Learn all about TikTok influencer marketing, from why it works to how to set up your own program, to how to find influencers to work with.
Want to do TikTok influencer marketing? You’ve clicked the right link because this article is going to take you through everything you need to know to harness the strategy.
An extremely brief history of TikTok
TikTok was developed by ByteDance, a Chinese internet technology company. ByteDance also owns Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
Despite having almost the same interface, TikTok and Douyin do not share content. They are entirely separate versions of the same platform, with servers based in the respective markets where each platform is available.
Douyin was released to the Chinese market in 2016. TikTok—the internationalized version—was released worldwide in August 2018 after ByteDance acquired Musical.ly, a social platform for sharing short lip-sync and dancing videos.
In April 2020, TikTok surpassed 2 billion downloads worldwide. While app downloads definitely peaked during the pandemic, TikTok has held steady since then, averaging around 200 million downloads per quarter since 2020.
Source: TikTok Revenue and Usage Statistics (2023), by Business of Apps.
How TikTok influencer marketing works
TikTok influencer marketing involves teaming up with content creators to produce short-form TikTok videos that promote your brand. By partnering with influencers, brands can tap into the persuasive power of social proof and brand trust, without appearing too pushy or sales-oriented.
Now, it's certainly a best practice for brands to have their own TikTok accounts to post their own branded content and paid ads. In fact, with any influencer marketing strategy, your brand needs to have a foundation on the network it wants to attack.
But, this type of content typically generates less engagement than influencer content or user-generated content (UGC). Studies have shown that in the US, 33% of millennial consumers have bought something after seeing it recommended by a creator on TikTok.
Source: TikTok for Business.
To capitalize on this trend, it's wise to allocate a significant portion of your marketing budget toward producing high-quality influencer content or UGC, which can help drive engaged and diverse audiences to your brand's TikTok account or website.
Why users love TikTok
If the goal of TikTok influencer marketing is to connect with consumers through the app, it’s important to understand how and why those users enjoy TikTok.
1) Its algorithm that prioritizes entertaining content
One of the primary reasons why users love TikTok is its entertaining content. While TikTok started with mostly lip-syncs and dances, it’s now home to a wide range of content: comedy skits, recipes, memes, educational information, fashion tips, travel guides, book reviews, and much more.
When polled about what type of content they want to see on the app, 63% said funny, 48% said creative, and 36% said relaxing.
Source: What content works best on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram in 2022 by GWI.
And the TikTok algorithm makes it easy to find the content you want. It uses machine learning to analyze user behavior and personalize the content that appears on each user's "For You" page, making their experience on the platform more enjoyable.
The algorithm also helps to surface content from new and undiscovered creators, providing a platform for diverse voices to be heard.
2) Its tools that encourage creativity
A third reason why users love TikTok is its creative features. The platform offers a range of editing tools, filters, and effects, which encourage users to be creative and experiment with new ideas, leading to unique and entertaining content.
There’s also less focus on being perfect and more of an emphasis on being real. Video quality doesn’t need to be perfect, and creators don’t need to be perfectly posed 24/7. TikTok has a unique style that encourages authenticity, which resonates with the audience
3) Its community-oriented culture
Finally, users love TikTok for its community-driven culture, which promotes authenticity, inclusivity, and diversity. TikTok users often create content around niche interests and topics, which can help them connect with like-minded individuals around the world. This creates a sense of community and belonging that is hard to find on other social media platforms.
The benefits of TikTok influencer marketing for brands
Now we know why users love TikTok. But why do marketers love TikTok? Let’s take a look at some key benefits of TikTok influencer marketing for brands.
It’s cheaper to reach more people
TikTok influencer marketing is a highly effective way to reach a broad audience, especially with lesser-known creators who have a high potential to create viral content.
Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok's algorithm rewards high-quality, relevant content more than it does follower count. This means that anyone, regardless of their follower count or brand, can get discovered and seen by millions.
So what does this mean for brands? Well, instead of partnering with influencers who have millions of followers, brands can partner with creators who have smaller followings but stellar content.
This impacts the influencer marketing budget, as you don’t have to pay someone with 20K followers as much as someone who has 2M, meaning you can get your branded content in front of more people for less money.
Its algorithm helps you target niches more easily
The TikTok algorithm won’t cause every creator you work with to go viral. But even when that doesn’t happen, it’s great at showing users content aligned with their niche interests.
These audience segments are a treasure trove for marketers, as they enable brands to target their desired audience and promote their content effectively.
For example, you might have heard about BookTok. BookTok is the TikTok niche where users talk about their favorite books and look for recommendations from others. Some big-name bookstores, like Barnes and Noble in the US, have taken to the BookTok space to connect with their target audience.
BookTok is just one example. You might hear users mention how different people seem to all have different versions of TikTok. This is because the app very quickly tailors the content it shows them to their niche interests.
A few other niches on TikTok are:
- Hiking TikTok
- Polymer clay TikTok
- Vegan recipe TikTok
- Beans TikTok (or Feta TikTok, or Toks related to other trending food ingredients)
- Dog show ad competitions TikTok
The point is: whatever your niche, there’s probably a Tok for it. And by partnering with creators working in these niches, you can directly tap into the power of TikTok influencer marketing to promote your brand to specific users interested in what your brand has to offer.
