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8 Tips to go Viral on TikTok & Drive DTC Sales

January 23, 2022

Every week, there's always one thing that companies are jealous of one another about, and it's never related to customer acquisition. It's always about their social media — what they're posting organically, how influencers are talking about them, and how they're able to generate so much engagement.

If a brand can nail its organic social presence, and I mean truly nail it, it can become a huge source of building brand awareness, driving retail sell-through, and even DTC sales. You don't need to have a killer presence on every single social media presence, but you should be able to absolutely nail 2-3 channels really well; TikTok should be one of them.

The key to a great social strategy, just like with ads, is being very contextually native to each platform. What TF does that mean? Simply put, it means you are creating content that feels like it can only live on that specific platform.

The Snapchat you upload should feel like someone just took it in real-time and it was meant to only be seen by their closest friends. The Instagram story should feel like it was capturing a moment that was worth sharing to many people, versus just uploading an animated video and trying to use that as another "feed". The tweet on Twitter should be something that entices people to retweet because it represents who they are, or they agree with what you have to say, not just a blog post that links back to your site with no engagement.

Anything you're putting out that's not getting engagement isn't helping you. Quite frankly, it's also probably pretty cringe-worthy to younger consumers. If you're a legacy or established brand, it matters less (it still matters though), but if you're a new brand without a solid social media strategy, you're just leaving an opportunity on the table.

Today, 60% of consumers under 30 years old go-to social media channels to look up a new brand. When you hear about Liquid Death for the first time, you go straight to Instagram to see if it's legitimate and if it's worth trying. With their engagement rate, the number of followers, and the overflow of UGC content, it becomes impossible to not want to try it out. And, in most cases with CPG, the goal is always to drive trial, or as we say in beverage "cans in hands". 

Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube can be harder to build organic followings as fast, even though you should still be putting out high-quality content on each platform. The easiest channel, today, to launch and grow is probably TikTok. Have you ever seen a product on your For You page that went viral, and then you went online to buy it and realized it's sold out EVERYWHERE? That could be you.

I asked JT Barnett, who's become a great friend over the years, about what brands can do today, without spending much money, to build up their TikTok, and this is what he recommends.

Step 1: Launch your account.

If you're launching an account for a brand like Caraway Home, only engage with other accounts that relate to your niche of home decor, cooking, luxury, etc. When you do this, you're helping the TikTok algorithm place you into a niche.

Be very selective/specific with the accounts that you follow, like, comment, save posts, or share from. If you stick to your own niches from the beginning, you have a higher chance of your account taking off.

You want all your interactions to be reflective of where you want your content to live.

Step 2: Write out personas.

Make a list of who your buyer personas are. If you're Caraway, your personas might include:

  • Chefs
  • New apartment/home buyers
  • People in their mid-20's
  • Wannabe/aspiring chefs
  • People who love interior design
  • Non-toxic product lovers
  • Minimalists

Get as detailed with each persona as you can. With each persona, you want to make a list of:

  • What does this persona love watching?
  • What does this persona do on the weekends?
  • What does this persona’s day-to-day life look like?
  • What kind of music/movies/shows/books do they consume?
  • What are other brands this persona would follow?
  • What creators does this persona enjoy watching?
  • Anything else you can think of that'll help you create more targeted content


Step 3: Map out your content ideas.

For each persona, think about a series that could make sense. A series is something that allows you to create multiple videos. For example, Emily Mariko has her cooking video series, a farmers market haul series, a breakfast foods series, and more. She doesn't play into trends, and I would doubt that all her different videos are shown to the same people, but that's what gives her so much reach as a creator appealing to different consumers.

As a brand like Caraway, you might have different series' planned like:

  • Meal prep Sundays
  • Founder stories (see this example)
  • Non-toxic product hauls
  • Gluten-free cooking recipes
  • Baking recipes/how-to's for beginners
  • Healthy 10-minute meals to cook

When a video within a series ends up going viral (not a matter of IF, it's a matter of WHEN), you want to have more content like that to earn a follow. When it's just a one-off video or a video of a TikTok trend that went viral, you won't earn that follow at a high conversion rate.

