The Art of Selling on TikTok

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The Chinese-owned, globally embraced, short form video app TikTok has taken the world by storm. Launched in 2016, it was the world’s fourth most downloaded app in 2018 and 2019, and fifth in 2020. Its rapid growth and potential to connect with notoriously hard to reach Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2010) and young millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) audiences means that brands – and particularly those with products or services that resonate with younger consumers – are eager to explore its marketing potential. But selling on TikTok requires a different, more subtle approach to that used on other social media platforms. TikTok is primarily a platform of entertainment, full of fun, quirky and light-hearted short videos. Its users go there to be informed and inspired but not explicitly sold to. In this chapter I therefore focus on educating the reader about TikTok’s culture and conventions so that they can embrace a more authentic and effective selling style when using the platform. Embrace, a brand that focuses on body positive lingerie, has mastered TikTok: it doesn’t just show its products, it promotes a lifestyle and ethos. Beauty and clothing brands that use TikTok don’t just show makeup or clothes, they show transformation and enter into challenges that engage TikTok’s audience.

Overview of TikTok as a Social Media Platform

TikTok is a mobile app for creating and sharing short videos on which users add their sounds, filters, and visual effects. The app is known for its lighthearted and entertaining content, with the most popular clips featuring challenges, dance routines, meme-related humor, and pranks. For example, a user might post a video of themselves performing a popular dance routine along with a catchy song, or they might post a comedic skit playing different characters with the audio overlay. TikTok is unique among social media apps because it focuses on content discovery rather than feed curation. When a user opens the app, they are taken to the “For You” feed, which displays a continuous list of videos that the app’s recommendation algorithm thinks the user will enjoy. This feature encourages users to post content, with the thinking that a new user can become a TikTok creator simply by being exposed to the diverse range of content that the app has to offer.

With over 800 million active users, TikTok has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. Launched in 2016, this platform allows users to create and share short videos, usually set to background music. TikTok is known for its quirky and entertaining content that often incorporates challenges, dance routines, and other user-generated activities. While TikTok is primarily seen as an app for entertainment, it also has great potential as an e-commerce platform. In 2019, TikTok tested a number of shopping features, and it partnered with Shopify in 2020 to allow merchants to create and run TikTok marketing campaigns directly from the Shopify dashboard.

2. Understanding the TikTok Audience

Not surprisingly, given the head-spinning speed of technological advance, little hard research appears to have been done on the TikTok audience. From comments scattered around the web, users seem to be performing a diverse set of activities. These include creating and consuming comedic, educational, dance, lip-sync, talent, and other videos; duetting (performing alongside someone else’s video); and engaging in challenges. The most popular, but no doubt the minority, have become influencers – users who have built a large following. Despite the lack of solid data, we can still make a few educated guesses about the audience. First, a sound. The simple, fun user experience that it offers means that anyone can use TikTok, regardless of their sound.

Imagine the loose, individualistic character of the 1960s refitted with modern digital engagement patterns. Welcome to the fickle, strangely cooperative world of the TikTok generation. Before contemplating a sales strategy, it is necessary to understand the unique characteristics of the customers who will be on the receiving end. Conceived from the ashes of Vine, TikTok was born in 2018 and has since enjoyed a meteoric rise. It is estimated to have 800 million active users who skew young (41% are aged 16-24). The key to TikTok’s popularity is its addictive, engaging and simple user experience. Users can quickly and easily create and consume short videos. Commercial breaks are few and an algorithm decides what gets presented in the user’s feed. TikTok has also become a fertile hunting ground for brands which want to recruit influencers to market their products.

Demographics and User Behavior on TikTok

TikTok’s discovery system has three notable characteristics: Firstly, it is personalized and easy to use. Secondly, it combines various aspects of the user experience, such as sound, filters, and effects, to drive engagement. Thirdly, it is designed to surface different types of content through diversity and novelty, constantly introducing new content to users through their feed. Although TikTok’s main feed is called the ‘For You’ feed, and this name suggests that it is a feed exclusively displaying recommended content, the platform does offer a ‘Following’ feed, which only shows content from users that have been followed. However, the ‘Following’ feed is not the default feed and is not as prominently featured in the user interface as the ‘For You’ feed. Consequently, many users spend most of their time on TikTok in the ‘For You’ feed, watching recommended content.

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world. It has a young user base, with 41% of users aged between 16 and 24. The unique way that TikTok allows users to discover content, through the ‘For You’ feed, means that users do not need to have a large network to be entertained on the platform. This has resulted in a high proportion of users who are more likely to be considered as organic users, rather than typical influencers. This ‘For You’ feed, which uses a recommendation algorithm, provides data-driven insights into user behavior, as it essentially determines what content a user sees. It is believed to place more importance on what is happening currently rather than showcasing the most popular users, as other platforms, like Instagram, do.

Creating Engaging and Authentic Content

In addition to blending in with the TikTok culture, it is also important to be consistent with your content. Post regularly and engage with your audience. TikTok is all about fast-paced, high-volume content, so make sure to keep up with the trend. You can also take advantage of TikTok’s duet and stitch features to collaborate with other creators or enhance your content with clips from other users. This will help expand your reach and engagement. Overall, the more effort you put into creating engaging and authentic content, the more successful you will be in selling on TikTok.

The key to selling on TikTok is to blend in and not stick out like a sore thumb. Create engaging content that is authentic to you and your brand. Remember that TikTok is a place for lighthearted, fun, and creative content – so make sure to have fun with it! You don’t necessarily have to create content that is directly selling your product – in fact, it’s encouraged that you don’t. Instead, create content that showcases your product in a more subtle way. For example, if you are selling fashion items, create a lookbook or styling video using your products. If you are selling a service, create a tutorial or a skit that demonstrates what your service is about. The key is to be creative and authentic in your content while subtly showcasing your product or service.

