Can you afford the time to add another social media platform in your marketing mix? If that platform is TikTok, then travel blogger and best-selling author Jen Ruiz argues that you can’t afford not to add it. The three-time TEDx speaker ballooned her TikTok account to more than 100,000 followers in less than six months, and her videos have received more than 10 million views. Most important, this attention on TikTok led to increased website traffic, ad revenue, product sales, and followers on other platforms. Ruiz believes professional photographers are in a unique position to leverage the TikTok platform for the benefit of their businesses.
TikTok is a video-sharing app that features short-form videos with a variety of custom graphics, text, and sounds. Though relatively new on the social media scene, it’s gained an impressive 500 million active users. It’s one of the top five most downloaded social media apps and a legitimate competitor to Facebook and Instagram. In fact, these bigger social media companies have been trying to replicate the TikTok experience on their platforms but are struggling to meet the experience users are getting on TikTok.
So, TikTok is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but why is it in your best interest to be on the platform? Aside from access to the aforementioned 500 million active users, TikTok offers an opportunity to stand out on a platform with great potential for organic reach right out of the gate.
TikTok is different from other players in this space because its algorithm will show your content to millions of people even if you don’t have a big following. The algorithm is focused on engagement, so it will share posts to people who engage with similar posts, not just to followers. This is drastically different from other platforms that require huge followings to show posts to a large audience. With TikTok, you could have zero followers and still have a video that goes viral. That represents a tremendous opportunity for new users to hit the ground running and generate a lot of attention immediately if they can produce high-quality content.
If you’re just getting started, experiment with different kinds of content, suggests Ruiz. Pull back the curtain on your process, video behind-the-scenes snippets, film brief day-in-the-life clips, demonstrate poses, show how clients can style themselves for a portrait shoot, or run a compilation of your best images. Short lists do well, like “Top Five Tips for Preparing for a Portrait Session” or “The Best Five Image Editing Programs.”
Think about how you can show different elements of your business in small, bite-sized clips—anything that’s funny or useful or relatable. Try a variety of posts to see what resonates, and then double down on that style of content. Just keep trying new things, and don’t worry if they’re not professionally produced.
“It doesn’t have to be perfectly curated,” says Ruiz. “In fact, it’s often better if it’s not. Unlike YouTube, where you’re encouraged to have longer, high-end, produced content that could take days to shoot and edit, TikTok videos can only be a maximum of 15 seconds, and users on this platform love authenticity. So, while you could do highly produced videos, you don’t have to. You’d be surprised what goes viral.”
Pick your name. Log on and reserve a handle that matches your business name.
Designate your account. Set up your account to be something other than a regular user account. Options include a creator or business account. Ruiz recommends signing up for a creator account since they have access to trending sounds that businesses don’t have. Businesses have the option to include a link to go viral, but creators get that option after surpassing a threshold follower count. Creator accounts also have access to important analytics.
Tell TikTok what you want to see. Before you post anything, like and engage with content that’s similar to what you intend to post. If you see something you don’t like, click the three dots for the menu and select the option to not see that content again. This is an important step because who you affiliate with determines who TikTok shows your content to. View content providers you like, see what those creators did right, and engage with their content.
Start posting. Jump in and start creating content.
Hit the sweet spot. TikToks max out at 15 seconds, but you want them a little shorter so people will watch all the way through (which will earn you rewards from the algorithm). The sweet spot is 7 seconds.
Educate, entertain, or inspire. To gain the attention of your audience, TikToks should be:
Bonus points if you can make it all three.
Continue the trend. Once you identify a video you like that’s trending, do your own version. There’s no need to recreate the wheel on TikTok. Posts can be derivative. Put your own twist on a topic and continue the trend.
Sound on. Test different sounds offered in the app. TikTok sometimes promotes different sounds as part of various initiatives. They could reward you for using those sounds and show your posts to a wider audience.
Text strategically. TikTok uses all the text you add to your TikToks to classify your content, including hashtags, captions, and text overlaid on video. Think about the message you want to convey with all that text, and always use captions for accessibility and clarity.
Announce your intentions. Put a call to action (CTA) or leading question at the beginning of your video. For example, “Want to know more about portrait posing?” or “Are you a photographer looking to improve your lighting?” Tell people who you are and what you’re sharing right up front.
End with a CTA. Always finish with a strong call to action. Tell people what you’re going to offer moving forward that provides additional value. For example, “Like and follow for more tips on how to dress for a portrait shoot.”
“People don’t just want to see the glam stuff; they relate to the grit and the reality. They want to hear those stories and understand the truth.”Jen Ruiz
Make text visible. TikTok has a very limited area of visible text. Be sure to put captions in a place where people can read them.
Preview before publishing. Before publishing, click the preview option so you can see your video as others will see it. Is the text visible? Do all the elements fit together well?
Respond to comments. Comments are taken into account by the TikTok algorithm. Interact with people, encourage conversations, and respond to comments on your videos.
Comment to others. Comment on other people’s videos. TikTok rewards you for being engaged. When you comment on other people’s content, it helps TikTok identify who you are and what type of content relates to you.
Make it fit. For a better viewer experience, make content fit to a full vertical screen.
Go easy on the hashtags. Don’t post 30 hashtags with your videos—that’s an Instagram thing. On TikTok, keep it to four or five.
At every point in your TikTok experience, don’t be afraid to display your personality. “People respond to realness on TikTok,” says Ruiz. “People don’t just want to see the glam stuff; they relate to the grit and the reality. They want to hear those stories and understand the truth. So, speak honestly and authentically.”
At the end of day, get going sooner rather than later, adds Ruiz. If you’re delaying because you’re dreading a new social channel, you’re being left behind. The sooner you get started and establish your audience, the better positioned you’ll be when the rest of your target market migrates to the platform.
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.