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How to Make TikTok Work for You

“TikTok is a search engine; I don’t use Google anymore,” explains Melissa Carbonell, a Fort Lauderdale realtor who posts on TikTok daily videos garnering anything between 200 and 23,500 views. “It’s the comedy” driving the views, she says. Instead of a stream of posts saying “just sold” or bragging about her latest deals, as you would expect from any realtor, Carbonell uses her videos to make fun of herself, becoming a relatable guide to people trying to buy a home.

If you haven’t met any Florida realtors before, you should know it’s a group which includes some of the sharpest salespeople you’re ever going to find. At times it seems as if 90 percent of the state’s population were realtors, so you can bet that successful agents are very talented. When asked about how she measures results from TikTok, Carbonell explains that agents in other cities are her referral partners, so when they contact her after seeing her videos, she knows business is there.

It’s better to start now than play catch up later, says Susan Leonti of the Broward Humane Society about TikTok. “Linda is shutting down! We need your help. This gentle girl is not handling shelter life well and barely lifts her head to say hello anymore,” she posted next to her 16-second video of a brown dog with white marks over her sad puppy eyes and the melancholic tune of “Just a cloud away” by William Pharrell playing in the background. Linda was adopted 48 hours after the video crossed its first million views.

Leonti says she made that video and all the rest on the @HumaneBroward TikTok channel on her iPhone. Every day she walks around the shelter observing what’s going on with the pets and her own reactions. “You have to keep it organic,” she says, try to be original, and post constantly. She started the shelter’s account last May and now has over three million likes.

ByteDance offices in London

“Don’t get too hung up on the algorithm because they change it all the time,” says foodie influencer Joseph Cafiero about getting high traffic. Instead, he launched the @JosiahEats TikTok channel by focusing on what he’d like to happen with his social media work. In his case, it was to create something he could live off. He then thought about what to offer people to watch that they haven’t seen elsewhere.

His strategy for @JosiahEats was to develop a niche about all the food from different places that you can find in South Florida, which is full of immigrants. For example, he shows a video he shot at the “Queen of Sheeba” Ethiopian restaurant in Palm Beach, which he was the first to review on TikTok, displaying dishes few locals had seen before.  

Cafiero, Leonti, and Carbonell shared their TikTok tips at a PR panel brilliantly moderated by Zoe Haugen of MOGL, a platform to help U.S. college athletes make money with “Name, Image, Likeness” (NIL) sponsorship opportunities, from which they were barred until recently.  

Before MOGL, Haugen used to work at marketing agencies, and now she says she sometimes feels like the agency for 800 young athletes. Like them, she says that you can start at TikTok from scratch, but you need to manage expectations: if you are buying advertising on TikTok you can expect to “spend this much, and get this result,” just don’t promise anything organic.

Where are all those TikTok users coming from?

A TikTok creator event in Brazil

The spontaneous spark by millions of users is the reason why all other platforms are now copying TikTok. So far, they are failing to turn short videos into new business. Snap Inc. was the first social network to report financial results for the September quarter, and revenue growth of only 6 percent year over year caused its stock to drop 25 percent after hours. Google followed with just 3 percent ad revenue growth year over year, marking the first time YouTube ad revenue declined. Meta, the parent of Facebook, reported last, showing net income halved year over year. Not only that: users spent a cumulative 18 million hours a day on the recently launched Instagram Reels versus 200 million hours a day on TikTok (follow the links for paywall-free coverage of the carnage on The Wall Street Journal).

“No startup could afford to invest billions and billions and billions of dollars in user acquisition like that around the world,” said Snap CEO Evan Spiegel about TikTok while announcing a round of layoffs. TikTok parent ByteDance has not shared financials, but the WSJ got internal documents saying the company lost $7 billion on nearly $62 billion in revenue across all its products in 2021. Its revenue grew 54 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2022, with losses sharply down, so the organization might be turning a corner while still full of cash: Total assets as of March 2022 were $74 billion, and it has 130,000 employees. That startup ended up big.     

Chinese Parents

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming

“I have not, and will not, download TikTok. Why? Because the Snowden leaks made crystal clear that the CCP has (in many cases without the company’s direct knowledge) used Chinese tech platforms as staging grounds for espionage,” said infosec author and reporter Nicole Perlroth referring to the Chinese Communist Party. Cybersecurity expert and analyst Christopher Krebs puts that risk in context saying, “It’s not necessarily specifically about TikTok, it’s all platforms, all avenues,” though he says it’s important to keep in mind that “The CCP might have the ability, through the parent company of TikTok, to actually shape narratives, suppress, lift, shape what we see on a daily basis.”

You know, exactly the reason why at Verb we stay on top of social media trends. Pew Research just found that U.S. news consumption has declined or stopped at most social networks, except TikTok. The panelists at that PR event we told you about earlier reminded us that, just like Facebook is now full of angry grandparents, TikTok “won’t last good forever.” Never mind Twitter. Just make it work for you, not for your parents.