AdRoll Blog

Actionable tips, community conversations, and marketing inspiration.

4 Ways Brands Can Use TikTok Marketing to Go Viral

Laura Finnerty

Multimedia Content Manager @ AdRoll

Topics Covered:

Similar to Oreo’s spontaneous dunk in the dark tweet during the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl, Ocean Spray’s surprise appearance in Nathan Apodaca’s now-famous “Dreams” TikTok video will surely go down in history as two of the greatest examples of social media marketing.

And while Ocean Spray was not responsible for the content in Apodaca’s video — which has been viewed more than 66 million times, earned him a new cranberry-red pickup truck from the brand itself, and sent the 43-year-old Fleetwood Mac song, “Dreams,” back to the top of the charts — it’s certainly a tantalizing preview of the burgeoning platform’s promise for brands as TikTok marketing takes off.

For more information on social media trends:

And, as 37-year-old Apodaca proves, TikTok is not just for kids anymore. Here’s a guide for brand beginners who want to take the plunge on the platform.

But…How Do I Use TikTok?

After downloading the short-form mobile video app and creating an account, spend some time browsing the two main feeds to get a sense of how users engage with the platform. This is especially important if you eventually plan to use TikTok as a marketing channel.

You’ll find many TikTok features — including following other accounts, liking, commenting, and sharing content — are similar to the social platforms you already use personally and professionally. And, of course, as you interact with TikTok, the platform will learn about you and personalize its suggestions accordingly to help you discover the most relevant content.

Where TikTok starts to differ from other platforms lies in users’ overall emphasis on self-expression. The good news for brands is this leaves the door wide open for creativity.

When you’re ready to shoot your first video, remember brevity is the soul of wit: Each video can be only 15 seconds, but you can string multiple together for a total of 60. The platform itself is easy to use — simply click the plus sign to record. But part of TikTok’s magic also lies in the effects you can add, including animation, augmented reality, music, touch-ups, and voice effects.

That’s in part how TikTok was able to hit the 100-million monthly active user mark in the U.S. in August. As it grows, it’s attracting an increasingly diverse audience, including consumers well past their teens. And when a social media platform builds an audience like this, marketers soon follow. There is a captive audience on TikTok — research shows users spend an average of nearly an hour on the app every day.

That being said, it’s still relatively new, so there’s time for brands to get a jump on their competitors if they put in the work now. The trick for brands is not so much cracking the next viral #DreamsChallenge as it is figuring out how to stand out on TikTok without turning into Steve Buscemi on 30 Rock.

Tactic 1: Hashtags and Hashtag Challenges

Once you’ve spent time observing the landscape and determined your brand is ready for TikTok marketing, you can tap into the power of hashtags — and hashtag challenges — to get your posts noticed. Here, you can use the best practices you’ve honed on other networks, such as Twitter, where you already know not to overuse hashtags if you want to optimize engagement. (Although TikTok makes it harder for brands to get in trouble here as captions are limited to just 100 characters — so choose them wisely.) Hashtags will help with your TikTok SEO when users are searching for content, like the very branded videos you’re creating.

For more information on best practices for video advertising:

You can use TikTok itself to help focus on the right hashtags, too. Search for a keyword, and TikTok will suggest related hashtags. From there, it’s about striking a balance between generic hashtags with a lot of competition and more specific hashtags that might not be as known yet. What’s the right mix? That’s up to you to figure out.

Where one real opportunity for discovery lies is in hashtag challenges, which are wildly popular on TikTok. See above with Apodaca. Brands have the option of both participating in existing challenges and creating their own. If they can succeed with the latter — like Chipotle with the #LidFlipChallenge and #GuacDance, Pepsi with the #SwagStepChallenge, and Nike with #MagicBoots — they’ll be true masters of TikTok marketing. 

Tactic 2: Influencers

Like other social platforms, TikTok has big-name influencers like Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae, and Zach King, who boast huge reach and devoted followers. These top influencers may be out of the price range of your brand’s TikTok marketing budget — at least to start — but there are plenty of other influential TikTok users with followers interested in your brand. 

You can identify relevant influencers by searching for brand-adjacent topics on the platform (or via TikTok’s easy-to-use Creator Marketplace, which displays user metrics). If you see a TikTok user creating content that you think would be a good fit for your brand, you can reach out to talk about a collaboration or use TikTok as a conduit.

You may have to start somewhat small, but as your audience grows, so will your prestige and bargaining power — if you’re creating valuable content with the right influencers, that is. In this case, it’s the same as any other social media platform.

Tactic 3: Ads

Brands can also opt-in for TikTok ads through the TikTok for Business Platform, which launched in July

This is a way to fast-track yourself to eyeballs on TikTok in as little as 24 hours. Current options include

  • TopView, a takeover on “TikTok’s most premium real estate”
  • Brand Takeover, a full-screen static or dynamic display
  • In-Feed Ads, which appear in users’ “For You” section
  • Branded Hashtag Challenge, which offers three- to six-day package options with average engagement rates of 8.5%
  • Branded Effects, which include sharable stickers, filters, and special effects

The right ad mix will depend on your brand, but small businesses reportedly find In-Feed ads generate the best return. If your brand is looking to make a big splash on the platform, you should vet one of these options, depending on your budget.

Tactic 4: Pro accounts

Finally, if your brand is serious about TikTok marketing, you should consider signing up for a Pro account for access to additional analytics. This helps creators “better connect with the community” with insights into how videos are resonating across the network, such as views (broken down by week and month), follower growth, and trending videos.

“Enabling an optional Pro Account can provide additional tools to help you grow and track your performance,” according to TikTok.

Branded TikTok dreams

Sadly, Apodaca’s overnight success is unlikely for most brands. That’s not to say TikTok marketing is a futile effort, though. In fact, many brands — including Chipotle, Pepsi, and Nike, among others — have found success on the platform by engaging with users on their own terms. TikTok is a growing platform with increasing influence over generations of consumers. Now’s the time to start experimenting to find the right fit for your brand on the platform.

If you’re a brand looking for an experienced partner to help boost your social media marketing efforts, reach out to AdRoll today.

Explore Next

Topics Covered:

Get the online marketing news and tips you need to grow your brand, in the AdRoll newsletter.