WTH is TikTok and Why You Need to Get On It Now
Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection, I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. I'm going to show my age on this one. There is no other way to describe it. I'm almost 40 and I am perplexed by the tremendous amount of users that TikTok has really amassed over such a short period of time. In August, they said they had more than 2 billion downloads globally with a 100 million people in the US using that platform every single month and 50 million users in the US daily. Given its growth, it felt like it was time to have someone on the show that can explain what the hell TikTok actually is to me, and then any of the rest of you that are also struggling to figure out if you should use this personally or professionally as a marketing strategy for your company. So great news. I found an expert to explain all things TikTok to me, and to any of you that might have the same questions about TikTok that I do. Lauren Pope has more than 70,000 followers on TikTok And she's been doing that personally. And during the day, she happens to be the content marketing manager at G2. She has more than five years of marketing experience and previously held roles at Chamberlain University, Truman Hartland Community Foundation, and the Chicago Business Bureau. We're talking about what the hell TikTok actually is and how it's much more than just teens doing various dances. Why all B2C brands must be on TikTok, how to think about a content strategy for TikTok, The unique role TikTok could play for B2B and so much more. Let's just say at the end of the conversation, she may have convinced me to finally start using TikTok. Well, as all my listeners know, I like to get started by asking, what's one thing that few people know about you?
Lauren Pope: Yes. So people who know me on LinkedIn or through other social media might not know that before COVID, I was in a competitive karaoke league out in Chicago.
Stephanie Cox: Okay. So I'm going to need you to explain this. There's a competitive karaoke league. I am so perplexed or perhaps I've not been asked to ever be in one because I am seriously tone deaf. So tell me more.
Lauren Pope: Yeah. So when I first moved to Chicago in 2016, I was out at karaoke and this mysterious woman in like a leopard print bralette walked up to me and she was like," Hey, you're pretty good. Here is my card." And I looked down and it was like Second City Competitive Karaoke. And I was like, all right, threw it in my bag. Then I woke up the next day and went, and it's an entire league of people who every week, there's a different theme. So it'll be like 80s rock, songs that make you want to cry, songs you would sing to your ex and you're on a team with nine other people and you battle other teams head to head each week. And it all culminates in like a big Pitch Perfectesque finale and there's costumes and glitter. And it's just such a fun, good time.
Stephanie Cox: Like this is serious.
Lauren Pope: Oh my gosh. I don't even want to talk about how much money I spent on costumes before it all stopped because of COVID. I once bought a polar bear onesie that like, I still won't tell my husband how much I spent on it.
Stephanie Cox: They don't need to know those things.
Lauren Pope: I'm like, it's my money. It's fine. Don't worry about it. It's fine.
Stephanie Cox: So while I could talk to you probably about karaoke all day, I'd love to talk about something else I know you're super passionate about, which is TikTok and I'm going to date myself. So I'm, let's just say closer to 40 than I am to 30, a lot closer. So can you just for me and anyone else out there in my generation that has still not understood what the hell TikTok besides my recollection is my teenagers use it for dances. So tell me kind of, how would you explain TikTok and what its overall purpose is, in your opinion?
Lauren Pope: Yeah. So if anyone, so I'm closer to 30 right now. And so I'm an elder millennials. So I remember the Vine era. So if anyone remembers Vine, it was six second video shorts and people used them to create comedy videos and skits and plug products and connect with each other. And so TikTok is essentially like the V2 of Vine. You get 60 seconds and all the video editing stuff is in the app and you follow trends and dancing is very popular, but there's also people who post hobbies. There are people who cook. And so it's kind of like a micro YouTube where anyone can be a star really.
Stephanie Cox: So why do you think it's had such a huge traction in the United States? I mean, obviously huge over in Asia, but in the US it seems to have really blown up in the last 12 to 18 months.
