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The first thing you might notice about everybody’s favourite new social media app is its logo: a musical note (a ‘quaver’) that emphasises just how integral music is to TikTok. (It can also be interpreted as the letter ‘d’, as the app is called Douyin back in China).

Indeed, TikTok’s focus on integrating music – perhaps better than any other social media platform – is what has brought about the app’s big success, as it rose to global prominence in 2020. The platform’s rapid growth was the result of thousands of users lip-syncing to songs, taking part in ‘hashtag’ challenges, and generally just doing crazy things on camera, packing everything into short, often hilarious videos.

As I pointed out in my Digital Marketing Forecast for 2021 [Pro Mobile 105], the usage and engagement on TikTok has sky-rocketed since the outbreak of COVID-19. No doubt, you’ve heard TikTok mentioned countless times over the last 12 months or so. You may have even jumped onto the app store and downloaded it yourself.

Or, like some, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

The reality? TikTok is now so powerful that pop artists are striving to go viral on the app in order to boost their downloads and top the charts. According to Wallaroo Media, a “top trending song [on TikTok] is typically a top trending song [on] Spotify, as well,” which perhaps illustrates the app’s true influence and global reach.

While chart domination may not be on your business plan, TikTok can still help you market your mobile DJ business. Before we get into that, let’s look at the app in a bit more depth…

First, what exactly is TikTok?

You may still be wondering exactly what TikTok is and how it differs from well-established social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The best way to describe TikTok is an endless stream of short videos that you can like, comment on, and share. The main difference is its simplicity. For instance, you can’t post photos or status updates like you can on most other social media platforms; TikTok is designed purely for short-form video content that can be consumed quickly. Videos are created by us (the users) and soundtracked by the app’s library of songs, although you can use your own audio too.

Currently, the app has 1-billion active monthly users. 60% of users are ‘Gen Zers’ – the trendsetters for social media – meaning other age groups will follow suit, including the current crop of Instagram-loving, marriage-age millennials. With your target audiences moving over to TikTok, you can probably see why gaining a presence on the app could pay off for your DJ business in the years to come.

Trending songs and challenges

When you first delve into TikTok, you’ll notice large numbers of people using the same song in their videos. This song is probably trending, and there may be a dance routine, lip sync or other challenge associated with it. Creating a video using a trending song and/or joining in with the current challenge is a great way to get more views and increase the chance of people liking your videos and following you.

This musical focus is where DJs are actually very well-suited to TikTok, even if you don’t know it yet. Videos that do well on the app rely on the creator knowing how to match music with content, both in terms of choosing the right song for the moment and ensuring the timing of the cuts match the beat, drop or lyrics. It’s all about music curation and video editing, which I’m sure means many of you will fit right in. But don’t worry if you have no prior video editing knowledge, as the app makes it easy for anybody to create videos.

To give you a flavour of the types of musical trends and content oddities found on TikTok, take a look at these:

Adele – ‘Someone Like You’: Gummy bears, singing Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’. This odd meme took TikTok by storm in 2019. The concept? Video a single gummy bear, appearing to be singing the chorus to a live version of Adele’s 2011 number-one, before panning the camera round to a whole sea of gummy bears singing back in unison. The trend got out of hand very quickly, with audiences replacing gummy bears with an array of substitutes – from action heroes to clothes pegs to shopping trolleys to SpongeBob SquarePants. An example of how any song can go viral on TikTok, not just the latest hits.

Nathan Evans – ‘Wellerman’: TikTok isn’t just bringing success to established artists; unsigned musicians can easily go viral too. Struggling musician and full-time postman, Nathan Evans, suddenly found himself with a hit on his hands, when his rendition of a famous sea shanty went viral on TikTok, winning him a record deal and taking the #3 spot on the UK charts. Evans is the first success story to come from TikTok’s unusual craze for sea shanties. The platform’s duet feature, which allows users to sing along to other people’s videos, is partly responsible for the trend, as simple a capella shanties (like Evans’ ‘Wellerman’) are easy to harmonise with and remix. It seems this previously niche genre of traditional music is making a comeback...

Ratatouille (The Musical): The full potential of TikTok is yet to be realised, as creators continue to push the envelope. In 2020, during lockdown, TikTokkers collaborated to write and perform a musical version of Pixar's Ratatouille. If that sounds bonkers, it 100% is. But, strangely, it worked. Songwriters provided original music, there were dance routines and scripts, costume designers got involved, there was even a marketing team looking at the branding. Every base was covered, like this was a real-life theatre production. In fact, the musical has been screened offline on Broadway. This completely organic, user-led TikTok collaboration really has set the benchmark for what’s possible. Just watch as businesses follow suit.

The Algorithm

Most businesses on TikTok want to ‘go viral’ and enjoy all the benefits that come with it. Is there a way to guarantee it? Not really. But even if there is no exact science, there are ways to make going viral more likely. That starts with understanding the algorithm that TikTok uses to show videos to its users.

Bear with me here...

Basically, when you upload a video to TikTok, they start by showing it to a very small subset of people. These people may follow your account or they may not, but ‘the algorithm’ has determined that they might like the video. If this group of people likes it and responds well (liking, sharing, watching again), then TikTok shows the video to a bigger group of people with similar interests to the first group. TikTok repeats this process, called a ‘positive feedback loop’, to get the video more and more views.

If this process happens enough times, then the video can go viral and end up on the app’s main ‘For Your Page’ feed. However, if the original group doesn’t react well, TikTok shows the video to fewer viewers, limiting its reach. It’s this algorithm that means an unknown person with a handful of followers, like sea shanty extraordinaire Nathan Evans, can suddenly find global success. Follower count isn’t everything, it’s about whether people connect with your video.

Two ways mobile DJs can use TikTok to their advantage

Now you’ve got an understanding of the kind of content that does well on TikTok, and a rough idea of how the algorithm recommends videos to users, you may want to know how the app can be used to benefit your business.

I believe there are two main ways that DJs can use TikTok to their advantage:

1. Build a profile on TikTok and use fun videos to raise awareness of your DJ services

If you’re comfortable creating video content, or at least happy to give it a go, then why not download the app and try out some ideas? TikTok is known for its meritocracy, giving pretty much anybody the opportunity to go viral, regardless of how many followers they’ve got. So, you could be onto a winner with your very first video.

Spend some time scrolling through your feed for inspiration. What trends are there? You could piggyback onto them with something DJ-related. Which songs are popular? Maybe create a video using the latest TikTok hit, to show potential customers that your music tastes run right up to date. The other videos that do great on TikTok are how-tos and instructional videos, so what about something more informative like ‘How to choose the right DJ’ or ‘Why every wedding needs uplighting’? Don’t go for subjects that are too in-depth; you’ve only got 60 seconds to get your point across.

2. Use TikTok as a market research tool to learn more about your target audiences

If getting in front of the camera isn’t your thing and you aren’t keen on being behind the camera either, then that’s OK, TikTok can still be of use to your business. Just because you’ve downloaded the app and created an account, it doesn’t mean you have to post anything. You can simply sit back, scroll, and take a trip into one of the wackiest corners of the internet.

Along the way, you’ll learn loads about TikTok’s core demographic, Gen Z, who are your next generation
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 106, Pages 30-33.
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