With 500 million active users, TikTok is now an integral part of the music marketing landscape. More and more channels are being set up – notably Groover – in order to land directly in the TikTok playlist and promote the discovery of new artists.
We decided to write this complete guide, which breaks down the mechanics of TikTok and presents some strategies for promoting your music on the platform.
To say that TikTok is just a platform for sharing short videos would be an oversimplification. The short video format in itself is nothing new. It can be found on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. TikTok isn’t even the first platform to put the format forward, Vine did it 7 years ago. So what makes TikTok so different from other platforms?
To answer this question, we must circle back to the history of the platform. TikTok was first launched as an international version of Douyin, an application by ByteDance (a Chinese startup), in September 2017. Douyin is the equivalent of TikTok in the Chinese market, a country with its own regulations when dealing with technological matters.
In 2017, Douyin was by far the fastest growing application in China thanks to an algorithm that makes it possible to offer hyper-personalized content to its users, according to their behavior on the platform. This algorithm has been the main reason for the app’s success, and it’s the same thing that makes TikTok so successful today.
Because Douyin was making a lot of noise in China, ByteDance decided to expand its activities abroad. TikTok launched in September 2017, but the app’s first year in the international market has actually pretty quiet.
In August 2018, ByteDance merged Musical.ly, another short video maker app, with TikTok, dumping its 100 million active users into the video sharing app, and that’s when things really skyrocketed. In just a few months, TikTok’s active audience grew to over 150 million users. A few weeks later, a little-known indie rapper from Atlanta uploaded an eccentric song on Tiktok. This song ended up breaking the Billboard record for the longest number 1 song on the Hot-100 chart. This of course was Lil Nas X and his single Old Town Road.
This is when the music industry really saw what TikTok is capable of. TikTok quickly found its place in artist marketing strategies.
What makes TikTok special? Let’s start with this little statistic: over 55% of all active TikTok users don’t just watch videos on the platform, they regularly upload their own videos. And it’s just huge.
It is impossible to find the exact percentage of YouTube users who upload videos to the platform, but it is only a fraction of the 2 billion global users. In this sense, despite its massive role in modern digital culture, YouTube remains a platform rooted in a traditional, “one-to-many” communication scheme. So TikTok took the “many to many” approach of social media communication and applied it to video. On TikTok, everyone is an audience, and everyone is a creator; this is the key to TikTok’s success.
To do this, TikTok makes it very easy for a user to create content. It only takes 10 minutes to go from an idea to a final cut, with filters, effects and a soundtrack.
On the content presentation side, TikTok has built a feed designed to host all the videos created by its users. On TikTok, you only have to perform one main action: switch from one video to another. That’s all. This setup allows TikTok to do something that no other platform has done in the past: it can afford to offer its users videos that they are not really interested in because in the worst case, they will switch to the next video in seconds with a swipe. One of the main reasons for using the app is the speed of the TikTok stream.
But Tiktok wouldn’t work without its recommendation system. TikTok was one of the first applications that relies entirely on AI (Artificial Intelligence) to deliver content to the user, even though the user can watch content from the creators they follow. On TikTok, users have little power over the content they consume, it all depends on the algorithm that gets to know them over time on the platform.
Given the high number of videos posted on the platform, TikTok’s algorithm must process a volume of content that none of the previous platforms had to process. And when it comes to processing this huge stream of user-generated content, the TikTok algorithm is built so that every video has a chance:
“Although a video is likely to be viewed more if it is posted by an account that has many followers (…) neither the number of followers nor the fact that the account has previously had high performing videos is direct factors in the recommendation system “.
The primary goal of TikTok’s recommendation engine is to make content appear interesting regardless of the creator’s initial audience.
This approach allows TikTok to take a video uploaded by a user who does not have a huge following and distribute it to thousands or even millions of users. Thus, every TikTok user has the same opportunity for their video to be broadcasted to millions of people.