Lauren Pope: I think it's two things. I think that I would be remiss if I didn't say that like quarantine boredom had a part in everyone downloading the app to finally see what it was about. But I think before then, because I got onto TikTok because my very trendy, younger sister told me about it in October of 2019. And I think people were craving a social media platform where the rules didn't exist yet. Instagram has the algorithm locked down, it favors influencers and brands. And so if you want to become successful on that platform, there are rules. And with YouTube, there are a whole bunch of rules, but TikTok was really the first new platform where it was kind of like the Wild West of social media and I think people found that very exciting. And I think that's what the appeal is to this day.
Stephanie Cox: So if you think about the content on TikTok, are you seeing, is it primarily like individuals posting? I know I've seen a lot of celebrities on there, but what are brands doing with it?
Lauren Pope: Yeah. It's funny you mention that because I talk with my husband a lot about how I still get... Even though I work in marketing, I still get tricked into buying stuff. Like I get marketed to. I just bought an essential oil diffuser I saw on TikTok. And it's funny because what I'm seeing is individuals with a niche or a specific point of view, or maybe they're just really, really funny are building these large audiences of people who are saying, I am like you and I like your hobbies and your interests. And I like what you're putting out there and I'm going to follow you. And then these brands partner with these influencers and say, hey, you're a rock climber, you post rock climbing content, let us send you a new pair of shoes. And all you have to do is tell everybody that we sent them to you. And so I do think TikTok is kind of more like YouTube in a sense where people build platforms based around what they know a lot of things about and brands are finding ways to weave themselves into the narrative. And it feels much more authentic than a model on Instagram, holding up Sugar Bear Hair vitamins, or tea that's going to make you lose 15 pounds in a week. So I think that's really the appeal.
Stephanie Cox: So you've been on TikTok, like you said for gosh, like over a year now or right at a year. How did you grow to such a big following? Can you talk to everyone about kind of what your following looks like now?
Lauren Pope: Yeah. So I have 71,000 followers on TikTok now. And I actually started my TikTok account because I was out with my friends in Chinatown in Chicago. And I did a cute little like vignette of our afternoon, of the train and the hotpot we got and I got like 400 likes in a day and I'm 29. I have like 300 Twitter followers. My mom likes my myself on Instagram and I was like, what the heck is this? And so that's when I decided like, there's something insane going on here with this like organic potential to reach people. I did social media early in my career. And so I recognized pretty fast. I was like, this is not happening anywhere else. So I'm going to post every day, just like stuff from my life. And I'm going to see where this can go. And I got 1,000 followers in a week and I hit 10,000 followers in three months. And it all just kind of evolved into me listening to what people wanted to hear about and just posting what they wanted really and growing this kind of organic kind of relationship with my audience.
Stephanie Cox: So can you explain to everyone, when you say like the organic reach of TikTok, how does that work compared to other social channels people might be more familiar with?
Lauren Pope: So one thing that is unique about TikTok is that trends are built on sound bites and music. And so that's what makes dancing TikTok accounts really popular is because what do you do to music? You dance, but people use these sounds to get their niche in front of the for you page. And so on a platform like Instagram, you have to like scrap from the ground up. You have to post the best content from the beginning. You have to edit things in Lightroom. You have to get the right keywords. You can be just a 16 year old kid on TikTok and see a bunch of your favorite celebrities dancing to this certain sound and say, oh, I'm going to make a video of myself cooking dinner and I'll use the sound and I'll just throw it up. And you could get 10, 000 followers overnight. The algorithm is very unpredictable because it's still pretty new and people can discover what they like. And it's not this built- in ideal, like Instagram, where it's like you have to be like these big accounts. You can be anybody and see success.
Stephanie Cox: So if you're perhaps closer to 40 then 30, what would you recommend to someone to do in order to kind of get familiar with TikTok and to get on and to think about like a content strategy for just themselves as a person?
