TikTok has become one of the hottest apps in 2020. From dancing videos to DIYs to comedy skits, TikTok has quickly become the second-coming of Vine to many people. For many people, when they hear about the app, they think of tweens dancing and lip syncing. However, TikTok is quickly on the rise becoming one of the best new platforms for businesses to market themselves.
We decided to do a deep dive into brands using TikTok to reach new audiences and we created an Airtable database to track these brands that we update monthly. We want this to be an ongoing, and ever-expanding list so if you see brands we are missing feel free to submit brands to be added here.
Before we get to our updated list of top brands on TikTok we dove into the story of TikTok’s rise but feel free to skip ahead to whatever interests you most!
The Story of TikTok’s Ascension
The story of TikTok is a story of growth in the blink of an eye. Facebook and Instagram took about 8 years to reach 1 billion users, while Twitter and Snapchat still haven’t even gotten half that many. TikTok managed to do the same in less than 5 years and is beating Zuckerberg and other social networks in metrics such as average session duration and time spent daily, both crucially important to potential advertisers.
TikTok took social media and flipped it on its head. Instead of relying on the interconnectedness of people, it relied solely on your interests as displayed by your engagement in the app. Discovery on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter was powered largely by a social graph which assumed people are more likely to like something their friends or family members like. But TikTok is based on an interest graph using an incredibly perceptive algorithm to show users what they’re most likely to engage with.
TikTok still encouraged users to invite their friends but unlike these platforms, a user could still have an incredibly engaging experience without friends. TikTok chose to use an algorithm to directly derive an interest graph based on user behavior and engagement. By just showing you what it believes you’ll like the algorithm removes any work or friction. The algorithm learns your tastes quickly, and continues learning constantly, it feels like passive personalization. In June the company revealed greater insight into how its recommendation algorithm on the For You page works in a blog post.
Why TikTok Has Succeeded
To start, it created the best tool to edit short-videos on mobile. This included easy clipping and scrubbing, a variety of filters, and a large library of music.
The creation tools take features and functions that traditionally you would have to use the adobe suite on a laptop to do and make it possible to do that on your phone. This was a huge barrier to entry in terms of cost and learning curve to create videos. TikTok removed that barrier and unlocked visual creativity in a way never possible before.
Social networks generally evolve from a powerful initial content creation tool [think Instagram filters], which reduces the friction of creation and consumption in a way that accumulates social capital for the creators. If done correctly, it builds a flywheel that compounds as the network grows.
As devastating as COVID-19 has been for people around the world, the mass quarantine starting in the spring made it possible to add a new cohort of users stuck at home bored and looking for entertainment. Users flocked to the app to find solace and mind-melting sessions of endless content curated just for them. No more scrolling through Netflix for 15 minutes trying to decide what to watch, TikTok knows what you want to watch. In a time riddled with anxiety, TikTok removed the pressure around making a choice, which has been shown to increase happiness and satisfaction.
Network effects have always driven social media growth but on TikTok this network effect bares its teeth most prominently on the creative side of the equation. Creators make other creators more creative by making new dances or formats and then mixing and matching this ad infinitum.
The hardest aspect of content is figuring out what to make, but creators solve this problem by just remixing content and luckily brands can do this as well. In fact, to succeed on TikTok as a brand on TikTok it’s almost essential to do this. TikTok splices the contemporary art concept of appropriation in a myriad of ways.
Put simply, short-form reduces the friction of both creation and consumption. Most TikTok videos are produced by the creator alone, and many are able to post multiple videos per day. In addition to easing content creation, this form factor allows the TikTok algorithm to learn much faster.
TikToks are inherently rich in data which allows the algorithm to quickly learn about each user’s interests.
As previously alluded to, interest graphs essentially link users and their interests to show them videos and recommendations that best suit their personality. Put simply an interest graph is the network of people that share the same interests connected via the videos and creators they like. Eventually, these preferences in terms of content will be easily extrapolated to work in the products people will like and therefore potentially buy.
While TikTok is often called a social network, in reality, it’s simply an entertainment network, where its primary purpose is to match entertaining videos from creators to the audience that would enjoy them.
Savvy growth strategies
One secret to success is the viral acquisition loop TikTok has used to hypercharge its wild global ascension. TikTok forces videos to be posted in order to export them and inserts a watermark on every exported video. In TikTok’s early days, Influencers on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter all drove traffic back to TikTok, whether they realized it or not.
