Fundamentals of paid TikTok

Sam Thompsett
October 10, 2023
Fundamentals of paid TikTok

TikTok has grown rapidly since 2020 and is the second fastest app to reach one 1 billion users. With that growth, content on the platform has become much more diverse and the perception that TikTok exists just for teenagers to post dancing videos is outdated. Although there’s still a great deal of that type of content, it’s much more varied now and TikTok is evolving into a must-have social platform for brands and businesses of all sizes.

TikTok’s recent growth has coincided with stuttering performance amongst its competitors, especially Facebook. Although Facebook remains far and away the largest social platform, its demographic is ageing and it has declined in popularity. That’s reflected in app downloads - Facebook downloads shrunk from 540 million in 2020 to 298 in 2022. For context, there were a whopping 672 million downloads of TikTok in 2022.

Like on Facebook and Instagram, we recommend that you have an organic strategy in place before exploring paid TikTok. Having an organic presence boosts consumer confidence in your brand and means that you’re set up to consistently fuel your paid activity with TikTok-native content.

What are the key differences between paid TikTok and Meta?

Thankfully, the fundamentals of paid TikTok are very similar to Meta:

  • Admin is similar. TikTok has a Business Center (Business Manager) where you can find your ad accounts, catalogues, pixel and organic assets, as you’d find on Meta. There are differences but if you are used to the already unintuitive Meta suite then TikTok’s setup won’t phase you.

  • Campaign types are similar. Meta’s awareness, traffic, engagement, leads, app promotion and sales objectives all have equivalents on TikTok. Reach, traffic, community interaction, lead generation, app promotion and website conversions.
  • Campaign structures are similar. TikTok follows the same hierarchical structure of Campaign, Ad Group (Ad Set), Ad. Settings within the campaigns also broadly mirror Meta.
  • Audience targeting is similar. Control your targeting by placements, demographics and interests. The available audience categories are similar but more akin to affinity categories you might be used to seeing on Google Ads, e.g. you can target based on users interested in “Clothing & Accessories”. The main difference here is the ability to target based on hashtags.
  • Ad types are similar. Although creative is the differentiator between the two platforms, the bulk of paid TikTok traffic is driven through in-feed ads. TikTok also has a boosted post equivalent, Spark Ads, which allows you to boost posts from your organic profile or a creator’s.

What’s stopping me from getting started?

If you’ve ever spent much time on TikTok, it should be evident that the content on the platform is wildly different from what you’re used to seeing on Meta. This is the main barrier to entry for many brands looking to advertise effectively on the platform.

TikTok’s audience wants something different from their social media and, therefore, a creative strategy that relies on transferring polished Meta-style ads to TikTok won’t work.

What are the creative best practices?

  • Content style. Content needs to be shot in a TikTok native, user-generated format. Humanise your content. No professionally shot, sales-focused ads that are primarily graphics. Content must be shot in a natural environment, not a studio.
  • Grab your audience’s attention. How can you provide value and entertainment to your audience? You need to draw your audience in within the first 6 seconds and engage with them throughout. What we see work well is content that revolves around problem-solving, product demonstration or giving them an insight into the brand, e.g. behind the scenes. This is all content that they won’t get from any other medium.
  • Partner with influencers. TikTok is a community centric-platform. Instead of a top-down approach, whereby a brand pushes a message to its audience, TikTok works best by gaining trust from within a niche. The best way to do this is by partnering with content creators who already hold sway (macro, mid-tier influencers) or could hold sway (micro-influencers) within your target audience.
  • Take advantage of its unique features. TikTok is an entertainment platform built around music. You must pick the right accompanying music for your content and you must use captions throughout to keep your audience engaged.
A best practice TikTok video ad format

What’s our recommendation?

TikTok has made a seismic impact on what people want to get out of their social media. In our opinion, the future of paid social is not monopolised by one platform, instead, brands will need to pick and choose which platforms they advertise on depending on their target audience.

Our recommendation to our clients is that they get the organic TikTok foundations in place as soon as possible so that they can test the platform, take advantage of lower costs and give themselves a competitive advantage over rival brands.

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