Trends are the currency of the internet and TikTok is where today’s most permeating trends are born. If you’ve heard it, seen it or laughed at it somewhere on social media, chances are it went viral on TikTok.

The answers to your biggest social marketing challenges—growth, new audiences, relevance—may reside in an app most popular with people under the age of 25. With 1 billion active users worldwide and rapidly growing, TikTok holds the keys to success for creators and brands alike.

In a culture saturated with dance challenges and esoteric comedy, what’s the opportunity for your brand on TikTok? How can you find your footing and make your brand’s presence move the needle? Here’s what you need to know and six examples of brands who are leading the charge.

Why brands should be on TikTok

According to the 2021 Sprout Social Index, only 34% of brands use TikTok—which means marketers still aren’t using it as much as other platforms. Let’s uncover some of TikTok’s benefits that can help you decide if it’s the right fit for your brand. 

Everyone has influence

Don’t let its Gen Z sensibilities deter you—TikTok democratizes content more than any other social platform. People and brands don’t have to establish significant followings to land on the For You Page (FYP), the TikTok equivalent of Instagram’s Explore page. It’s a place where everyone has a shot. In fact, a running gag on the app is that creators and brands are better off posting first takes. “Try less,” is the sentiment. And don’t be surprised if you get 400,000 likes for it.

Niche interest? There’s a community for that

No matter how obscure a subculture may seem, it has a place in the TikTok world. Popular subcultures like #CleanTok, #TechTok and #WitchTok stay influential. And newly-revived communities like tumblrcore pop up all the time.

Building a genuine connection with one of these groups affords your brand cultural currency. Use it to stay on top of trends. And try creating some of your own.

Take premium French cookware manufacturer Le Creuset. The brand embraces the soothing kitchen cleanups popular on #CleanTok by showcasing the aesthetic appeal of their products, all while completing the household chores the subculture is famous for.

Sounds bring people together 

The way communities converge is part of TikTok’s ability to spread influence farther and faster than any other social platform. From good dancers and bad dancers, to comedians and average people with one good joke, everyone can give trends their unique spin. The same songs and jokes bring together everyone from artists and the occult to doctors and teachers who distill complex topics.

Every video published publicly becomes a searchable, usable sound. When you come across a tune or a funny sound bite you like, you can tap the audio and discover an endless scroll of videos with their own take on the sound. By tapping into universal TikTok sounds, your content can ripple across communities.

#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt

Word-of-mouth marketing goes far on TikTok. When creators share product reviews that are genuine and entertaining, people pay attention. #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has 9.4 billion views (and counting). It’s no surprise that many products generating buzz on TikTok are out of stock or completely sold out. Some 67% of TikTok users say TikTok inspired them to shop even when they weren’t looking to.

The launch of TikTok shopping in 2021 pushed community commerce a step further. With TikTok’s  ecommerce tools, your brand can turn videos and LIVEs into shoppable, entertaining ads. Consumers now expect social commerce capabilities from TikTok business accounts, and brands who can’t keep up will be left behind.

What great brands on TikTok have in common

Many marketers are still in the process of understanding how TikTok fits into their social media strategy. But brands who have already cemented their TikTok presence have discovered ways to break-through on the app. Here are a few hallmarks of great brands on TikTok.

Not the same old song and dance

Great brands set the trends by creating their own audio. Not only does this increase their TikTok clout, but it helps people remember them, too. When brands use custom songs and voice-overs, app users report an 8% increase in brand recognition.

Characters steal the show

According to our #BrandsGetReal data report, consumers connect with social media content that humanizes brands. Successful brands on TikTok allow their personalities to shine by dusting off their characters and mascots.

These aren’t the characters of advertising past—they are cultural icons. They are treated like creators, and have their own loyal fanbase. Take Benny the Bull, the Chicago Bulls’ official mascot. He has over 5.1 million followers, collaborates with celebrities and never misses a dance challenge.

Some of the best characters are witty, charming and keep up with the trends—the right mix to resonate with the TikTok community. When brands make characters the star of their presence, they see rapid growth in followers, likes, comments and shares.

Collaborate with creators

Great brands know they can’t succeed on TikTok without creators. Whether partnering through the TikTok Creator Portal or sharing user-generated content, relevant creators play an important role in developing a savvy strategy.