So if we sum it all up: first of all, you have over 500 million active users browsing their feeds, looking for something interesting and engaging. Then, half of them upload content to the platform, in the hopes of becoming influencers in turn. All of this creates a huge reservoir of content that the algorithm will be able to process, test and advance. It is this balance that gives birth to viral dances and challenges, essential elements of the platform.
Say a video is posted by a big TikTok influencer who is lip-syncing to a song. Millions of people will see it, about 1% of them will decide to make their version. These videos will themselves be viewed by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of users, the cycle will repeat itself and this is how trends are created on TikTok. More often than not, a song is attached to it, becoming a kind of banner.
Be careful, not all songs go viral on the platform, and not all dances are used in challenges. Also, TikTok’s algorithm itself isn’t everything. There are themes assigned to the videos, which correspond to the user’s interest profiles. TikTok, like YouTube, is a multi-faceted platform. There is beauty, dance, comedy, and even financial advice content.
First and foremost, you need to create and develop an artist TikTok account to expand the overall reach of your music, just like you would on Instagram or Facebook. But before you decide to commit to the platform as a creator, you need to understand what kind of TikTok content you can produce to match your overall artistic universe.
Chances are, if you want to create an artist account on TikTok, your end goal is to get people to listen to your music. So the artist profile on TikTok should only be built around that, which means you need to find a way to showcase your music in the videos you create, while also making sure that they always match up with the spirit of the platform. Simply posting clips of your upcoming tracks or behind-the-scenes footage in the studio won’t be enough, other platforms are better suited for this type of content. When creating your own videos on TikTok, you need to have in mind how the algorithm works.
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As on any social platform, some practices have proven that they promote an increase in the number of users. If you want to maximize your chances of going viral, here are some top tips to follow:
1. Choose a universe / theme that suits you
The most important thing to do when creating your Artist Tiktok account is to choose a theme around which you will center your content. Alvin Chris, a rapper who came through Groover, decided to do ten-second freestyles for several weeks. One of his freestyles, “Coucou c’est encore moi” worked really well, and has been covered over 6,000 times. Choosing a type of content will allow the algorithm to better identify you in order to attach you to a certain category of content on the platform, and to connect you with people who appreciate this type of content.
The internet has become so vast, the artist must have the upper hand in the content promotion process.
– Alvin Chris –
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2. Use hashtags
Hashtags are probably the most important method of relating video to a type of content. If you choose popular hashtags, it should increase the chances that your video will appear in TikTok’s “Discover” and “For you” tabs.
3. Follow the trends and take part in the challenges
If a new challenge appears on the platform, TikTok users will be more inclined to be interested in this type of content – and the algorithm knows it. So if you see that you are interested in a trend and have an idea for a cool video, feel free to create it and share it. But remember, you need to stay consistent with your content strategy! Don’t forget the hashtags either! There must be one attached to the trend.
4. Showcase your music on the platform
Since you are using TikTok as a channel to promote your music, make sure that all of your active fans on the platform are aware of what you are doing outside of the platform. You don’t have to be too blunt: TikTok is not a place for “new single available on all streaming platforms” type announcements. However, if you are producing original TikTok content, you have every reason to use your own songs as soundtracks.
5. Use TikTok Pro Analytics
Not too long ago, TikTok launched an analytics dashboard, available for free to all content creators on the platform. With TikTok Pro, you can track your follower count, your video views, your audience demographics, and get data on what type of content is working best for you. To switch to a Pro account, simply go to the “Manage my account” tab, and click Switch to TikTok Pro.
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6. Make sure you are not excluded
TikTok blocks spam, offensive or harmful content. If the platform finds any of the following, it can ban the account:
- Use of prohibited hashtags
- Delete a large volume of content in one go
- Short-term subscribing and unsubscribing of users
- Use of copyrighted content
But no matter how popular your TikTok account is, it won’t compare to the impact of one of your songs becoming the soundtrack of a popular TikTok trend or challenge. Which brings us to the second strategy you can choose to take advantage of TikTok’s viral nature and massive audience.
