hootsuite has laid out tips to increase TikTok engagement along with an easy-to-use calculator to determine where yours currently stands.

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)

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 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.

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 & 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.

Rather than struggling to repurpose content you’ve used on other platforms, it’s generally a best practice to create your videos directly in the 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 the app recently announced they’ll be launching a 10-minute-long video option, 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 of existing app trends (more on that below) and using popular songs and audio clips are great ways to make those first seconds count.

Pro tip: TikTok began to roll out ads within its search results in March 2022. According to Search Engine Land, this could help brands attract more qualified traffic and get valuable keyword data in the process.

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.

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)

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 e-commerce 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.

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.

In late 2021, TikTok launched an audio library with royalty-free music, citing a study that found “TikTok was the only 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. Test with organic content

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. 

Basically, aim to create good TikToks, not ads. 

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.

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.

smartphone on table with tiktok account pulled up

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

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.

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 your 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.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, quick vegetarian recipes, and making lists.

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