Similar to the early days of the original short video platform, Vine, TikToks began showing up with regularity on other social networks and a feeling of FOMO began setting in for many users who wanted to see what all the hype was about. TikTok supercharged this organic content with massive ad spend which seemed absurd at the time but now looks like a prudent investment.
Virality and Accessibility
Being an early adopter is less important on TikTok than platforms of the past. New creators can join the app, and without any previous followers, go insanely viral with the right content. This low barrier to entry makes the platform far more accessible and intimidating. TikTok makes sure to promote users’ first videos to get at least a few hundred views because nobody likes “shouting into the void.”
For other social networks built around your actual social circles, it’s important to have friends who use the platform. This has never been the case for TikTok. In the two-sided entertainment marketplace that is TikTok, the algorithm acts as the market maker. Organic growth and reach are a product of user engagement that heavily weighs on trending audio and hashtags.
Insane User Acquisition Spending
In late 2017, Bytedance purchased the lip-syncing and dancing app Musical.ly for 1 billion dollars and began upgrading the app’s recommendation engine and adding some new features. These changes boosted retention significantly, and in August 2018, Bytedance dropped the Musical.ly name in favor of TikTok. After the transition, TikTok’s own ad spending, to drive downloads of the app, jumped to as much as $3 million a day in the U.S., according to a person familiar with the matter. Over the following year, Bytedance spent an estimated 1 billion dollars on acquiring new users, spending largely on their US social media competitors.
At the same time, TikTok told ad buyers it was the fastest-growing platform for Gen Z globally, according to an ad buyer TikTok pitched. This new ad money pulled a more diverse audience into TikTok, and the algorithm matched content with the viewers who’d appreciate that content. This enabled new subcultures beyond teen girl lip-synching and dancing to form.
User Data and Ad Formats
On the business side, TikTok has been able to borrow best practices from social media companies that have had to turn user data to create revenue via ads. It’s hard to say how successful these new ad formats are in terms of conversion at this point but for awareness, they offer a great audience to marketers. On TikTok, all content is displayed in the same full-screen format. If marketers do as Bytedance has recommended and “[make] TikToks not ads,” these paid promotions can come off as just another video and therefore be less likely to be skipped by users wary of advertising.
TikTok also enables brands to buy the pre-roll ad spot to display immediately upon the launch of the app before users get to their own algorithmically recommended “for you” feed.
Why Brands Like TikTok
TikTok recently launched a global campaign with a simple message to marketers: Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks. At the surface, this feels light and inclusive – a low barrier to entry. But in practice, this is a lot easier said than done. A successful TikTok is about more than just pulling together a creator, a snappy sound, or a creative effect. It is about crafting a story to share with the world.
Trends and ideas bubble up to the surface organically with creators constantly innovating to find the next big thing. The expressions of TikTok are in constant iteration and marketers must pay attention to fit in organically and not come off as old people trying to fit in on a youthful platform.
Brands do best when they can have the same experiences, connections, and engagements as an equal part of the community. Not separate, not excluded, not diverted, not different. On TikTok, everything is full-screen, sound-on video. This is meaningful to understand as a marketer because being a part of the flow is more important than taking people away from the experience they want to have.
As the world has changed and people’s connections have evolved, brands should know they don’t have to be perfect. What’s important on TikTok is sincerity, a strong voice, and a sense of purpose. Brands can be who they are, have more dynamic connections, and tell important stories that build over time. This doesn’t mean videos can’t have a high production value, or that exceptional craft skills don’t apply on the platform, but it isn’t essential.
Tik Tok Brand Power Rankings
It’s hard to say what the most important metric is on TikTok, followers are important but not essential to success. Earlier in the year pre-COVID, we wrote about some of our favorite brands on the platform but we’ve taken a much deeper dive into this question. We compiled a database on Airtable tracking all of the brands we could find on TikTok and we will be tracking metrics over time. The database is accessible below for anyone to dive into the data themself. You can filter by category or sort by any metric your heart desires. If you know of any brands missing you can use the form submission to suggest additional brands that we will add for next month’s tracking sheet.
Using this database we’ve come up with an updated list of 12 of the best brands, this time backed by data. We’ve pulled data like followers, likes, and number of posts along with some calculations such as the average number of likes or followers per post. In selecting this list we tried to highlight some lesser-known brands that we haven’t seen on other online articles.
ESPN posts sports and other athletic content often borrowed from and attributed to normal people on other social networks like Twitter and Instagram. ESPN does a great job with variety which is necessary when you post as often as they do. The account has the second highest average number of likes per post across its 1700+ TikTiks. ESPN gains far less follows per post but keeps engagement high which is essential to drive organic growth.