But it’s important to strike a balance between creator-led and brand-let content. Make sure creators interact with your product in a meaningful way in their videos. For example, tutorials, reviews and product explanations improve ad recall by 4% and brand linkage by 10%.

Authenticity is more than a buzzword

What does it mean for a brand to be genuine on TikTok? Unlike other networks, the TikTok community is put-off by overly curated content. Rather than constructing a polished veneer, great brands create lo-fi, scrappy and authentic content.

They stay true to their brand’s values and personality. They’re also proud to feature team members and grant their audience access behind-the-scenes.

Most importantly, they keep their ears and heart open to communities. They listen, learn and don’t adopt trends that don’t suit their brand.

6 examples of brands on TikTok to learn from

1. Duolingo

With 3 million followers to date, Duolingo has become a legendary TikTok success story. And their official character, Duo the big green owl, is the reigning star of TikTok. The account is dedicated to Duo content that embraces relevant trends—yet never veers away from their brand identity.

The Duolingo social team doesn’t miss a beat–from celebrating the success of Taylor Swift’s latest album release to pouncing on the Parent Trap trend.

But Duo wasn’t always the focus of Duolingo’s TikTok. At first, most of their videos were language tutorials. Once they realized Duo was the x-factor in some of their top posts, they continued spotlighting the mascot to optimize their strategy. And the rest is history.

2. Nuggs

 As the internet’s favorite plant-based chicken nuggets brand, Nuggs brings scrappy, culturally relevant content to the forefront. The lo-fi videos starring their social media manager make you feel like you’re watching your favorite comedian. And that’s what makes it work.

Nuggs’ success on TikTok relies on their keen community awareness. The brand knows what their fans are up to—the shows they watch, the trends they love, the embarrassing situations they get into. This awareness helps them create content that feels relatable and authentic, which makes people more likely to engage.

3. HBR Ascend

HBR Ascend shares TikTok videos to help their community deal with work, school and life. In their content, many people behind the brand come in front of the camera to offer actionable tips to inspire their community. Some of their most popular videos incorporate humor and original audio—solidifying their position as trend setters.

HBR Ascend shows that media brands have a place on TikTok, too. In fact, they can be just as personable and fun as other brands. What matters most is staying relevant to the people they want to reach.

4. Old Navy

Old Navy is making a case for TikTok strategy that leans into creator collaboration. The clothing brand, known for nostalgic Fourth of July flag tees, is evolving into an inclusive retailer with a top-notch TikTok presence. Old Navy shares videos of creators showing off their favorite outfits and offering fashion advice. They also feature creator content highlighting family traditions and diverse personal experiences.

The brand took their user-generated content strategy to the next level when they debuted their latest commercial. The art direction for the commercial came entirely from TikTok comments—which are featured in the 60-second spot. The happy, upbeat ad is an example of why it’s important to ask our communities what they want. Not only could it become a viral sensation, but it creates real connections.

5. e.l.f.

Leading the way for custom audio is beauty retailer e.l.f. In 2019, the brand dropped an original hit “Eyes, Lips, Face” in collaboration with a Grammy-award winning songwriter.

The team behind e.l.f.’s TikTok tapped a handful of influencers and the campaign spread quickly. New creators used the sound to make their own content. Today, there are 1.4 million TikTok videos using the song and the videos tagged with #eyeslipsface have been viewed nearly 9 billion times.

But e.l.f.’s affinity for making their own sounds didn’t stop there. They continue to share original audio—including creators’ tutorials and product reviews.        

6. Ryanair

 Only on TikTok would an airline openly roast itself, its customers and its competitors—then get more than 200,000 likes for it. The Irish airline Ryanair is best known for its ultra-low cost fares, something they embrace and celebrate on TikTok.

Ryanair’s social media team expertly makes the most out of bad reviews, turning them into viral videos. They also turn their planes into sassy characters and get their flight crews involved. And it pays off. Their quirky videos consistently go viral and they’ve gained a loyal community.

Ryanair shows us that TikTok rewards brands who break free from industry norms, while staying true to their brand’s identity and strategy.

How you can level up your TikTok presence

A year ago, to utter “brand opportunities” and “TikTok” in the same breath was laughable.

Today it’s the fastest-growing, most democratized social platform in the world. It’s not only about brand perception. It’s in the interest of your business’s growth to flex out of your comfort zone and build your presence on the platform.

If you still find yourself wanting more TikTok inspiration, read about our social team’s experience taking the leap into TikTok.