Lauren Pope: Yeah. I think what I asked myself, like when I started actually growing a following, I was like, okay, I need to have a pretty concrete point of view if I'm going to try to grow this thing. And so I sat down and I wrote down a list of things that I really liked. I was like, I like mindfulness. I like yoga. I like spirituality. I like crystals. And I like nature. And so I kind of like made this like North Star where I was like, I'm going to let myself make whatever I want even if it's not a trending sound or something popular or something everyone else is doing. But as long as it fits into this thing of stuff I like to make and stuff that makes me happy, I think that'll be good. And what I found is when I tried to go outside of that, when my account started getting bigger and maybe I was trying to like growth hack it a little, the more I tried to stray away from that initial North Star I'd created, the worst my content did. And so I would say be authentic, post videos of you and your kids cooking together. There's a whole subsection of TikTok of parenting tips of moms and dads getting on TikTok and say, kids won't take the trash out. Here's what I do. Think of it more as like a community that you can tap into, find the people that are making content with the answers you're looking for and you will find your niche before you know it.
Stephanie Cox: So in a lot of ways, would you say that you thought about like your own personal TikTok strategy, similar to, you might think about a brand's content strategy, and you just happen obviously to run content marketing at G2, but do you think about the same way as thinking about those North Stars?
Lauren Pope: Yeah. I don't like to be too in both my role at G2 and just this kind of personal experiment I'm running with TikTok. I don't like to constrain myself too much because if I stop having fun with something, then I'm not going to want to keep doing it. So I always like make sure to tell myself like, make sure you can walk away at any point, if you wanted to. And so that kind of fun aspect of it has really been a big part of it for me.
Stephanie Cox: So we talked a little bit about what it's like as an individual on TikTok. And we talked a little about brands that are maybe working with individuals. Do you see a lot of brands creating their own TikTok accounts and trying to use that as a way to connect content with consumers?
Lauren Pope: Yeah. And one of the questions I get a lot is people saying like, well, which companies can actually do this successfully and I'll be candid. It's not going to be as easy for some companies as others. I would say, if you sell a physical product, you should be on TikTok. If you are in the fitness, food, alcohol or beauty industry, you should have been on TikTok six months ago because the steps that brands like Fenty and all these alcohol brands I see on there, like White Claw, the cranberry juice. Gosh, what is the name of, I'm sure you saw that viral video of the guy with the bottle of cranberry juice coasting down the coast of California, singing Fleetwood Mac. They sent him a truck, you can't pay for that kind of exposure. And so I don't even think you necessarily have to be creating content on TikTok as a brand. I think you just need to have boots on the ground. You need to be plugged in. You need to know what's going on. And if you find out that there's this micro influencer with 10, 000 followers who uses your product in their makeup videos every time they post a video, send them something free, that doesn't cost you more than the product and shipping. So I think brands think of it more about like, how can we represent ourselves on TikTok? And the question really should be like, how can you integrate yourselves into the communities that already exist and make yourself part of the narrative?
Stephanie Cox: Right. And that's a little bit different, I think, than how brands use other social media channels in all honesty where they're constantly pushing out their own content.
Lauren Pope: Yeah. I mean like Fenty Beauty is a perfect example. It's an app dominated by teenagers. There are a lot of teenagers on TikTok. And so beauty brands and beauty trends and makeup videos, it's much like YouTube. They're very, very popular. And so Fenty Beauty found all of these 16, 17, 18 year old girls who had built these followings of hundreds of thousands of people just by doing their makeup and said, do you want to be a Fenty TikTok ambassador, sent them a bunch of free stuff. It destroyed the app for like two days. All I saw was videos of these girls, basically having their idol, Rihanna say, I like what you're doing. Here's my free stuff. Go keep doing what you're doing. And it was all I saw. And as a marketer, as a user of the platform, it's kind of like, dang, I guess I need to go buy some Fenty. But as a marketer, I was like, you cannot pay for this access. There isn't a Google ad out there that can reach this many people, this organically, this authentically. And then you've got other people who are now trying to become a Fenty ambassador now that they're making content and tagging Fenty Beauty. It just keeps building. And so it's very unique to the TikTok experience, I think.