Step 4: Shoot, post and learn.

Now you know who your ideal viewers are and what you should be testing for each persona. Shoot and edit the content and post it.

Shooting and editing shouldn't take long. You don't want Hollywood movies, you want videos that feel like they were just shot in real-time on your iPhone, edited in less than 15 minutes, and posted. Anything that's overproduced gets a bad look on the platform (just look at the comments of overproduced brand videos).

When we tested TikTok for Jolie and built a pre-launch list of 15,000 subscribers, each TikTok took less than 5 minutes from the start to upload. In fact, having a time constraint forces your video to be scrappy, imperfect, valuable, raw, and authentic — all things the algorithm loves.

When you post content to TikTok, it gets sent into the ever-changing algorithm, a mix of art and science. Your content goes through an initial test of random audiences (mix of followers and non-followers). If your content resonates with a particular audience, it continues to test the video and deploy it across peoples' For You Page. If not, it might cap at a few hundred or few thousand views. It's important to remember that just because a video doesn't go viral the first time, doesn't mean that video or the series it's under is irrelevant to TikTok's audience, it might have just tested with the wrong initial group of consumers. 

When JT tests a new series, he advises that you consistently post content in a series for at least 45-60 days, which gives you enough chances to find the right audience, before deciding if it was a success or a failure.

When you find something that works, double down. Whether or not something pops off, read through every single comment, DM you get, and look into the analytics. Figure out what exactly makes your content do well, and what doesn't do well.

You want to be as authentic as possible, but don't forget to balance it with what you see working. For example, if you see that the gluten-free recipe video that did well started with an opening hook of someone waving at the camera with a smile, replicate that. If you saw that a video compilation without any context didn't do well, don't do that again!

From here, you just rinse and repeat. It might feel weird because we're so used to finding our favorite creators just going viral on our For You Page, but to build toward greatness on TikTok, you have to be methodical and analytical.

8 Tips from JT himself:

  • Be human. TikTok as a platform thrives on authentic human content. Instagram is your life's highlight reel, but TikTok is where people go when they want to consume content that's REAL life and value-driven highlights.
  • Have a proper plot. Like any good movie, you need to have a proper beginning, middle, and end. Take the viewer on a roller-coaster of a ride where they feel satisfied when it's time to unbuckle and get off. The typical plot is an opening hook, valuable content (whether it’s informative, a story, or something funny), and finally, a *subtle* CTA
  • Be real but analytical. If something isn't performing after 60 days, then figure out why, or try something else. Tiktok is all about at-bats, and if one of your swings is continually missing after ample time, try switching it up! It might be the way that you hook the viewer in, or maybe you don't have proper plots. Understand the analytics and feedback behind your videos, and be smart with adapting.
  • Engage with your viewers. If you get a comment, reply, or even make an entire video addressing it. Find your favorite creators on TikTok and see how they interact in the comments as an example. The comment section of TikTok is where the memes of tomorrow start.
  • Use a creator if you can. This is actually what JT helps brands do for a living — find creators that run their TikTok account. Having a creator or a face to the account helps you make sure the content stays consistent, it helps the audience stay attached, and it keeps TikTok happy (they like humans, not brands). 
  • Make save-able content. On Instagram, you want to make content that gets DM'd to someone else. On Twitter, you want to make content that gets retweeted. For TikTok, make your content so valuable (funny, insightful, relatable, etc) that people want to save it and send it into group chats.
  • Fit into a series. Just like there are playlists for YouTube that videos upload into, try to build around a series. It keeps an engaged viewer who found your video on their For You page coming back. This Notion doc is an example of a Founder Story series that JT put together.
  • Stay relatable. TikTok's audience thrives on videos that are accessible. The best workouts and recipes are ones that can realistically be made by almost anyone — not the ones only doable by the best athletes or Michelin-star chefs.

Hopefully, all of this is helpful and earns you a viral video within the next 60 days. Follow me on TikTok and I'll follow you back to stay updated with your journey: @mrsharma212.

You should also follow @JTBarnett for more content on building your TikTok following, spotting emerging TikTok trends, and more. He's also available for hire — fill out this form, and he will help you execute everything outlined in this email.