TikTok has grown like crazy this year, and it has stirred up some controversy along the way. The Trump administration attempted to ban new app downloads in the U.S., but a federal judge recently blocked the administration’s ban via a temporary injunction. At this point, it’s not clear what will happen with TikTok in the coming months.
We’ll all be watching and waiting to see what happens next, but the app remains incredibly popular among consumers. For brands, it has become an essential marketing tool.
But for many, controversies aside, it’s already overwhelming. They don’t feel comfortable using the app for marketing because they don’t feel comfortable using the app period — but it becomes more apparent that they need to embrace TikTok if they want to stay relevant and reach their audience. That said, how do they move forward marketing with TikTok in the face of these challenges?
The TikTok Challenge
TikTok is huge. That massive scope allows brands and creators to experiment and get creative. But marketers don’t yet know how to test content on the app or what metrics to use — and many are still struggling to understand the basic purpose of the platform in the first place.
And it’s not just TikTok’s format and newness that poses a challenge to brands; now that the Trump administration has targeted TikTok as a way to regulate China’s influence in America, the platform feels like it isn’t worth the trouble.
On top of that, there isn’t a standout brand that has unlocked the secret to succeeding on TikTok. Some, like Chipotle, are leading the way by setting viral challenges to engage potential brand followers, but they’re just bold outliers for now. No brand has the playbook on how to win on TikTok — especially a smaller brand trying to create campaigns on a limited budget. Some might say this means the opportunity is greater than on platforms like YouTube or Instagram, where it feels like the winners have already been chosen.
Brand leaders are having conversations and looking for guidance about whether it’s still worth experimenting with TikTok at all. Is it a strategic marketing decision? If they have to invest heavily to do that, is it even worth investing?
The answer is yes. But how?
How to Do TikTok Marketing
Start building your plan for marketing with TikTok by forgetting the misconception that your first video has to go viral for you to have a chance at success. While it’s possible for your first post to go viral — like my wife and I did — it’s not the end of the world if your first video barely gets any views. It’s just about getting started!
Here’s how to start small and potentially get big on TikTok, without letting anything hold you back.
1. Know what you don’t know.
As you get started navigating the world of TikTok, your first task is to understand what you don’t know. Formulate a list of questions. What can I do to understand more about what TikTok is and how it works? What are some of the ways that brands have succeeded there? What would my goals and presence be on the platform?
2. Experiment with your campaign idea.
Your brand image and values will determine what you post on TikTok. The profile of your brand is not about what you’re selling; it’s about who you are behind the scenes and what you value. For that reason, experimentation is critical. You have to be willing to migrate a little marketing spend over to your TikTok campaigns, see what happens, and make changes to future videos based on the results.
3. Create a code of conduct.
To avoid trouble and misunderstanding, start with clarity — especially when you start working with creators. Define your expectations. Have a code of conduct visible and open to creators on your site. This way, you can enable them to express their creativity without worrying that they’ll go off message or hurt your brand image and perception on social outlets.
You’re going to need to experiment as you grow, so shake off the notion that a million people are scrutinizing everything you do. Thankfully, Gen Z has a lot more patience for brand experimentation because it feels authentic. They want to see brands be vulnerable, which makes TikTok a great place to experiment and show some personality.
4. Review the process before you go live.
Once you’ve added your checks and balances so that creators know what your brand is looking for, you still have room to review. Before anything goes live, conduct a final check that everything in the campaign is consistent with your values and personality.
Once you’ve created your code of conduct and reviewed your creator content, your goal should be just to get started. Nobody knows you’re there yet, and it’s going to take a long time to start building brand visibility on a massive scale. In the meantime, have fun flexing your brand’s creative muscles.
Does the difference between the first TikTok video you uploaded and your later, better-quality videos matter? No. What matters is that you keep showing up and growing — even when taking on a new platform feels overwhelming and uncertain. Sometimes, the best things come from uncertainty.
Brian Freeman is the CEO and founder of Heartbeat, the first platform for ambassador-powered marketing at scale. Heartbeat has more than 140,000 on-demand female brand ambassadors for launching turnkey ambassador solutions. Its mission is to empower real women by giving them a voice in marketing and paying them for the power of their collective authentic voice. Heartbeat has done campaigns with Amazon, Laura Mercier, Saks Fifth Avenue, Warner Brothers, Netflix, and other big brands.