The TikTok infinite loop retail path
Another benefit of TikTok influencer marketing is that it helps you connect with consumers while understanding that their purchasing journeys might not be linear.
I bet you’re familiar with the traditional marketing funnel, which looks something like this:
The idea is that your business does everything it can to push consumers down the funnel. TikTok argues that this method is outdated, saying that consumers very rarely move linearly through the funnel anymore.
Shopping has blended with entertainment and community, and so consumers often enter, exit, and re-enter the “funnel” at different stages of the purchasing journey based on their needs and desires. To explain this, TikTok created what it calls the infinite loop retail path to purchase.
TikTok states: “By listening to the TikTok community, we meet users where they want to be met, and it's not in the funnel. Rather, it is an infinite loop with no start or end point, and it empowers brands to establish more meaningful relationships with consumers that result in communities of brand loyalists, repeat purchases, and greater spending.”
Partnering with creators helps your brand build engaging consumer experiences that make shopping entertaining. In fact, a study by TikTok showed that 44% of daily TikTok users want branded content to be fun and entertaining.
You can read more about the infinite loop at the links above, but here’s my TL;DR version for the 3 key reasons why it works better than the traditional funnel in 2023:
- TikTok content impacts every stage of the purchasing journey—discovery, consideration, and purchase.
- TikTok’s influence continues after the purchase, propelled by new buyers wanting to share their views on a brand’s products.
- TikTok’s consumer journeys are powered by joy, which leaves a great impression on the consumer.
How to find TikTok influencers
So, you're thinking about getting into TikTok influencer marketing, but you don't want to break the bank? Well, partnering with micro-influencers might just be the answer you're looking for.
You don't need to fork out crazy amounts of cash to get the biggest stars. By working with lesser-known influencers, you can actually create more meaningful connections with your audience without going over budget.
Here’s how to find the right TikTok creators for your brand.
Understand TikTok’s demographics and know your own audience
First up, decide if it’s really worth it for your brand to do TikTok influencer marketing.
47.4% of TikTok users are under 30, and the share of users decreases as age goes up. When it comes to gender, 57% identify as female.
Source: TikTok User Age, Gender, & Demographics (2023) by Exploding Topics.
When it comes to location, TikTok already has a strong footing in markets like China and the United States, the network is growing in countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, and Australia.
Source: TikTok User Age, Gender, & Demographics (2023) by Exploding Topics.
Keep these demographics in mind as you consider your target audience. If you’re looking to target an older age group, for example, you might be better off using Facebook or Instagram.
Define your niche in TikTok terms
We mentioned TikTok niches before and how they can help you target the right people. So in order to determine who your target influencers are, you need to define your niche, and define it in terms used on the platform.
Avoid choosing a very broad niche, like “dancing.” This is a broad topic that has millions of associated videos on TikTok. Choose something more specific, so that you can connect with creators who will be genuinely interested in your brand.
To start, create a list of keywords related to your brand. Plug them into the Tiktok search bar, and the app will show you a list of commonly-searched terms. These can help you get an idea of how people are expressing your niche on TikTok.
When you search for a keyword, you can also scroll left on the results page and see the most-used hashtags for it.
Doing this helps you see how TikTok users are searching for your niche. It also gives you keywords to use when searching for creators working in those niches.
Find creators in your niche
Now that you’ve defined your niche, it’s time to find creators working in it. There are a few different ways you can find TikTok influencers:
- TikTok itself: Use the method described above to find creators who have created content related to the keywords and hashtags you defined as relevant.
- Google: Search on Google the same way you usually would, including the keywords you want to target. For example: “TikTok creators talking about books.”
- Other social networks: Most of the time, influencers have more than one social profile. Your favorite Instagrammer, for example, might have a TikTok account, too.
- TikTok creator marketplace: This is an analytics tool from TikTok that helps brands discover and connect with creators. There are some limitations though, like the fact that your brand must be approved to use it.
- Heepsy creator marketplace: Similar to the TikTok creator marketplace, the Heepsy marketplace helps you connect with TikTok (and Instagram) creators. It’s free to use and doesn’t require approval, meaning you can sign up and get started right now.
Vet creators for profile health
Before you contact creators for partnerships, vet their profiles to make sure they have healthy metrics. You want to check if their content, followers, and reputation would be positive for your brand.
Don’t just vet for follower count or engagement rate, either. Vet their content quality, to make sure that anyone you work with will produce content up to your brand’s standards.
- Is their content aesthetically pleasing and capable of carrying my branding? A creator doesn’t have to have the exact same style as you. But they should have content that you see as able to carry your brand’s tone of voice and visual identity.
- Does the creator uphold the same values as my brand? If you partner with someone who doesn’t share your values, the audience will recognize pretty quickly that the only thing linking you together is a commercial transaction. Working with like-minded influencers helps promote authenticity and brand trust.