@espnThrow in is WILD. (via @willkirtley )♬ original sound – ESPN
The Washington Post account is run by a man named Dave who brings a “dorky dad” vibe to trending memes and video formats on the platform. The account is surprisingly unpolitical and only loosely covers current news events which is probably why the Washington Post has managed to succeed so much on the platform. People come to TikTok to be entertained and prefer information as a side note.
The fact that Fortnite has amassed 2.6 million followers in just 16 posts may have more to do with the popularity of the game among key TikTok demographics than post quality but with the highest number of average likes per post it seems like Fortnite might just be on of the best brands on TikTok. Fortnite has an average of 430k likes per post which is over 100k higher than the next closest account Netflix. Fortnite capitalizes on holidays, events, hashtags, and trending dances with animated videos of game characters.
@fortniteYou called? We’re now on TikTok ????♬ September – Earth, Wind & Fire
As an up and coming skincare brand, Starface definitely knows how to utilize social media (both Instagram and TikTok). Starface makes unique “acne stickers” in the shape of stars that fit perfectly with beauty and skincare TikTok. Their TikTok videos primarily consist of customers using the products to help with their skin problems and they do a great job of engaging with followers by making video responses to questions they get in the comment section.
@starfacefor those of you who don’t know me… ##starface ##skincare ##bigyellow ##ItStartsOnTikTok ##acne ##fyp♬ The Dice Beat Pt. 1 – Ricky Desktop
The NBAs TikTok shows personality and exclusive behind the scenes content featuring players and their teams which helps followers feel connected to the league from a different perspective. During the NBA Finals the NBA account surpassed ESPN to become the brand with the most followers on our list.
@nbaHow @nuggets fans feel today knowing their squad made it to the Western Conference Finals! ???? ##nbaplayoffs ##nba ##wholenewgame♬ WOAH – Interesting
Although 2020 has been a bad year for most, it has also been a great time for many to take a break and think about life. Koreen, the creator of the WNRS card game, created WNRS to empower meaningful connections with others. Their TikTok account is different from others; they not only repost their question cards but also encourage their viewers to answer them in the comments. The TikTok algorithm uses engagement like comments as a signal of quality so for brands looking to grow and reach a greater audience this tactic can be quite effective.
@werenotreallystrangersIt’s okay to outgrow people, places, and things♬ heather leldoirtts – leldoirtts
One way for brands to succeed and grow on TikTok is by creating hashtag challenge campaigns. E.L.F commissioned a song specifically for a TikTok campaign called “Eyes Lips Face” and ran a contest #eyeslipsface for fans to use the sound for a chance to win $250 of free cosmetics. They kicked off the campaign with a couple of influencers and saw massive success with the hashtag #eyeslipsface amassing now 6.3 billion views. ELF Cosmetics participates in many TikTok trends as well. For example, “Everything is a cake” trend has been popular across social media. In a few of their videos, they show fake ELF products that are actually cake.
@elfyeahPutty primer or birthday cake ???? ???? Take a bite and find out! ???? @sideserfcakes ✨ ##HappyBirthday ##elfcosmetics ##Sweet16 ##cake ##caketiktok ##putty♬ LA LA LAND (Part 1) – Official Sound Studio
Gushers is a great example of an account that values quality over quantity with just 20 posts along with 262K Followers and 2.5M Likes. Gushers really leans into weird TikTok with hilarious content often centered around trending memes and formats. To our surprise Gushers is just one of many food CPG brands thriving on the platform along with Bugles, Nutter Butters, and more.
@therealgushersWorms catch fish… Gushers catch friends?! ##gushers ##fishing ##comedy ##funny ##foryou♬ original sound – Gushers
At I Dew Care, they believe that skin care should be fun, effortless, and effective. I Dew Care is a less known beauty brand, with K-Beauty at their core, but thanks to TikTok it may also be the next generation of skincare. All of their videos are aesthetically pleasing, showcasing their products to potential consumers. They feature a mix of nicely edited videos and more casual videos that fits TikTok well. I Dew Care is a smaller brand that has leveraged the TikTok algorithm and culture to reach new audiences cheaply.
@idewcareMasks on!! Ready to get sheet faced over the weekend ????✨ ##idewcare ##amazonfinds ##kbeauty ##facemasks ##skincare ##koreanskincare ##mask♬ original sound – I Dew Care
Planet Money may not be a brand in the traditional sense but we had to give it a shoutout because it is one of the most creative and ridiculous company related accounts we’ve ever seen. Former intern Jack Corbett creates educational content touching on high level economic content like the Planet Money podcast but his delivery and the editing is straight out of weird TikTok.