Stephanie Cox: Well, I think the one thing that I like about it from what you're saying, is a lot of times, if you look at like Instagram based on the algorithm and everything, there are large influencers. And then I think they're smaller ones. And I feel like on TikTok, anyone has a bigger chance to kind of just be who they are and potentially connect with brands and be like a micro influencer to some extent.
Lauren Pope: Yeah. I mean, so like a perfect example, my husband bakes. And so for fun, I made him a TikTok account and he got 1, 800 followers in a month. And for comparison, it has taken me almost a year to get 1, 800 followers on Instagram. And so you look at those two things side by side and you say, okay, so one of these things clearly favors establishment. It favors the status quo. It favors what's hot right now. And one of these things is creating what's now and what is creating what's next. And so I think that is where the appeal comes in. I've never, in my experience as a marketer, had access to a platform where I could do something so crazy and it still might work, it's a very exciting prospect to be able to experiment and learn the algorithm as it's evolving, as opposed to having to come in and say, okay, I know the rules, I'll play the game.
Stephanie Cox: For everyone out there, if you were paying any attention to the news, you probably heard there's a lot of drama with TikTok over the last couple of months about whether or not it could stay here in the United States. So Lauren, give us an update, like what's going on? Are they going to be taken away from my teens and the rest of us? Or are we okay?
Lauren Pope: I think for now we're fine. I think it could change at any point, but there is no countdown clock for the last day of TikTok yet like there was for Vine.
Stephanie Cox: Speaking of that, I mean, we've talked about Vine twice now. Why do you think Vine really, I mean, it came out quasi strong and then kind of faded pretty quickly in my opinion, from like a channel that people used. Why do you think TikTok's had the staying power it has, and it has just really like skyrocketed in popularity compared to something like Vine?
Lauren Pope: I think it's two things. I think one, Vine got bought by Twitter and then Twitter couldn't monetize it. And I think that was kind of a death nail. So I think the first problem that Vine had that TikTok does not was like a sloppy acquisition by a company that really didn't have a plan for what they were going to do once they did it. And I think what we're seeing, even with like the TikTok drama of can it stay in the United States, it's like there are more big players at the table. Like when Vine was going under, Twitter came in as like a savior and TikTok in comparison is being like fought over. So I think that's an interesting juxtaposition, but what I really think is that influencer culture has given TikTok what Vine never had. We had our first like round of viral video stars on Vine. And this is also before like being a YouTuber was like a thing teenagers wanting to do, with their professions and their careers. And so you had all these people who had these big followings, but there wasn't any rule book for like, how do I monetize this? Like, how do I make this something? How do I make this a career? How do I turn this? How do I use this for my comedy career or my writing career, whatever it might be? But we've had time. And I think like being an influencer is a career now. And so I think TikTok came in at the right moment when influencer marketing and influencer culture has become a huge part of how we market things and how we consume things as buyers.
Stephanie Cox: So as you think about maybe being a marketer for, let's say a B2C brand, we've talked a little bit about how they could engage with influencers on TikTok. Would you, if you were in content marketing for a large B2C brand, would you think about having your own TikTok channel? Or would you do kind of what we talked about earlier and focus solely on getting your product in the hands of more like influential users on TikTok? What would be your recommendation from a marketing perspective?
Lauren Pope: I think if you have a social media manager, if you have someone whose job is to manage social channels, you have nothing to lose posting your own content. And a good example of that is The Washington Post and Dave Jorgensen. He basically just started making random TikTok from an account that is verified as The Washington Post. It's him, making videos about what it's like to work at the post and how people don't take his TikTok seriously. Like it's meta, it's funny. And so, you can do that for free and that's the other appeal of TikTok is it's not pay to play. I have built my following totally organically. I haven't bought an ad, I haven't spent a dime on TikTok content. And so I think if you have a social media manager, you have nothing to lose. Now, if you don't have someone who can manage it all the time, I really do think consistency is what will take you to the next level on TikTok. So if you just have a marketing team, maybe not someone who can do it every day, then maybe you just hang back, stay plugged in, follow your hashtag, see what's going on. In the ideal world, you're doing both, you're doing both where you're creating content, you're reacting to the people creating content with your products, you're sending people stuff. In an ideal world, it's both. But I think if you're starting with one strategy or the other, having that social media manager to keep things consistent is like where you should make the decision.