- Does their audience align with yours? You want to see if their audience has the potential to become future customers of your brand. Check into their followers and who’s engaging with them to determine this. You can also ask for an influencer’s media kit to see this info, or use a platform like Heepsy, mentioned above.
- Do they show signs of being authentic? To avoid fake followers/views/likes, do a bit of digging into the influencer’s authenticity. Do the people who follow them and engage with their account appear to be real?
For example, maybe your fashion brand produces more expensive clothes that are handmade using sustainable materials and methods. When you vet fashion influencers, you might find a creator with great stats, but whose audience consists mainly of people interested in mass-produced fast fashion. This wouldn’t be the right match for your brand.
Tips for your TikTok influencer marketing campaigns
Like any marketing campaign, a solid TikTok influencer campaign is goal-focused and trackable. That said, you should still leave space for flexibility and creativity. Here are a few tips to guide your campaigns in the right direction.
Set up results tracking based on your campaign’s goal
Configure your analytics programs to be able to track your results as they come in. Which results you track depend a bit on what your goal is. Here are a few common goals of TikTok influencer marketing campaigns and which metrics to track for each:
- Brand awareness: Video views, reach of your branded hashtags
- Engagement: Video likes, comments, shares, and profile visits
- Conversion: Traffic to your website, downloads of your app, or sales made with an influencer’s unique discount code
Tracking the ROI of your campaign can be tricky for some. If that’s how you feel, consider using an influencer marketing platform to help you out.
Experiment with content types to see what works for you
Partnering with various influencers at the same time is a good strategy for determining which type of content best resonates with your audience.
Trend videos go big, stay popular for a short amount of time, and then fade away to make room for the next big trend. They usually start when a TikTok user creates content with a filter, sound, or format that easily allows others to jump on the bandwagon and throw in their unique two cents.
Brands can try out trend videos to get in front of their target audience in a way that feels very organic. This can be difficult since trend videos are usually very generic. So look for a way to relate the generic trend to what your brand does. Creators can help here. After all, they’re the content creation experts.
TikTok content can teach, too. Whether you want to learn about hair care, beekeeping, or how to invest wisely, there are videos out there about it. If your brand has something to teach the audience, partner with educational influencers in your niche who can help make your voice heard.
When you educate your audience, you’re providing them with value. And when you can fit your own products in as part of the solution, even better.
Creators sometimes post similar content over a long period of time. For example, a gamer might do regular game reviews. Or a lifestyle creator might regularly post travel guides to their hometown.
Since people know that there’s more of this type of content coming, they might be more likely to follow them to stay up to date. If you can fit your brand into a creator’s series, you can get your name in front of people who have been eagerly awaiting the creator’s next chapter.
Leave room for creative freedom in your campaign guidelines
Success with TikTok influencer marketing hinges on many things, including how you brief influencers. It’s important to share your guidelines with them when setting up a collaboration.
But TikTok creators know the platform—and their specific audience—the best. So let them create content their way. If you micromanage this process, you risk their content not resonating with their audience.
When briefing, focus on:
- The main goal and message of the campaign
- Specific talking points to include or avoid
- Deadlines, timelines, and mentions/hashtags to use.
Consider testing other types of partnerships too
You might want to try out different ways to partner with creators, too. This article mostly focuses on influencer marketing, but here are two other popular partnership methods.
User-generated content has one key difference from influencer content. With UGC, a creator produces content and the brand posts it.
Due to this, you don’t have to worry about finding someone with the right number of followers or engagement rate. You just have to find someone who creates awesome content.
UGC can be used on the brand’s social pages, in paid ads, or even as website assets.
Whitelisting is when an influencer gives you advertising permissions from their account. So the brand posts paid ads using the influencer’s handle.
This strategy is best for influencers you already have a good relationship with. So if you’re just starting out in TikTok influencer marketing, you might be able to try whitelisting with an influencer you’ve already collaborated with on another platform.
Use an influencer marketing platform to optimize the process
Consider using software to help you keep on top of your campaign. Influencer marketing platforms speed up a lot of processes, like finding influencers, vetting them, briefing them, and following up on each collaboration.
Platforms can offer features that give you an extra edge when it comes to finding and working with influencers, like:
- Inbound influencer discovery. This means you post your campaign and watch as influencers apply.
- Influencer detection among customers. Determine which customers could be influencers. Partnering with customers has huge benefits, like proven brand loyalty and a better understanding of your ethos.
- Social monitoring to detect brand fans. Find out when someone interacts with your brand on social media, and see if they look like a good match for your TikTok influencer marketing.
Source: Heepsy’s creator radar.
TikTok influencer marketing: the recap
We’ve gone through a lot, so here’s a handy recap for you to take away with you:
- TikTok users love the platform for its entertaining content, creative tools, and community-driven approach.
- Marketers love TikTok because it’s cheaper to go viral, easier to drive down your niche, and it lets you break out of the traditional marketing funnel.
- Use TikTok, Google, or marketplaces to find TikTok influencers who match your target audience and have great content in your defined niche.
- Campaign tips: Set up goal-oriented tracking beforehand, give influencers creative freedom, and experiment with different types of content.
- Use an influencer marketing platform for optimized campaign management.