How To Go Viral on TikTok
A guide by Buffet’s intern and resident Gen Z TikTok person who has, indeed, experienced said virality first hand.By Georgia Mahood
Oh, hey! If we haven’t met already, I’m Buffet’s intern and resident Gen Z TikTok person. About a year ago in the boredom of lockdown, I began creating cake decorating videos on the app (if you’re into watching buttercream being applied ever-so-smoothly over sponge, I suggest you click here). In the act of baking and uploading, I’ve come away with some very interesting insights into what makes TikTok hyper-valuable for brands and creators alike: VIRALITY.
How does virality work? Unlike Instagram, where engagement tends to ebb and flow on a small yet steadily growing/sliding scale, TikTok’s algorithm can lead to “TikTok fame” overnight. And by that I mean, one post exploding into the stratosphere. Let me explain. On my own #caketok account of 7k followers, I’ll often get 200-1,500 likes for a post. But then there are those blessed posts that garner close to (or over) half a million views, over 100k likes and a whole new wave of followers asking for baking tips and tricks. If that’s not reason enough to get your brand on TikTok, then I don't know what is!
Traditionally, Instagram has been known as the platform where brands are born, and where users (mostly millennial) go to find the next best bakery/bag/bed linen. That’s not going to change (a 2-in-1 guide to why that is + video editing hacks here). However! For brands wanting to speak to the generation below, Gen Z, TikTok has huge potential to get your brand discovered.
Like Instagram, TikTok has seen small business owners and creators go from having a side gig into a full-time venture. I think that’s the magic of the app. While major corporations have the budget to fork out millions for a high-production, pay-to-play strategy on Facebook and Instagram, TikTok has become a place for small businesses to organically build brand awareness, reach hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, and get the attention they deserve.
So, how to get there? It’s all about gaming the algorithm and understanding the very specific ‘parlance’ of this Gen Z crowd.
Step one: Establish your vibe (art direction)
The angles, lighting and props that you’ll use in your video will all really depend on what kind of vibe you want to present to the TikTok world. Maybe you want to tap into what The New Yorker is calling “the vibes revival,” a cross-over from Instagram where each frame is minimal, yet highly-curated and designed to soothe. Or perhaps you want to go lo-fi yet mouthwatering, occasionally tapping into BTS bloopers, like Gelato Messina. As a member of FoodTok, I personally vouch for aesthetically pleasing, ASMR-style food videos.
Step two: Get your tools in order
Firstly, a trusty smartphone is essential. Most people who create TikToks, even the ‘TikTok famous,’ use their phones to shoot, and most of us have one of those. More on our guide to shooting on your phone here. Next, in combination with your phone, natural lighting is king. It creates higher quality footage and food just looks extra delicious in that glowy early morning or afternoon sun. That said, it always helps to have some extra lighting up your sleeve.
Step three: Learn your angles
Try capturing 5-second lots of close up footage from a range of angles - birds eye view, straight on, zoomed in detail shots, even upside down if you want. But remember that the video must always be portrait. No one likes a landscape TikTok, absolutely no one. I also try to avoid showing the entire end product till the very end. By creating a linear ‘story’, you’ll effectively build tension and entice people to keep watching till the very end. Here’s an example I prepared earlier 🙃. Of course, you can also set your phone up on a tripod and film straight into the app like this.
Step four: load your best footage into the app
Fear not, TikTok is actually very user friendly. Bringing it all together is super easy. Just pick out your favourite shots and make sure they flow and tell a story from start to end. Here’s how:
- Click the plus sign at the bottom of the TikTok app.
- Before uploading your footage, make sure you click how much time you need!!! I always forget this and then you have to start editing all over again, so don’t be like me. You have the choice of 15-seconds, 60-seconds and 3-minutes. I always choose 60-seconds even if the video is very very short. It just gives me leeway if I decide I want a longer video.
- Once you’ve made your selection, click upload— now it's time to edit!
Step five: It’s all in the edit
TikTok gives you two options depending on how confident you are with your editing skills.
- Option one: let TikTok do the hard work
Once you’ve chosen your footage, Tiktok can sync it to whatever TikTok sound you want. This way the footage syncs to the beat of the music. You can still adjust the order of each frame, but you can’t adjust how long each frame goes for. If you choose this option, then you’re basically done!
- Option two: You do the hard work
Because I'm picky, I prefer to edit the footage myself, which means you’ll want to click the ‘default’ option. This allows me to pick how long I want each shot of footage to be, and I can ensure the most important footage is getting the time that it deserves. Once each frame is organised to your liking, click next and move onto adding sound.
Step six: Music is everything
Sound is often the key to a viral video on TikTok. Whatever editing option you choose, make sure the track is currently trending on TikTok. By ‘track,’ I mean a song or even voice recordings, scenes from movies, and other random sounds from all corners of the internet. Exhibit A. When scrolling through your ‘for you page’ (#fyp), if you notice a sound multiple times — a video with a sound you like with a lot of views — click on the spinning record in the bottom right-hand corner or save to ‘favourites.’ If you really want to go deep, feel free to add filters, a voiceover or the text-to-speech function for added humour but also to increase accessibility for visually-impaired users.
Step seven: Create for short attention spans.
As with Instagram, the same rule applies. Keep it short and sweet. While the app now allows up to three-minute videos, our short attention spans and swipey-thumbs are key to consider. As a rule of swipey-thumb, I usually make videos around 30-seconds in length. Even with my top performing posts, only about a third of my viewers watch the whole thing.
Step eight: Captions and hashtags
Ok guys, we’ve almost made it! Phew! Good news is, captions and hashtags are less important on TikTok than they are on Instagram. Keep it short and descriptive, something that adds to the video’s meaning. Then throw in a few relevant hashtags e.g. #foodtok #cakestagram #baking #cakedecorating. Always, always add ‘for you page’ hashtags e.g. #fyp #foryoupage. These will ensure that your TikTok ends up on people’s fyp, so your video has a higher chance of being seen!
What makes TikTok stand out from other social media platforms is it requires content creators and brands to be reactive rather than proactive in creating content. Trends come and go extremely quickly (often within days), so thinking fast and hopping on a trend as it happens will be your key to viral success.
In an age of highly-curated Instagram feeds, TikTok is a breath of fresh air, where users and brands can share their most authentic, often extremely quirky, selves. After running with all the steps above, remember this important point: unfiltered authenticity from brands is a quality highly valued among a Gen Z audience, we can sniff a disingenuous marketer from a mile away. My favourite example is Ryanair, a European airline cashing in on trending TikTok sounds and funny filters to attract one million followers. Click here for a talking aeroplane lol.
What now? Go forth and start creating magic of your own. And no, you won’t have to do any TikTok dances, however, this has been proven to be beneficial.
Feeling confident with your fresh skills, but need some equally fresh content and a strategy to match? Get in touch.
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