A group of Emory students spent the last semester learning the art and the science of “going viral.”
Professor Marina Cooley, who teaches content marketing at Goizueta Business School, tasked groups of students with creating viral video campaigns on the popular social media platform TikTok.
The end product – a curated profile of relatable college videos – quickly spread across the Emory student body and beyond. It took only about two weeks before most students on campus were aware of and engaged with content coming out of the “TikTok class.” By the time the semester was over, the account racked up several million likes and views.
Some of the most “viral” videos included “Worst Majors to Date,” “Guessing Majors at College,” and a series of videos documenting the day in the life of an Emory cat.
From a marketing perspective, the goal was for students to learn how to “gain and retain a target audience,” Cooley told Hypepotamus. That meant helping students understand what makes an idea “sticky” online, how to write a compelling headline, and what it takes to deliver an audience-specific message in 30 seconds.
Teaching specifically to TikTok may sound niche, but it is part of keeping up with the modern marketing landscape. That means understanding how to market to consumers using hyper-realistic and short-form videos.
“This class was specifically designed for this year, and for our generation, in a way that no other class has,” added junior Maya Harris.
TikTok is now an essential tool for the modern marketer. Not only does the platform boast over one billion users worldwide, it has become the go-to platform for influencer marketing and its ad revenue is set to hit $23.58 billion by 2024.
It’s also changing how startups think about marketing.
Upwards of 225,000 brands have an active TikTok account, with 45% of those using influencers to reach new audiences on the platform.
There are certainly some startups on the platform that will be familiar for Hypepotamus readers. Consumer brands like Treleaf, newly-launched apps like Hatched, and late-stage startup Bark Technologies have been using it to grow their digital marketing initiatives and their consumer base.
In the sports arena, both The Players’ Lounge and Press Sports have gathered a large online audience of athletes and sports enthusiasts.
Even early-stage B2B startups are using TikTok. Ohanafy, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based brewery software platform, recently started using it to reach new markets in a fun and engaging way.
“The flexibility of being able to share your videos on other platforms [makes] TikTok an extremely versatile platform that extends outside of that platform alone,” said Ohanafy’s co-founder Davis Bryson.
Offbeat Media Group’s Shep Ogden
TikTok even became a client for Atlanta-based Offbeat Media Group. The social media giant started working with Offbeat in 2018 when they were looking to drive new app downloads.
“With our deeper visibility thanks to the client relationship, we quickly saw TikTok becoming the platform that shifted culture and started trends, and knew we had to invest into our own content on the platform. We’ve built success by producing content where attention is shifting, which is why it was a priority for us to get started,” Offbeat’s Shep Ogden told Hypepotamus.
For brands, authenticity is at the core of TikTok content development. But it requires brands to be incredibly on-top of the Tik Tok trend lifecycle.
So how are brands getting eyeballs on their feeds today?
“Recently we have seen Public Interviews or “Man on the Street” style content do REALLY well. We believe this content performs best because of the raw and authentic nature of it. It doesn’t feel like an ad, and people love seeing our creators react with random people on the street,” said Samay Devraj of Juiced, a Tik Tok management company. “The best content engenders an emotional response, motivates action, and fosters conversation.”
That rings true for Ogden and the Offbeat Media team as well.
“There are a lot of types of content that do well, but regularly, we see videos that feel low-budget (shot on iPhone) overperform. People like authenticity, and a high-budget social asset on TikTok isn’t that. Because of this, we plan our content as if it was a regular shoot, but when it is time to film, we ensure it looks as if it could’ve been filmed spur of the moment,” he added.
In recent years, it’s become impossible to talk about TikTok without acknowledging the controversies surrounding the platform and the potential impact it could have on brands.
“Back in 2020 when I first started lecturing on TikTok…very few brands were dipping their toe in the water. The ones that were being heavily rewarded,” Cooley added. “Little by little, brands started to invest in the platform, get headcount against it, get agencies against it. So when I’m teaching the TikTok class now, there aren’t that many brands that I can list that are still sitting out. And now we’ve got all of these brands that have invested in understanding the platform and I’m sure a lot of them are thinking, was this a risky investment to make?”
Citing national security risks and concerns about its parent company ByteDance, state government officials have spent the better part of the last few months working to ban the platform from government-owned phones and devices. Potential further bans are certainly on the minds of content creators and content consumers across the US.
TikTok also faces other unique challenges – while it has the eyeballs, it hasn’t yet found a way to compete on the monetization front, added Professor Cooley.
“It’s not like Instagram where you click and almost have a seamless shopping checkout. There’s still a lot of functionality that TikTok has to figure out in order to make it a seamless shopping experience,” Cooley told Hypepotamus.
But brands actively using TikTok for marketing and brand development aren’t shifting strategy just yet.
“TikTok as a platform has changed the game. Almost every social platform has a vertical video feed at this point (Reels, Shorts, etc). We’ve noticed culture happens on TikTok. There isn’t a single other short form video platform that has culture or trend-setting ability right now. What works on TikTok will likely inform many of your marketing decisions,” added Devraj. “We also believe that if TikTok goes down tomorrow, our agency business won’t be negatively impacted, because every platform is working as fast as possible to be the next TikTok and replicate the genius of their algorithm. The brands who are crushing it on TikTok will eventually just start prioritizing the next platform. We also strongly believe that Twitter is going to lean heavily into short form video soon. We’ll be at the forefront of this culture shift. Regardless of what happens, short form vertical video is here to stay, and Juiced will be here to innovate.”
Ogden and Offbeat Media are also bullish on the platform moving forward.
“We have built our business to leverage our learnings from TikTok on other platforms like YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, and Snapchat…but we don’t foresee TikTok going anywhere. If anything, it’ll be required to fully separate from the parent company, ByteDance, but I do not envision a future without TikTok,” said Ogden.
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