Trends and Formats for Successful TikTok Videos

To up your selling game on TikTok, it’s wise to be aware of current trends and to use the video format that is unique to this platform. A TikTok video, even when it is an ad, needs to blend in with the non-commercial nature of the platform. The more organic it feels, the less resistance there will be to watching it and then taking action. The ultimate goal is to make it seem like viewers are discovering something new and exciting of their own volition, and then to capitalize on their interest so they become customers either immediately or down the road a bit. Be aware, also, of who your competitors are and what they’re doing. TikTok is one of the hottest platforms for a reason; a lot of people are watching!

No matter if you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, you can get in on a unique aspect of TikTok that is sure to grow by leaps and bounds: Shopping on TikTok. There’s no doubt that TikTok is, and will continue to be, a rapidly growing social media platform. For many users, the novelty of a short video format has proven to be highly addictive. TikTok also has the advantage of being more entertaining than many other social media platforms, which skews toward the light and fun with little trace of heavy news or negative comments. Bearing all this in mind, it’s a perfect platform for influencing followers to shop.

Utilizing TikTok Features for Sales

If you can, tell stories related to your products or services. Share testimonials from satisfied buyers. Create clips in response to frequently asked questions. Be informative and helpful. Remember that you are using a social media platform that is more about being social than selling. People buy from people they like and trust. Be sure to also check out the next section where we will discuss creating an e-commerce strategy specifically for TikTok. Be sure to adjust it to fit your products and services, as well as your overall TikTok marketing strategy.

Additionally, TikTok allows users to easily duet, react, comment, and more. Utilize these features to reach out to potential buyers. Be sure to follow all of TikTok’s guidelines. You do not want to be considered a spammer or your account to be considered spam. Use these features genuinely to interact with potential customers.

TikTok allows users to link to their web store in their profile. Be sure that your website is mobile-friendly, as 100% of TikTok users are mobile users. Note that the ability to link may change according to how you are utilizing TikTok. Some users report that they cannot link until they reach a certain number of followers, likes, or other criteria. TikTok also allows users to connect their Instagram profiles, which could have the shopping feature enabled if you meet Instagram’s requirements. If linking products on Instagram is an option for you, it may be another option you can utilize.

Sales? On a platform like TikTok? Yes, sales. While TikTok is mostly about fun and entertainment, as well as education, it can be used to move inventory. Let’s talk about how.

Shoppable Livestreams and In-App Purchases

TikTok also states that “applying and participating in the program doesn’t guarantee access to the TikTok Shopping feature”. Additionally, eligible applications for the program will be activations or campaigns that incorporate “product links, product posts, livestream shopping, or TikTok Shopping in general”. This shows that you can have access to the program without necessarily having access to TikTok Shopping, but you are more likely to get access if you are running shopping-related campaigns. With this program, TikTok sellers receive guidance and resources from the TikTok team and can take lessons in their own time. The self-service part of this program is perhaps the best feature and more sellers should have access to it because time zone differences can make it difficult to learn otherwise.

TikTok has launched a new “TikTok Shop Seller University” program that is aimed at helping sellers on TikTok learn how to use the platform’s shop features for in-app product listings. As we have written about, TikTok has been expanding the use of shoppable livestreams and is also testing a native product experience. This new program is likely to further bolster those efforts. For now, it seems that the “TikTok Shop Seller University” may be invite-only as applications are required to participate. The program is meant to help established businesses, entrepreneurs, and creators learn how to use the platform’s shop features, enabling them to connect with more audiences and boost sales.

Measuring Success and Adjusting Strategies

It’s important for businesses to have a clear understanding of what their goals are before they start selling on TikTok. By defining your goals early, you will be able to create a more specific and targeted selling strategy that is more likely to be successful. Be sure to regularly check on your progress towards your goals and be willing to adjust your strategies as needed to ensure that you are using your resources as effectively as possible to optimize your sales. With a well-defined selling strategy and willingness to adjust based on feedback, your business can find success in selling on TikTok.

One metric you can use to help guide your selling strategies is TikTok’s built-in Analytics tool. It can provide you with valuable information, such as which of your TikToks are performing the best, who your target audience is, and how your TikTok presence is contributing to your website traffic and sales. You can also use external tracking with tools such as Google Analytics to get more detailed information about your website traffic and customer journey. The more information you have about how your TikTok audience is interacting with your brand and buying your products, the better you will be able to tailor your selling strategies to optimize your sales.

Sales numbers and conversion rates are the most direct way to measure how successful a business is at selling, so it makes sense that many strategies should be adjusted. Businesses need to continue to experiment and change their selling strategies until they find what works best to optimize their sales. However, it is also important to remember that not all measures of success are quantitative. It can take a while to build up a brand presence and a community on TikTok, so be patient and persistent. As your brand grows, so will your sales.

Key Performance Indicators for TikTok Sales Campaigns

These KPIs will help you evaluate the performance of the TikTok sales campaign and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the campaign is as successful as possible.

– The number of likes on a promotional video 

– The number of shares 

– The engagement rate, which is calculated by adding the number of comments and likes, dividing by the number of views, and then multiplying by 100 

– The Click Through Rate (CTR), which is the number of clicks divided by the number of views, and then multiplied by 100 

– The Conversion Rate (CR), which is the number of sales divided by the number of views, and then multiplied by 100 

– The cost per thousand views (CPM), which is how much it costs for a thousand people to view the ad. This is calculated by dividing the amount spent by the number of views, and then multiplied by 1000 

– The cost per click (CPC), which is how much each click costs. This is calculated by dividing the amount spent by the number of clicks 

– The cost per conversion, which is how much each conversion costs. This is calculated by dividing the amount spent by the number of conversions