@planetmoneyInflation is good, but also bad… and the fix might be worse. ##wideputin ##economics ##tiktokpartner ##learnontiktok♬ original sound – planetmoney
A perfect example of a brand born and bread on TikTok described in their bio as “Fun Accessory shop run by sisters!????Restocks every other Friday!✨”. With just 35 posts the brand has amassed over 1 million likes and over 700k followers. In general a strategy balancing quantity with quality is the best approach on TikTok but Belexie shows that brands that want to focus on quality can succeed just as well. Belexie has gained an average of 20k followers per post and over 300k likes on average per post.
@belexieshoppePackaging an order ##foryou ##foryoupage ##earrings ##jewlery ##depop ##smallbusiness ##smallbusiness ##asmr ##satisfying ##fyp ????♬ Steven Universe – L.Dre
CCS skate shop’s TikTok not only shows their products to their followers but also posts occasional “memes” and funny content. As a newer account trying to build up a following, it’s important not to box yourself into a super specific niche so you can reach different types of viewers, therefore widening their audiences and potential customers. They are the highest brand in terms likes to follower ratio with less than 200k followers.
@ccs_skateYou know what I mean tho? ##skate ##ccsskate ##foryoupage ##ccsmeme ##skater♬ original sound – Crazy_Nutter
Key Strategic Takeaways
There aren’t any hard rules for success on TikTok. Creativity is king and anything goes, so don’t be shy and just experiment. The best content is content that fits in with everything else you’ll see on the platform.
Grabbing Immediate Attention
You have to engage someone from the start and grab them within less than a second. People scroll, scroll and scroll almost on automatic — but if they immediately see something impactful or shocking, they’re likely to stick around.
Keeping it (Relatively) Short
Between 15-30 seconds is the sweet spot. You can really do anything, as long as it is fast and digestible.
If you post at least once a day, the TikTok algorithm starts to favor you as a creator and you have an increased likelihood of getting featured on the sought-after “For You” page.
Not Worrying About Your Niche
Over-analyzing your niche can stifle your content distribution. Be your authentic self — and let it shine. Communicating with the larger TikTok world is also critical on the platform for growth.
Engaging with Your Followers
Engaging your early followers helps build a loyal foundation, which is a critical first step you have to take.
In the internet age, viewers want real actionable information in exchange for their time. Any time you can teach, educate, or inform an audience, the likelihood of traction is significantly increased (views, comments, shares, etc.).
You should frequently review your post analytics to see what is working or what can be adjusted. It helps you understand your audience better to cater content accordingly.
Future of Brands on TikTok
As it currently stands, Oracle is joining hands with Walmart to form a new entity called TikTok Global and purchasing about 20% of the company’s US operations now valued around 50 billion dollars. Donald Trump has given the deal his blessing but reporting shows that the Chinese may not approve the deal.
Analysts see Walmart reaping the benefits of this deal by tapping into a vast consumer base of mostly young people. Walmart said it will bring its e-commerce “retail capabilities” to the app, which could allow TikTok users to shop Walmart online through TikTok. NYU Marketing Professor Scott Galloway sees this partnership as potentially going one step further leveraging Bytedance’s sophisticated AI capabilities to power what he’s coined “A-Comm” or Algorithmic Commerce. Removing the final point of friction between customers and products [the decision] and just sending what an algorithm believes a customer needs.
Analysts also say Oracle’s cloud computing business will receive a major boost as a result of the deal which will bolster the cloud storage wars it’s been losing to Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Oracle has positioned its cloud as being security heavy which plays well in theory with Trump’s intent to protect US data but as long as the code is still coming from China this issue is far from solved.
The deal still needs to be finalized by Oracle and Walmart and CFIUS will also have to sign off on the agreement but ultimately it looks like the crisis will be averted for any brands worried about losing the platform. With this renewed interest in eCommerce retail capabilities brands could stand to gain from this new arrangement. On some of Bytedance’s Chinese apps eCommerce integrations already exist allowing for shoppable videos linked through Alibaba so this is likely right around the corner for TikTok. Furthermore, TikTok will likely continue to support its creators with features to help them make money and in turn, continue churning out valuable content. TikTok has shown that it wants brands to be first-class citizens building features like the Creator Marketplace which connects companies and content creators. It makes sense that Bytedance has leaned into the influencer marketing economy, facilitating deals to be able to take some cut itself unlike any social media company in the past.