How Founders Can Leverage TikTok To Grow Their Startups

CEO of Sketchar, 3-time founder and contemporary visual artist (Adno). 15+ years of combining tech & art.

TikTok became a phenomenon among social apps. The accessible and easy-to-use short-form mobile video platform has been enjoying stratospheric growth since its launch in its present form in 2018. In 2021, the company reported that it had 1 billion active monthly users, and it was expected that the platform would amass 1.8 billion app downloads before the end of 2022.

It’s no surprise that TikTok is among the most downloaded apps. With its funny and quickly digestible content, TikTok is also among the brands most favored by Gen-Z. For now, despite concerns surrounding national security, the safety of Americans’ personal data and how the app might affect the mental and physical health of teenagers and young people, TikTok continues to grow in influence.

From my observations, the diversity of content on TikTok is as wide as YouTube, except that on TikTok, the challenge is to hook the viewer almost instantly. Videos can be as short as 15 seconds, and in early 2022, the platform expanded the maximum video length to 10 minutes. The short video format lowers the barrier to content creation and makes it accessible to a whole range of content creators who might struggle to succeed on YouTube or Instagram.

Indeed, TikTok has proved itself to be a valuable platform for advertising and promoting businesses while maintaining a spot for smaller individual creators or artists. It doesn’t take much to start up a TikTok account and produce content that gets discovered. I’ve experienced this by setting up and growing a TikTok account myself as a CEO of a technology company that helps digital creators learn and produce art.

From my perspective, the potential for startups and creators alike is promising: With a consistent uploading schedule and an understanding of the inner workings of TikTok, businesses can not only create a following but also reach people who might not have discovered they have an interest in their niche topic.

How does the app work?

TikTok resembles Instagram in that you scroll down a vertical feed of videos with which you can watch and interact. TikTok presents users with content picked by its artificial intelligence algorithm. That means it can help distribute your content to the right people, which is incredibly important when growing a community of like-minded people. It also boosts the chances of your content being presented to people who wouldn’t have otherwise discovered your content.

TikTok users can easily navigate massive amounts of content with a simple scroll function and, most importantly, are exposed to content they like to watch. This is because TikTok controls what users see and optimizes the video feed to maximize user happiness. Even if you subscribe to a creator, there’s no guarantee you’ll see all their videos on your feed.

Such product design leads to the belief that TikTok users are more likely to see videos about topics they would never think to look up on their own. I find the whole experience of using TikTok is a sort of organic discovery—a gratifying feeling of finding new interests.

How can your startup leverage TikTok successfully?

I believe TikTok is a unique platform that offers a unique opportunity for startups to tap into audiences they might otherwise not have been able to reach. Of course, the app operates around trends and hype. In my experience, there’s certain content the algorithm favors at the time of release to keep users engaged, and some hashtags bring more like-minded people to your content.

As a creator on TikTok, you can take advantage of this. Decide which hashtags you should use by considering frequency and volume. If a hashtag is being widely used, there is a high risk of getting lost in the shuffle, but I’ve still found it can be worth using popular hashtags along with a medium-used hashtag. In my experience, a medium-used hashtag can help drive your video and make it highly recommended to viewers. You might even find that some of your old featured videos still remain popular for a long time, which is extremely beneficial. For instance, old posts can be featured in new countries after some time and gain extra views even though the trend is over.

With the right strategy, you can maximize the effectiveness of hashtags. But that shouldn’t hamper the creative development of your content because to succeed in the long run, you need to experiment with different formats.

I’ve also found that videos that connect to a viewer on a personal level and don’t exude “high production value” tend to do better on the platform. Users enjoy authenticity; they like to see that there are real people behind the product. In many cases, you need to blend in to stand out on TikTok. For example, some museums and art galleries are creating TikTok accounts, which makes art accessible to younger audiences that rule the platform. Low production value cuts the costs for businesses and leaves room for experimentation.

One of the main challenges that brands need to consider when using TikTok is that it’s trial and error; after posting a few random videos without your own unique style, you might not see the results you were hoping for. My advice is to keep iterating and finding your own “TikTok language.” For example, a friend of mine tried posting videos for several months, but only after six months did they find the right format.

Due to TikTok’s accessibility, I encourage startups to consider leveraging the platform. A consistent uploading schedule, product transparency and lightweight presentation are key factors in growing a following.

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