There’s no denying that TikTok is a platform brands should be paying attention to, especially to build relationships with Gen Z customers. As of February, the platform reported 26.5 million monthly active U.S. users. Beauty brands are taking on the platform wholeheartedly, while fashion brands are just starting to catch up.
Both Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren have already run campaigns on the platform, soon followed by Uniqlo and Guess. Outside of running sponsored campaigns, the biggest opportunity to connect with younger consumers is through influencers. As the platform starts to take off, one question many brands have is who to partner with. They also want to understand what type of content those creators will make to fit with TikTok’s raw, unedited vibe.
“Brands have to understand TikTok is unlike any other social platform out there. The content is different, and the creators are going to be different than what we’ve come to know as influencers. They’re young, fierce, forward-looking and unabashedly experimental,” said Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of influencer marketing firm Obviously.
Sixty percent of TikTok users in the U.S are between the ages of 16 and 24, per a recent report from influencer marketing agency Obviously. Many of the up-and-coming influencers on the platform are under 20. Mia Sweitzer, a 16-year-old TikTok influencer, has nearly 500,000 fans. Like many young TikTok influencers, her videos are unfiltered, usually filmed in her bedroom either solo or with friends. In the last few weeks, she has published sponsored posts for Ulta Beauty and FujiFilm. She, along with 19-year-old Alyssa Voelcker-McKay, are two that Karwowski said fashion and beauty brands need to be paying attention to.
“These young TikTok influencers are going to be the ones defining not just fashion but also pop culture, and the aesthetics and trends, and driving consumer demand for up-and-coming Gen Z trends. They’re important to pay attention to because they have their finger on the pulse of not just next season but all the seasons to come,” said Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of Obviously.
Since many of these new creators are younger and new to the influencer marketing space, there may be some bumps early on as they navigate working with brands and navigating those relationships for the first time, and vice versa.
“We don’t have that much time. Packing in too much information or complicated info just doesn’t work on TikTok,” Sweitzer said, of working with brands on sponsored posts. “It’s also important to our followers that the TikTok is in the creator’s voice, or else they’ll just scroll past and won’t pay attention.”
Voelcker-McKay, another rising TikTok influencer with over 1.3 million fans, worked with Aeropostale on its Aero Jeans Challenge in August. It promoted a campaign where TikTok users could upload video wearing a pair of Aeropostale jeans styled five different ways using the hashtag “AeroJeansChallenge,” for a chance to win a $1,000 gift card. Voelcker-McKay, like most influencers, looks to partner with brands that share her aesthetic and values, she said.
“Brands should recognize that TikTok stars are, like social media influencers on other platforms, starting to have a bigger and bigger influence on consumers. And as the demographic on the app changes from younger children to teens and young adults, partnerships with TikTok creators could drive more sales and brand loyalty,” said Voelcker-McKay.
As a relatively young social media platform, compared to Facebook and Instagram, there are still some challenges that brands and creators will face in the near future. Currently, TikTok shares with brands on the platform, especially ones running paid campaigns, what type of content is performing well. It also helps identify what creators brands should connect with. However, the platform isn’t working as much with the influencers themselves and typically puts the onus on the young creators to denote when a post is sponsored, per FTC regulations.
For Hero Cosmetics, an acne-patch brand founded in 2017, its focus for now isn’t on paid pushes through TikTok. The brand found at this point that TikTok’s CPM, or cost for customer per impression, is more expensive than Instagram’s. On TikTok, video costs about $10 per CPM, while Instagram stories is around $5, said Ju Rhyu, CEO and co-founder of Hero Cosmetics.
That said, the brand has been working with paid Gen-Z influencers on TikTok, getting them to post about the company’s signature acne patches to drive sales and awareness.
“It’s kind of like Instagram. Not everyone is influential, not everyone can drive conversions, but there are ones that, when you find them, they are like diamonds in the rough. We had one [influencer] who drove almost 200 sales, and we paid her not that much [in comparison to Instagram],” said Rhyu. The brand did not specify how much it paid influencers for the campaign, which launched in July.
One challenge the brand faced early on was finding the right influencers to partner with. Hero Cosmetics worked internally to reach out to creators with different personas from alternative (people with a lot of tattoos and piercings, the brand said) to comedians to aspirational fashion and beauty-obsessed creators.
“Currently, TikTok has a closed API, so you’re unable to employ the kind of searching tactics that you could with an Instagram or YouTube campaign. There are not a lot of agencies currently that have a database of TikTok users that aren’t ones you could easily find on the popular pages. It’s really a matter of finding one creator that you really enjoy the work of and seeing who is in his or her circle,” said Rachel Finley, content and community strategist at Hero Cosmetics.
TikTok rolled out a dashboard to a handful of creators last week, designed to be a marketplace where brands can more easily discover creators to partner with. However, that feature is still in beta testing, according to a TikTok spokesperson. Currently the platform does not allow users to DM a user unless the user is following them, so oftentimes, brands like Hero Cosmetics are reaching out to influencers via Instagram DMs to bring them on board to a TikTok campaign.
For its campaign, Hero Cosmetics spent hours scouring TikTok and found 20 creators, asking them to create two videos over two weeks in conjunction with the brand’s move into Target. Through that campaign, the brand saw a 12% engagement rate, versus 4.5% on Instagram stories. Hero Cosmetics declined to share the specific creators it worked with but noted it reached 4.3 million people through the campaign.