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How to Get Started as a Brand on TikTok

Sara Swinehart Feb 28 2022 5 PM | 9 min read

We sat down with Smartly.io’s very own Margot Scharfe and Emily Ma to get their insights on TikTok. Margot and Emily are Strategy Leads on our Managed Services team where they work with some of the world’s largest advertisers to help profitably scale on social advertising channels through end-to-end campaign management and strategy. Our conversation provides ideas and examples on how to begin your own brand journey on social media’s fastest-growing platform.

Sara Swinehart: Thank you both for joining me today. Millions of users are generating fun and creative content on TikTok every day. It’s a great time for brands to start exploring this platform, but it can be an intimidating place to navigate. What's your advice for brands who want to get started on TikTok?

Margot Scharfe: I think step one would definitely be to familiarize yourself with the platform. If you don't already have the app, download it. Get a sense of what kind of content is out there, what it looks like, and what's trending. And then, take note of how ads look within that space. There are also tools, like Tiktok's Creative Center, where you can see what other brands are doing and get inspiration for your own brand. 

You’ll also want to look into more practical things, like setting up measurement and tracking for TikTok and start thinking through what creative assets you could leverage once you get started. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources to help you with your campaigns.

Sara: Speaking of campaigns, how do you create one? 

Margot: One of the nice things about TikTok ads is that its campaign setup process is quite similar to other prominent social platforms. There are still nuances, but familiarity with other platforms helps with campaign creation and makes it a fairly straightforward process. 

It comes down to figuring out what your end goal is, and, from there, you can back out to your objective and what you want to bid on. You will then need to think through your target audience, as well as what creative you have access to.

Emily Ma: TikTok’s content is truly unique to other platforms, so definitely think through which vertical creatives you already have in your arsenal. If you have an existing TikTok presence, I would highly recommend getting started by boosting that content! TikTok calls this a Spark Ad.

Sara: That’s great background information on first steps. Now that we have an idea of initial setup, what type of content should brand’s be creating? 

Margot: Something I've seen work really well is content that feels native to TikTok. For example, amplifying organic content from your own page or from creators. As with other social platforms, you want your creative to fit in with the feel of the platform, while still doing its duty as an ad. Make sure that there's a call to action communicating the action you want taken, on top of that authenticity.  

Emily: Exactly what Margot said, creatives that we found work really well and have the strongest performance are ads in collaborations with content creators, live action, and lifestyle ads. They feel more native to the platform. 

Sara: Creators are to TikTok as influencers are to Instagram. How would you define a creator and what makes them unique?  

Margot: Creators make TikTok the fun, engaging, and viral platform that it is today. They are content creators who typically garner sizable followings and can help brands with content creation. What makes them unique is their very deep knowledge of what kind of content the TikTok community is looking for, how to produce it, as well as the trust they’ve already established with their audience.

Sara: The success of content on TikTok sometimes feels sort of ethereal and so I think these are helpful starting points. Some of my favorite creators on TikTok are doing the most ridiculous things and I don't know why I love them so much, but the algorithm has me hooked! Okay, moving on. What type of campaign objectives do you recommend? 

Margot: I've seen a lot of success with app install objectives. Obviously TikTok is an app and a lot of the audience on Tiktok is very app-savvy, so it's usually a really complementary audience. However, it totally depends on what your end goal is. Are you simply making an awareness play? If so, you could leverage the Reach or Video View objective. Or, if you want someone to take an action on your website, you could look towards the Conversions objective.

Sara: Ok, so how exactly do you target your desired audience? 

Emily: I like to start off with broad audience campaigns to get a baseline on performance. In the TikTok UI you can see the estimated reach and I would make sure the audience size isn’t too narrow. Broad targeting has shown the most success for my clients, however you can start testing additional audiences using demographic, interest, or behavioral targeting. You can also build custom audiences and test lookalikes.

Sara: How often should you post? 

Margot: In terms of TikTok campaigns, a good cadence for creative refresh is usually one to two weeks. That's a great place to start, but you want to track performance on your end. For instance, I track CTR in Smartly.io’s [TikTok] reporting view, to pinpoint when it begins to trend downward. That’s a good clue that your creative might be fatiguing and that you should refresh your ads. Once you’ve been through that exercise several times, you can begin to build out your own best practices. You will also start to identify which creatives perform best for your brand, and use similar ad or messaging types in your refreshes.

