For a social media company, you could argue we were a bit late to the TikTok game. But while we only launched our official TikTok strategy in July 2021, we were lurking on TikTok for years prior to that.
We watched, we followed, we learned the language, and then we took the plunge into the most exciting thing to happen to social media since the invention of the selfie. We’re only a few months into our TikTok journey but what an exquisite journey it’s been so far—and one that’s brought us all the way to 11,800 followers less than a year later.
We’ve laughed, cried, danced, gone viral, flopped spectacularly, and dueled with fellow owl-forward brands (we’re looking at you, Duolingo). Above all, we’ve learned a TON of lessons that we want to share with you to help make using TikTok for your business a little less scary.
How we developed our TikTok strategy
Love it or hate it, TikTok is increasingly hard to ignore. With over 2 billion downloads in total, it’s growing at a rapid pace. It was the most downloaded app of 2021, with 656 million downloads (over 100 million more than its closest rival, Instagram).
TikTok isn’t going anywhere so we knew we needed a presence there. But like most brands, we were apprehensive about the role TikTok would play in our broader social media strategy. We didn’t just want to jump on the bandwagon for the sake of it, so we did our research.
We looked at what other brands were doing on TikTok and how the successful ones engage with their audiences.
We browsed the comments and realized that TikTokers speak a different language. Words and emojis have different meanings. (e.g., 💀=😂)
We learned that trends come and go at a dizzying speed and if you wait too long to react, you’ll be considered ‘cheugy’ (that’s TikTok speak for off-trend or dated).
We realized that TikTok is a unique and terrifying platform. But it presents an incredible opportunity to try something fun and be authentic.
We created a TikTok account for our brand in February 2021, secured our @Hootsuite handle, and drafted our initial strategy. We included a content plan with five key pillars aligned to our overall marketing objectives and agreed to take a test-and-learn approach.
We launched our strategy in July 2021. We went viral; we were an overnight success; Owly was crowned king and queen of TikTok; the end.
Just kidding. It was crickets.
@hootsuite Don’t worry, we’re still trying to wrap our heads on this one as well 🙃 #socialmedia #instagram #reels ♬ original sound – Hootsuite
Why we threw our strategy out the window
One of our biggest learnings in the early days was that the content we were using on other social media channels had no place on TikTok.
While our goal was to make sure our content was hyper-focused on social marketers, we realized that isn’t the only thing people want to talk about on TikTok.
We learned that there was an opportunity to reach new audiences, build more brand love, and humanize our organization by bringing our mascot Owly to the forefront. We switched our bio from, “our friendly social media experts 👋” to “just an owl on the TikTok asking the internet to love me” to reflect this shift.
What didn’t work for us
We made the classic mistake of creating professionally produced video content for our early TikTok videos. They performed okay, but it quickly became clear that style was out of place on TikTok.
TikTok research validated this—65% of TikTok users agree that professional-looking videos from brands feel out of place or odd on TikTok, according to research (Marketing Science Global Community and Self-expression Study 2021).
So we threw our strategy out the window and started again.
We shifted away from our original content pillars and introduced revamped content pillars that leaned into TikTok trends, embracing a more flexible, short-term strategy better suited to the fast pace of the platform.
To generate more authentic content on a budget, we reached out to some TikTok influencers to create user-generated content (UGC) to share. The UGC performed really well and filled a gap in our content, however, with our feed featuring so many different people, we started to lose our brand voice a little.
That’s when we realized we needed our own in-house TikTok content creators.
What did work for us on TikTok—spectacularly
Battle of the brands
When we first introduced our mascot Owly to TikTok, we discovered they weren’t the only owl in town.
They were quickly dubbed the “Walmart version” of language learning app Duolingo’s popular owl mascot Duo. We could have taken this to heart and sent Owly to their nest.
Instead, we saw an opportunity to have some fun.
@hootsuite Reply to @duolingo ♬ Monkeyshine-JP – Lt FitzGibbons Men
We instigated a ‘battle of the brands’—a growing trend on TikTok—and poked a little fun at Duolingo’s TikTok video style. People loved our spicy tone and began creating their own narratives around Owly versus Duolingo—some wanted us to fight each other; others wanted us to fall in love.
Our ‘battle of the brands’ approach resulted in a 5,205% increase in followers. One video even went viral with 647,000 views in one week!
The 7-second challenge
At the beginning of 2022, TikTok creators started reporting incredible engagement, simply by posting text-heavy, seven-second videos featuring trending audio clips to beat the TikTok algorithm.