Stephanie Cox: So with that, I mean, obviously TikTok is a video platform. So do you think you need special skills to do that, or can really anyone figure this out and get started? Or to what extent does video editing skills and video compositions goals skills that we might all think about traditionally in marketing, is that beneficial?
Lauren Pope: I think it depends on how serious you're taking your TikTok account. So if you run a small business, for example, I follow a bunch of jewelry creators on TikTok. And so there is an advantage to shooting high quality footage of your product and making sure that potential customers can see, wow, this is really high quality. Wow, this video, it looks professional. It looks really nice, but I've also seen the Chipotle account just post memes and get thousands and thousands of likes. So I think the question should be like, what is your brand perspective? Are you a brand that can be funny and off the cuff and kind of" low budget" and still be endearing? Or if you're Tiffany's, if you're Tiffany Jewelry, people are going to expect a certain amount of je ne sais quoi, a certain quality. So I think that needs to be part of the conversation when you're deciding how much time do we want to put into this, if we're going to be creating content on our site.
Stephanie Cox: So let's flip the script a little bit. We've talked about B2C brands, both you and I are marketers at B2B brands. So how do you think about a B2B brand and TikTok? Is there still a place for that or because we don't sell maybe a physical product, it's not maybe the right channel for us to consider?
Lauren Pope: I definitely think there is an opportunity for marketers or salespeople who are willing to take a risk because I mean, I've been seeing on LinkedIn this whole year, cold calling is dead, sales prospecting, cold outreach templates, dead. Everyone's talking about how hard it is to reach a customer and really do something unique. And I find it funny that I really haven't seen anyone try to use TikTok in that way. You shoot a TikTok of yourself, explaining to your prospect why your product is the right one in 15 seconds and just fire off a link to them, get in their DMs and send them something, send them a TikTok of you going through how to use your product better than they might be using it now. Make a TikTok about signing up for your webinar and include a special code that's only on that TikTok. I just feel like there's so much potential. And I feel like very serious B2C marketers might think that TikTok is a very unserious platform and maybe not worth their time. But I think there is a way to be professional and attention grabbing. And I think that there's a really missed opportunity there for something like that.
Stephanie Cox: Are there any B2B brands out there that you think are doing a great job on TikTok, that you would say like, hey, look at what they're doing if you want to get a sense of what's possible?
Lauren Pope: Not necessarily B2B brands, but there is one person. So Madeline Mann, she is a career advice columnist. She is a freelancer and she has a huge LinkedIn presence. She has taken that same serious tone that she has. She helps job seekers get the job of their dreams and she has them on TikTok and she has hundreds of thousands of followers. And it's because there are college students who are looking for their first job. They need tips from her. There are people who have been laid off, they need tips. And so I think that you can really do some cool things, even if you are kind of a serious brand. And I wouldn't even suggest looking at what other brands are doing because frankly, I don't think a lot of them are doing it well on TikTok. I think what you need to do is create the content that you know your potential audience needs. And then if they're not on TikTok, send them a link, get them there. You will find your audience. And I think one other point, I was actually talking with my CMO, Ryan, about this because he's fascinated by my TikTok presence. He just, he's like, what's going on with that. Everyone is on TikTok, even if they don't have an account. You said it yourself, you're a parent. And you know your kids are on TikTok. There are a lot of parents who are on TikTok. There are a lot of people who don't even have accounts who browse TikTok and those people are CMOs at companies. They're account executives. They're serious people with serious jobs and serious influence. And so if you can catch their attention somehow, that is a foot in the door. Just because you don't think your potential audience is on TikTok doesn't mean they aren't there. And I think for a platform that is free to use and free to create content on with such incredible organic reach and potential, I think it feels foolish not to try it.