Emily: Yep. Keep a close eye on those upper funnel metrics such as CTR, IPM, and CTI. TikTok’s algorithm is using a content graph so when you start seeing performance decline, it's likely that the audience has been oversaturated. 

Sara: When we started this conversation, one thing you both mentioned was budget. So I'm curious, how should you determine how and where to spend? 

Emily: If you’re running ads on other platforms, you may have an idea of what your CPA is to start. Give the platform enough budget to have enough conversions to exit the learning phase. Later you can scale up if you see that performance is hitting your KPIs. If you don't know how to exactly split budgets between different ad groups, you can enable CBO (Campaign Budget Optimization) and this helps allocate budgets among ad groups based on performance. When it comes to bidding, I like to start with Lowest Cost to get an idea of my CPAs on this platform. If you want to control for lower CPAs, you can use a cost cap but keep in mind that if the bid is too low, that it will affect scale.

Margot: It’s also important to think about which metric you are optimizing towards and whether your budget is large enough to support that. Let’s say you wanted to drive purchases within your app. If it typically costs you $200 to drive an app purchase on other platforms, starting with a $100 budget wouldn’t set you up for success. The more conversions you can drive through TikTok, the better. Like other platforms, it will help the algorithm learn. 

Sara: Ok, so what metrics should I use to gauge success?

Margot: This depends on what your business goals and typical KPIs are. At a high level, you may want to keep an eye on CPMs to track the cost of advertising across channels as well as the rise and fall of competition within the TikTok auction. CTR is also a helpful signal, especially when looking at creative performance and potential fatigue. Diving into lower funnel metrics, you will probably want to observe the CPA and Conversion Rate of the specific event you are tasked with driving through these campaigns. And if you are measured based on revenue, you could leverage ROAS.

Sara: How do you attract followers? 

Emily: Great content will naturally help attract followers, but you can also leverage Spark Ads on TikTok to boost original content from your profile page to increase your following. Not only does this ad product drive followers and engagement directly to your page, but we see strong performance over other creatives as well.

Sara: The iOS updates impacted campaigns on other platforms, am I going to see the same with TikTok?  

Emily: Yes, we are inevitably seeing a shift across the entire industry as there is a higher focus on privacy. However, testing on TikTok could be a light at the end of the tunnel as we’ve seen performance turn around recently. There’s a few tips that have worked for our app campaigns. First, establish your conversion schema to start posting back all of your most valuable events. Second, when running campaigns, keep the required daily campaign install threshold in mind in order to minimize null values. This may mean allocating more budgets on iOS or optimizing towards a higher funnel event. Additionally we’ve seen promise with TikTok’s new App Profile Page which is a quick-loading app store page. It allows for more signals to be collected on TikTok’s end. Building signal density will help your campaign succeed. 

Sara: Okay, so how long should a campaign run for? Do evergreen campaigns work or should you just run multiple shorter campaigns? 

Margot: I don't think there's a hard and fast rule. If you're seeing strong performance, keep the campaign on and keep driving conversions. What you're going to want to watch for is creative fatigue within that evergreen campaign. So if you're running a campaign for a long time, it could still perform very, very well, but you'll want to keep refreshing that creative to maintain performance. 

Sara: How can I expect my TikTok campaigns to perform compared to other platforms?

Emily: TikTok will perform differently for every client, so incorporate it into your media mix as you see fit. We’ve increasingly added media budget to this platform, however, one caveat is that there are challenges with keeping an ongoing creative pipeline as we scale. Overall it's still a really young platform, and it will be exciting to see it continue to grow!

Margot: I agree that it's a very exciting platform with a lot of opportunity. I have seen TikTok spend increasing month over month. It’s shifting away from only being considered a test platform and becoming a steady-state strategy alongside other paid social platforms. Being so new, there are plenty of really neat test and learning opportunities that will continue to impact our best practices, and ultimately help performance and scale.

Sara: This was a great conversation - thank you, Margot and Emily, for taking the time to share your thoughts. Sounds like it’s a really exciting time to open the TikTok app and start creating.

Interested in learning more about TikTok and advertising? Check out our blog!

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Author
Sara Swinehart

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