Even if standing out from the crowd in TikTok challenges becomes more complicated every day, the principle to achieve it always remains the same. It just takes a good idea, a catchy song – or rather, a catchy moment – and a few well-chosen influencers to get the ball rolling. But let’s take it one step at a time. Here’s our guide to starting a TikTok challenge.
1. Spend time on TikTok
First of all, we must remember the following point: TikTok is a unique platform, with a unique sense of content. So if you are considering integrating the platform into your marketing strategy, the best advice we can give is to go spend some time on the platform yourself. Try to understand what content is popular and why.
2. Check that your song is well distributed on TikTok
It’s a simple step, but still worth noting. Not all digital distributors work with TikTok yet – so it is advisable to check with your distributor to see if your chosen song will be available to the creators of TikTok.
3. Find 15 seconds in your song for TikTok
When it comes to TikTok challenges, 15-second snippets are the most effective. It’s not a requirement per se, but short content is what really makes the platform work.
So study your music and try to spot some 15-second “TikTok moments”, the parts of the song that you think have the most viral potential. There are a lot of things that can work well on Titok (well-paced lyrics, jerky rhythm that lends itself well to simple dances). Your TikTok moment should relate to the theme of the future challenge, whether it’s the lyrics or the dynamics of the music itself, but it should be versatile enough to leave room for interpretation.
4. Constantly look for new ideas for challenges
As for the creative side behind the challenge itself, you should always ask yourself what the viewers will get out of it. What will make the challenge memorable? Your challenge should be engaging and easy to understand. The video that will launch the challenge must clearly express the subject of the challenge.
And then, more importantly, think about what the creators will get out of participating in the challenge? Is the video designed to encourage replay? Is it easy to recreate? Does it leave enough room for interpretation and modification? After all, at launch time, TikTok Challenges are more of a template that creators can work with and develop.
5. Find a standout hashtag
Each trend should has an engaging name so that people can identify it. So choose a clear hashtag that is easy to remember and that will identify the challenge. If all goes well, this hashtag will be associated with your music for a long time!
6. Choose your target audience TikTok and identify the influencers who will help you reach them
If you’ve followed these previous tips, chances are you’ve got a pretty good idea of who your target audience is. Now imagine TikTok’s audience, and try to find a connection point between the two. This is your TikTok target. The next step is to find TikTok influencers who have a good affinity with this audience to contact them and offer them a challenge.
Reaching out to influencers is also a great way to test your idea – the more they respond to your proposal, the more likely it is to go viral. So don’t be afraid to ask influencers what they think about your idea. TikTok influencers will have a lot more experience with the platform, so you should listen to what they have to say.
7. Think about the journey of your listeners
This is arguably the most important step in the whole guide. Indeed, songs have gone viral on TikTok without this having a real and significant impact on the artist’s career.
So, think about how you’re going to convert TikTok’s audience to Spotify listeners or Instagram followers, and how you’re going to keep them around. Ultimately, viral marketing is a great tool for raising awareness, but it’s not suited to building a loyal fan base. Ideally, your TikTok campaign should be part of an overall content plan that will have a lasting impact on the artist’s career.
The most important tool available to you here is the song page attached to every song officially distributed on TikTok. The song page includes the link to Apple Music or to Spotify, which prompts users to access the full song, but more importantly, it has a link to the artist’s official TikTok account. It may therefore be wise to ensure that the artist has a verified and operational TikTok account, which will serve as a conversion point between TikTok and other platforms.
8. Launch the challenge
This last step is pretty self-explanatory. After following all of our previous tips, it’s time to get started. At the best of times, your challenge is a success, and millions of people are now interested in your music every day. But beware, the viral nature of TikTok also means trends come and go, so the window of opportunity to convert all of this awareness into something meaningful and lasting will be quite short.
9. Invite your loved ones to light the fuse
After you have launched the challenge yourself, do not forget to relaunch the TikTok influencers contacted so that they in turn take it on. Also ask your friends, your family to take part in it! A good ten videos can easily start a trend.
10. Submit your track to Groover to be a part of the song selection the team sends to Tiktok.
– Translated by Betty Gonzalez Gray –