Stephanie Cox: So let's say we gave it a try. If a company did, how long would you recommend they stick with it until they know if it's working? I know earlier you mentioned consistency being key. So if you can talk more about like what consistency on TikTok needs to look like, that'd be great as well.
Lauren Pope: Yeah. So I think the algorithm's trickier than it was when I started, I got a 1,000 followers by posting one video a day for a week straight. I would say if you create content for three months every day, Monday to Friday, you don't even have to do weekends, just post something and see what happens. I don't even think it'll take three months. I suggest three months because I feel like if you tell people three months, they'll say, all right, I'll give it three weeks. I still think three weeks is enough time to see some sort of benefit. And again, it's kind of that very, very low cost, very, very high reward. Let's say you post a video every day for three weeks, three months, however long, nothing happens and you go, well, that was a waste of time. Well, you've just learned that doesn't work and it cost you no money and you probably know how to compose and edit videos a little better. I think that's a win-win.
Stephanie Cox: So what's next for you on TikTok? So what are you thinking about doing next for yourself and have you given any thought to how in your current role and in future roles, in marketing that you might want to lean into TikTok more?
Lauren Pope: Yeah, I think right now I'm really kind of using TikTok and like the blog I have associated with it as a sort of sandbox for me to play around in. I'm building an email newsletter for the first time from scratch. Like not even coming into a company, that's like we have 5, 000, I've nobody subscribed to my email. So I get to experiment without limits and without repercussions, if I decide to write a blog post with a terrible keyword strategy and it doesn't go anywhere, that's not attached to my job. And what I found is it's made me better at my job, more adventurous in my current position, and I take more risks now at work I feel like, because if I have an idea, I can workshop it beforehand with my own little sandbox. And then I can come to my boss and say, I tried something on my blog and I want to try it on ours. That work of doing it on my own, building something on my own has given me a lot more opportunity because I'm not just coming to people and saying, I think this works. I can point to it and say, I built this and I know this works here, so let's try to do it here. And I think that's a freedom I've never had in my career up until this point. And it's something I'm super grateful for.
Stephanie Cox: So if you had to think of one thing that people would be most surprised to learn about TikTok, what would it be?
Lauren Pope: I think people would be surprised to learn just how niche the content can get. I follow a girl, all she does, every day, she posts a different soup recipe. That's it. I've never seen her face.
Stephanie Cox: That's a lot of soup.
Lauren Pope: It's a ton of soup. And every day she has a new soup she makes, and she's vegan and so she makes a different vegan soup everyday. I'm not vegan. I've never made a single soup of hers, but I watch her videos every day because they're very relaxing and they're very enjoyable. So I think people think that TikTok is dancing teenagers. And like, there are a lot of them. I'm not going to lie to you, but stick with the algorithm, give it a couple of days only engage with the content that you like. And you will find the most niche, weird, delightful content ever.
Stephanie Cox: I think that's a great way to wrap that up. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Lauren.
Lauren Pope: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Stephanie. I really had a great time.
Stephanie Cox: I think I might need to actually do something on TikTok now.
Lauren Pope: I can send you a few links if you want.
Stephanie Cox: If you've been actively creating content on TikTok for a while now, then you can be done with the episode because this part's not for you. It's for the rest of us that have been avoiding getting on TikTok and getting sucked into it. It's time for a heart to heart you guys. We all need to create TikTok accounts and we probably should have done it a long time ago. So I need all of us to download the TikTok app, which you know I don't say easily because I hate downloading native apps, but it's time to do it. And we need to start creating content personally. And then also thinking about how we create content on TikTok for our own companies, from a marketing strategy. TikTok isn't going anywhere and we really need to start taking advantage of it. You've been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast and don't forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.