5 TikTok takeaways from launching our brands on the platform

Lauren Smith
Head of Social Strategy

There’s a pretty strong chance that 2020 was the year you learned about TikTok.

From viral dance challenges to Trump’s attempt to ban the app, TikTok went more mainstream than ever this year, with usage exploding in the UK during lockdown, and the user base expanding from an exclusively Gen Z crowd to entire families.?TikTok's celebrities are no longer just teen and twenty-something social media royalty like Charli and Dixie D’Melio, and Holly H - there’s GranddadJoe1933, whose 2.5m followers tune in for “wholesome family content” – and celebrities like JLo and Andrew Lloyd Webber (!) have joined the app this year.

While it’s fun to joke about spending ten minutes on the app and feeling extremely old, TikTok’s influence as the most downloaded social media app in the Apple Store is not to be sniffed at. A song sound-tracking a viral dance on TikTok can lead to huge chart success – and music companies are using the platform to launch careers and pivot views into album sales. Positive reviews of the 15-year-old beauty brand Cerave on the platform led to the entire line selling out at Superdrug in the UK, and a 65% WOW increase in sales in June.

This influence also indicates how the use of TikTok has shifted since its inception as a lip-syncing app for teens. With the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok now racking up 33 billion views, It’s a place where younger audiences are looking to learn about the world around them and want advice from trusted brands, influencers and experts.

Naturally, we wanted to launch our own trusted brands into a space where people were looking for expertise, and where we could reach the magazine consumers of the future.? And since December 2019, we have launched 5 brands on the platform – with a whopping 640,000 likes across our videos. But how do you navigate launching traditional media brands in a new social media space?

Here are five key takeaways:

1. Pick your brands carefully

Most brands can convert to TikTok, with the right approach to content. The rise of 'influencers' in every industry, from doctors and estate agents to flight attendants and teachers, shows that the TikTok audience is interested in a huge spectrum of topics - it just needs to work for the platform.

We decided to choose the brands to launch on TikTok carefully, due to the time and resource it would take to add a brand new platform into the mix.?Cosmopolitan was an obvious choice, as the brand has already built a highly engaged following on newer platforms such as Snapchat, and a large amount of TikTok’s user base are Gen Z women – the Cosmo readers of the future. They also have an ample video library, which gave us a base to experiment with before making original content.

But we also looked at what content was resonating on the platform to help guide other launches. Food content was exploding on TikTok, especially recipes, so launching Delish was a no-brainer. The food brands’ fun recipes, from a homemade Dominos dip to a Biscoff spread, have been an instant hit, with over 154k likes on the videos and 9k followers already.

Women’s Health and Men’s Health were also a no-brainer, as health and fitness are also huge on TikTok. There’s also a lot of misinformation and diet content on a platform with a young user base – so it’s such a positive brand story to be publishers educating users with the correct advice on fitness and nutrition.

2. Launch with a bang

We launched Men’s Health and Women’s Health on TikTok in a special way - with two hashtag challenges - #FuelForFitness for Men’s Health, and #SquatIt for Women’s Health.

A hashtag challenge means your brand’s videos, and the challenge itself, is promoted on premium real estate in the app – on the Discover page – and usually, brands have to pay large sums to be featured alongside an organic viral challenge. But the whole process was a collaborative effort between us and TikTok, who were keen to help us launch two trusted brands in the health and fitness space.

The challenges were a huge success – we grew the Men's Health account by 3k followers and Women's Health by 4k followers, and saw 60m videos on the Women's Health hashtag, and nearly 50m on the Men's Health hashtag.

And the key to that success? Using our brands’ expertise, combined with TikTok’s knowledge of what flies on the platform.

#FuelForFitness chimed in well with the growth of #LearnOnTikTok content on the app – Men's Health created videos that were packed full of expert advice on eating to fuel your gains in the gym, and major Tiktok creators joined in.

#SquatIt was a fun and easy challenge to take part in – users had to squat with whatever they could find – and we saw some amazing examples, alongside some solid advice on building your glutes. Women’s Health was also strategic in asking friends of the brand AND influencers who the TikTok audience love – like Dianne Buswell – to take part in the challenge. They also commented on videos users had made as part of the challenge to increase their brand's awareness – as comment culture is huge on TikTok, and users LOVE a reply.

3. Lean into your strengths as a brand

The Washington Post was a TikTok trail-blazer in the publishing world – with a guy called Dave whose job is essentially posting funny TikToks about the news cycle (the dream!). They have grown a hugely successful, highly-engaged account off the back of Dave’s hard work – and driven a huge amount of brand awareness. But a personality-driven, funny account is not the only way brands can go – and it would be a mistake to assume you have to do a Washington Post to be a success on TikTok.

Digital Spy is a great example of a brand who have taken to TikTok in a very on-brand way. They have created a series of ‘things you didn’t know’ TikToks about shows the TikTok audience care about ?- like 13 Reasons Why and The Kissing Booth – as well as useful content like '5 Netflix hacks to make your user experience better'. The brand is showing their expertise in the world of TV and film – but in a listicle-based format that really works for them.

4. Repurpose content with purpose

While a lot of our top-performing content has been made for TikTok, we’ve also had success from taking existing video and making them work for the platform.

Some of Cosmopolitan’s top videos this year have been taken from existing content made for Facebook or YouTube but cut down and repackaged so they work within the platform. Taking funny, bitesize moments from videos with celebrities have worked really well – Paige Turley from Love Island doing funny accents, Alison Hammond giving a 15-second pep talk have had well over 50k likes each.

One video that really showcases how publishing brands can give out useful information is a guide on how to check your breasts for lumps, which was originally made for Facebook, and worked perfectly on Tiktok. It shows that when experimenting with new platforms, you can test with assets you already have if you’re unsure about what content works, to begin with.

5. Revel in reaching new audiences - and don't be afraid of the comments!

If you scan through the comments section of any publisher on TikTok, you’re probably going to see some pretty savage comments (the teens don’t hold back!). Mostly, they’ll consist of “how are you verified” and “why do you have a blue tick?”. This is because some of the younger consumers on the app won't know what to us seem like iconic and well-known media brands – and can’t understand why these accounts are verified like celebrities and brands. While this could probably hurt the publishing world’s egos a little bit, it highlights an important point – there’s a swathe of audiences on social media who might not know who our brands are – and it’s our job in audience development to make people aware and turn them into super-fans.

Which is why developing new audiences on platforms like TikTok is so important – and it’s even more rewarding when people become loyal fans of your brand because they engaged with a 15-second video.

TikTok is also all about community – and the frequent and direct feedback shows how engaged these users are. Make them a fan of your brand, and it’s likely they’ll be fiercely loyal.

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Lauren Smith

Head of Social Strategy

Lauren Smith is the Head of Social at Hearst in the UK, advising on the social strategy for 13 brands. Prior to this, she was Head of Social at Cosmopolitan. Before Hearst, Lauren worked in multiple social media roles across some of the biggest names in the publishing world, from Glamour and Stylist to Grazia and Heat. Before working in publishing, she was in digital roles at department store Liberty and book publisher Thames & Hudson.