Capping off a landmark year, TikTok’s latest victory lap has it celebrating brand moments that shined on the network.
The string of highlights across 2021 traverse shopping, product development inspired by users, creator collaborations and more. Fashion and beauty loomed large on the list, making the sectors’ appetite for the social video platform clear.
The examples can help brands understand what resonates for TikTok users, which may be an imperative now more than ever. This year saw the tech company moving beyond select retail partners to open up shopping features more broadly, then announce another new milestone shortly after that. After five years, it broke 1 billion users worldwide — a feat that took Facebook eight years to accomplish.
It’s worth noting that Facebook wasn’t broadly available immediately. It opened up from adults and college students to teens after two and a half years, eventually welcoming sign-ups with corporate addresses. Today, Facebook clearly dwarfs the rival, boasting 2.91 billion monthly users as of the third quarter of 2021. So does Instagram, which insider reports say has cracked 2 billion monthly users now. So TikTok still has work to do.
Making sure brands keep spurring interest and activity looks like part of it. To shed light on what it takes to reach its growing user base, TikTok pointed to its recent Culture Driver study with research groups MRC Data and Flamingo. The study found that most users (56 percent) and creators (67 percent) “feel closer to brands they see on TikTok — particularly when they publish human, unpolished content,” the company said. Other times, trends take off by happenstance.
Take #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, for instance.
From a commerce perspective, the hashtag has proven to be a powerful force. According to the company, it swells with more than 7 billion views to date, fueling sudden pops in purchases, especially among Gen Z consumers.
Skin care brand Peter Thomas Roth saw the effect firsthand with its Instant FirmX eye cream. When a video by relative unknown creator, Trinidad Sandoval, went viral in August, it ignited six months’ worth of sales for the product in one week. The phenomenon hit Clinique as well: After users gushed about the universally appealing color of Almost Lipstick in Black Honey, a classic product conceived 50 years ago, the item flew off the shelves and sent #blackhoney trending with more than 28.2 million views.
No one can plan for random popularity. But companies can, and do, capitalize on it. Some even use it as inspiration to develop new products.
Gap experienced its own comeback story with a vintage brown hoodie. The garment found online fame when a post launched #gaphoodie to more 8.2 million views. The brand responded by bringing the hoodie back, 10 years after it was discontinued, and then let the community vote on the color of its next hoodie, leading to the introduction of the TikTok Super Pink Neon.
Eos created and named a limited-edition shave cream after an influencer’s viral comment — “Bless Your F#@%ing Cooch” — and Isle of Paradise launched the Pro Glow Spray Tan Kit, after seeing fans put its Self-Tanning Water in spray bottles.
Other companies proved that, in the TikTok universe, silliness can go a long way.
A joke about Target holding a Walmart shopping cart hostage, from Target employee Jaden Delham, set off a hilarious string of replies. Walmart returned fire by showing its company vest on a red Target ball and writing, “return the cart and we’ll return the ball.” Wackiness ensued. Soon Target and partner brands Ulta Beauty, Apple and others jumped in to offer comments, keeping the gag going.
Turns out, consumers like brands with personality: Walmart increased its followers by 13 times its daily average, while the funny spat helped Target exceed 1 million followers that week.
Of course, momentum isn’t always arbitrary. According to TikTok, companies that understand the platform can make use of its tools to drive popularity.
Fenty Beauty takes on a creator mind-set, joining in community conversations using native features like Text-to-Speech and replying to comments with video. It gives the brand a persona that’s playful and real, TikTok noted.
Other in-app features and effects make online collaborations easy and fun. Ralph Lauren decided to get in on the act. The apparel company, the official outfitter of Team USA for the Olympics, worked with the platform on a custom Branded Effect, then urged people to show off their all-American outfits and Olympic spirit. The campaign paid off, nabbing more than 52.6 million views.
Also spotlighted were mission-driven campaigns, with the tech company calling out Dove, Procter & Gamble and Burt’s Bees for emphasizing values like body positivity, inspiration and self-love.
As a rising social media giant, the company may remember 2021 as the year it came into its own. Now in the post-Trump era, it’s no longer scrambling under the constant threat from an antagonistic administration or a forced sale to new owners. It’s free to focus on the business, technology and brands that have helped deliver its first billion users — and may drive its next billion or more.
Toward that end, TikTok offers some advice: “True to our motto of ‘Don’t Make Ads, Make TikToks,’ our community has taught the industry that when advertising and marketing is loved like entertainment, brands will see incredible results both on and off the platform.”