If you’re not sure how to tackle TikTok, or even if you should, we’ve taken a deep dive into the history of the darling of the social media world to lay out exactly how it can work for food and beverage brands.
Let’s start at nearly the beginning.
It’s December 2019. The pre-Covid age of regular, real-life client meetings. We’re pitching our proposed 2020 social strategy to a long-term food client in a Cambridge coffee house.
Our strategy. “We need to invest in stronger, social-first assets for Instagram.”
“Our Facebook strategy needs to work hard this year; it’s not what it once was.”
What about TikTok? Tentatively, we pitched.
“It’s the next big social platform”
“This is a great opportunity to be one of the first UK food brands on there.”
We continued to talk enthusiastically about the channel’s potential and then held our breath for the response.
It was not to be. To be honest, we weren’t surprised. When budgets need to work hard, tried and tested methods are simply irresistible.
So, we dusted ourselves off and got stuck into delivering a cracking year on Instagram and Facebook, watching the TikTok revolution unfold amid the mess of the pandemic.
Three years on, a lifetime in social media, what has changed?
A lot. We are now on TikTok. Regularly.
It is a mainstream social channel with huge opportunities in food and beverage. Get it right and the algorithm could propel your results, smashing KPIs out of the park.
To understand why, let’s first take a look back on its incredible growth journey over the past three years.
Already a mainstay app for Gen Z, TikTok’s growth to a wider audience was heavily fuelled by the early days of the pandemic, with millions of us bored at home and looking for entertainment. Its roots in dance were still strong, amplified by lock downs, where dancing in bedrooms amounted to the most exciting thing you could do, second to state-mandated walks and cleaning your shopping.
A new talent pool of UK creators emerged on TikTok during this time. Now rivalling the OG Brit Crew YouTubers of the early 2010’s – the likes of Zoella, Jim Chapman and Tanya Burr – they were producing engaging, short-form video content, honing their skills and confidently growing their following.
Glossy Instagram still held strong as the channel for foodies, with an endless feed of beautifully staged, top-down shot, on-trend dishes. Only a few brave food brands were using TikTok to any great degree.
There was of course one big food story on the channel in 2020. The infamous lockdown banana bread. We’re glad to see the back of that one.
As we all entered our second year of Covid, the type of creators achieving success on TikTok diversified. We saw a new mega flood of food and beverage influencers, some of whom had fled from the struggling hospitality industry, such as Poppy O’Toole . Or who started their channel for fun, like the endlessly endearing Dinner With Jon . #FoodTok and #LearnonTikTok grew wildly.
Meanwhile, the creators who had been growing their audience in 2020 were starting to monetise their following, and brand partnerships were kicking off.
Big players used TikTok’s paid opportunities to run challenges or takeovers, usually with a competitive element and the support of Mega influencers.
Trending dishes started to enter the mainstream – think Baked Feta Pasta or Cloud Bread.
But the big foodie TikTok story of the year was of course the trail-blazing Little Moons. The grocery world watched in awe as the challenger brand delivered a stonking TikTok strategy. It racked up millions of views and follows, deservedly so, with its on-trend content, which swiftly translated to commercial success. Bravo.
TikTok continued to evolve. Trending sounds were – and are – extremely popular. Lizzo, Harry Styles and the adorable It’s Corn kid, helped drive the soundtrack to our lives and billions of lip-syncing efforts.
In food, we saw an increase in sharing trends – butter boards and wild takes on charcuterie – as we celebrated a return to normality and spending time together.
Confident brands started their own channels, taking inspiration from pioneers (we see you Ryanair).
But for the influencer industry on TikTok, 2022 was when creator and brand partnerships were firmly cemented. With a few years of experience under their belt, influencers became more professional and understood how to work with brands. For these creators, they were able to make a very respectable living from the deals. For brands? Meaningful partnerships, millions of eyeballs on their products and strong campaign metrics.
Gifting grew too and we saw more Micro and Mid-Tier TikTok creators open up to receiving gifts and find new ways to turn ‘unboxing’ into TikTok friendly content – a hugely cost-effective and winning strategy for brands.
TikTok is here to stay. It’s a mainstream social media channel with enormous clout. Like all the major social media forebearers before it, it’s now big enough to be facing scrutiny, such as concerns over use of data by its Chinese owners. Or the ongoing legal and moral debates on how the platform keeps younger and more vulnerable users, safe.
We expect to see more hurdles as it joins the ranks of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mainstream platforms facing continued pressure to operate responsibly.
These important issues notwithstanding, TikTok is a social media channel in its prime.
For food and drink brands still rigidly sticking to aesthetically driven Instagram strategies, now is the time to make the move.
So, how should you use TikTok?
Paid partnerships are one of the most common ways to activate on TikTok, and for good reason. With approval rights on the content and the opportunity to reach your audience through third party endorsement, partnering with creators on TikTok works well, much like influencer partnerships on other channels.
However, to make the most of any partnership, understanding the platform is important.
There are myriad of sub communities and cultures on TikTok. This rich variety, from commonalities such as fitness or comedy, to the extremely niche, presents brands with an opportunity to tap into different audiences by partnering with the right creator.
The algorithm is TikTok’s defining feature, creating a constantly refreshed, bespoke feed of content that meets the user’s interests. For brands, this means that if your content is sufficiently engaging enough, it also has the potential to be seen by an audience way outside of the parameters of a creator’s following.
Picking the perfect partner is therefore of critical importance.
Some of our favourite collabs we have delivered recently include:
- This hysterical skit by The F0ur Br0thers for Fridge Raiders Meat Free Tasty Bites
- Creative ways to use frozen fruit with the endlessly enthusiastic Lagomchef for Del Monte
- Developing accessible Veganuary recipes for Richmond meat-free with the wonderful Sevda
There are also other routes to TikTok success.
Setting up your own channel needs a strong content strategy and the support of a talented social team, but is increasingly being achieved by brands. TikToks can be used as Instagram Reels, but the move doesn’t really work the other way – the channel demands its own content.
Gifting influencers is another great way to feature on the channel – choosing what to gift and who to gift will make or break these campaigns.
Holding events, from product launches to massive experiential activations, are another way to engage lots of creators.
And finally, solid, reliable, advertising. Taking paid space on TikTok can rack up the views and put your brand directly in front of your target audience. The payoff may be at the sacrifice of more authentic brand love and engagement.
So, where to go from here? Well, there’s a lot that goes into a successful TikTok strategy, but we’ve pulled together our top three tips for food & drink brands:
- Research your creators well – success comes from partnering with someone whose content and audience is the right fit for your brand. The best creators – and their agents – are brand-savvy and a joy to work with.
- Use trends – try to avoid forcing your brand narrative too heavily. Work with the channel, not against it, to create content which fits in seamlessly and you’ll enjoy much stronger results.
- Diversify your approach – using TikTok is good, but better is having TikTok as part of a wider plan of integrated communications.
If you’re hungry for a TikTok strategy, we’d love to hear from you. You can see more of our food & beverage work here.