We experimented with the seven-second challenge trend and it worked! We posted our video on February 2, 2022 and it went viral, clocking up 700,000 views.
@hootsuitetry this hack yourself 🙌💯♬ original sound – material growl 😘💅
Capitalizing on trending audio
We noticed that people who were commenting on our posts fell into two buckets: people who knew and loved Hootsuite and people who had absolutely no idea what Hootsuite was.
To showcase more content about what Hootsuite does, we introduced product-centric posts, including a series of ‘product hacks’ demonstrating Hootsuite’s most-loved (and often underrated) features and little-known tricks.
One post demonstrating our new planner view in the Hootsuite dashboard used some trending audio and was a huge success, resulting in a lot of positive sentiment from our followers.
@hootsuitescheduling on social just got a lot better 😉♬ original sound – Barstool Sports
Dance challenge (we had to!)
Then, in March 2022, we worked with Brian Esperon—the choreographer behind Cardi B’s WAP dance—to create a unique dance challenge for Hootsuite as part of our campaign at SXSW, a major tech and entertainment conference.
Owly and Brian hit the streets of Austin, Texas with their sick moves and got tons of different people involved. Overall the campaign’s videos clocked over 56,000 views on TikTok.
While the dance videos were a success, the way we executed this campaign didn’t align with how people consume content on TikTok. In the run-up to the event, we launched a multi-part teaser video series that was created to be consumed consecutively. We learned that self-contained videos work better on TikTok.
Why? In addition to being super fast-paced, TikTok isn’t a particularly chronological platform, so you don’t know what will land on your audience’s #fyp and when. People might see videos in your series out of order or only see one of them, missing out on important details from the other entries. Keeping your entire story in a single video gives you the best chance of ensuring your audience sees the whole story—especially if you keep that one video as short as possible.
@hootsuite 🚨NEW TREND ALERT🚨 get ready to shake your tail feathers with these moves 🤪 dc: @besperon & Owly #WheresOwly ♬ Sunroof – Nicky Youre & dazy
Key takeaways for TikTok newbies
The role of the social media manager is evolving
In the past, social media managers could sit behind the scenes, writing copy, creating graphics, and crunching numbers. With the arrival of TikTok (and similar features like Instagram Reels), there’s an opportunity for our roles to become more well-rounded as we flex our creative muscles.
Understanding the intricacies of video creation can be daunting at first. Not everyone is comfortable recording themselves or being on camera, but with practice, it gets easier.
If you can, hire content creators or find people on your team who are genuinely excited about TikTok and enjoy being in front of the camera.
Our Social Marketing Coordinator and in-house TikTok aficionada Eileen Kwok is crushing it. Follow us on TikTok to see her strike the perfect balance between capitalizing on TikTok trends and providing helpful evergreen advice and support to our core audience of social media managers.
@hootsuitehootsuite always saving me time 😍♬ original sound – Hootsuite
Authentic works best
When marketers think of video creation, we typically think of costly or time-consuming production that eats up a TON of budget and resources.
TikTok doesn’t need that high-production content. In fact, authentic, unpolished low-production videos resonate much better with TikTok users.
Learn to speak TikTok
TikTok has its own language and style. You can show your audience that you understand the platform by learning how best to communicate on it. Watch how other brands do it by reading the comments sections or read our TikTok Culture Guide for tips.
Comment on other brand accounts
The comment section of TikTok videos is an exciting (and surprisingly positive) place. Many users actually go directly to the comments before watching the full video to see what others are saying about it. (The comments are also a great place to learn how to speak TikTok.)
We started proactively commenting on other brands’ accounts and some of our comments received thousands of likes, which brought tons of traffic to our account.
TikTok trends don’t wait
Leaning into different TikTok trends is the easiest way to build your followers. So if you find a trend that suits your brand, don’t waste time over-thinking content production.
Act fast or the trend might pass you by. (Tip: If you’re too late for a trend on TikTok, don’t worry: You might still be early on Instagram.)
Be selective with the trends you jump on
A lot of TikTok humor is dark and NSFW (not safe for work). Be careful which trends you hop on (and which songs you choose for backing tracks).
Keep your audience in mind at all times by asking yourself if they would relate to or appreciate your humor.
TikTok trends move FAST. Stay up-to-date with our TikTok Trends Newsletter. Sign up to get the latest updates, our recommendations on whether your business should hop on them, inspo from brands doing cool things on TikTok, and hot tips.
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