In case you somehow missed it, the TikTok revolution is here. What started in 2016 as a seemingly trivial Chinese music and dance platform for kids has mushroomed into one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world. It was the most downloaded app in 2020, with an estimated 1.1 billion monthly active users as of early 2021.
Whether you’re a major brand, a small business owner; an educator, doctor, artist, motivational speaker — or the next Chris Rock — if you’ve got something to sell (or just something to say) TikTok is where you need to be.
But what if you don’t have the slightest clue how to TikTok? Making videos can be intimidating for new creators, or for those whose promotional efforts have largely been text- and photo-based in the past. We’ve compiled a few basic TikTok video creation tips to get you started.
Note: Though some opt to create videos outside the app and upload them, this article will deal only with tips for video creation within TikTok itself.
Do: Spend some time on the ‘For You’ page first
One great feature of TikTok is that you don’t need to be following anyone to see a wealth of diverse content. The moment you open the app, the “For You” page will serve you the most popular current videos without you lifting a finger (other than creating an account). You’ll have an effortless bird’s eye view into which creators, dances, pranks, challenges, and sounds are currently trending. Use these to generate your own content ideas.
Once you start engaging with content (liking and commenting), the algorithm will begin curating your For You page, showing you more of what you like and less of what you don’t.
Don’t: There’s a lot of questionable content “sharing” on TikTok. But don’t copy others’ content ideas without giving credit. Unless it’s a widespread dance trend that you can’t track to one person, always use the “IC” (idea credit) or “IB” (inspired by) acronyms followed by a tag to the original creator in your caption.
Do: Identify and use trending sounds and effects
The TikTok algorithm rewards videos using trending sounds and effects by pushing them out to more people. To see what’s trending, browse the Discover page (by clicking on the magnifying glass at the bottom of your For You page), or hit “+” > Add sound > TikTok Viral, indicated by a flame icon.
Also search hashtag #trendalert or #tiktokmarketing to find videos from marketing experts who explain current trends. When you find a sound you like, click on the spinning record icon in the bottom-right hand corner of the video to add it to your favourites.
With all the legit professional dancers on the app, attempting a dance trend yourself can be intimidating. But you don’t need to be Shakira, promise. Unlike the heavily filtered, manicured worlds of Instagram and Pinterest, TikTok is all about showcasing your unique personality, flaws included. Your take on dance trends can be silly, awkward, or — alongside a kid or older family member — endearing. That said, if you’d rather disintegrate than bust down on camera, you can lip-sync to a trending audio clip to convey information or tell a joke.
Don’t: Worry about looking perfect on TikTok — this is not the app for that. It’s all about relatability. Many popular creators regularly show their goofy, vulnerable, and even their insecure sides.
Do: Check how others are using the sound/effect (and how recently)
Before using a sound, click on the spinning audio icon in the bottom right-hand corner to see how others are using it. Remember to check when the videos were posted. You don’t want to be the guy who joins TikTok and uses a dated sound that was on repeat when the pandemic started.
It helps to get in on trending sounds early, when they have fewer than 30,000 – 50,000 videos. (If a sound has less than 10,000 videos and is generating big views for creators, consider yourself one of the chosen ones — and make your version stat.)
Using trending effects (located in the bottom left-hand corner of the “+” screen) like Slow Zoom or Autumn Aesthetic, can also boost your videos’ reach.
Don’t: Use the exact words of other videos (they’ve been seen before). Always ask: How can I make this trend unique to me?
Do: Make (some) videos using your own voice
On the flip-side, using your own voice can boost your relatability factor (especially if your account is education-based, inspirational, or comedy, to name a few examples). People who exclusively lip sync and recycle jokes from others creators become boring — not to mention, trending sounds can be removed at any time by TikTok, rendering your once-entertaining video silent. Experiment with a mix of videos; some using viral sounds and some using only your voice to see what performs best.
You can even pair audio with your own voice. Hit “+” and record what you want to say first. Then click the red checkmark, hit “sounds” on the bottom of your screen and select the audio you want to play in the background.
Don’t: Let the added sound overpower your own voice. In “sounds,” hit “volume,” toggle “original sound” up past 100%, and “added sound” down to 15% or lower.
Do: Keep your videos short (15 seconds or less)
TikTok lets you create videos that either have a 15-second, 60-second or three-minute time limit. It’s automatically set to 15 seconds for a reason: Short videos reign supreme. While there are instances when longer videos will serve you (and do well), when just starting out, you have a much better chance of holding people’s attention — and going viral — with a video that’s 15 seconds or less.
Why? One of the key metrics the TikTok algorithm uses is “watch time.” If people don’t watch until the end, your views will be lower than if they watch until video completion. Social media blogger Dan Slee conducted an informal study where he watched the 100 top-performing TikTok videos of 2019 and found the average length to be 15.6 seconds, with 80% of the top 100 videos clocking in at 20 seconds or less.
(Caveat: Certain creators are so engaging, they can pull off longer videos from the get-go and be successful. But it’s a risk for new creators. Start short and experiment with longer videos as your audience grows.)
Don’t: Give viewers reason to scroll. Make every second watchable.
Do: Grab attention with text and captions
To grab viewer attention early, use the in-video text editor to add a title (i.e. “3 Tips for More Energy” or “Life With a Toddler”). Play around with fonts and font colours, as well as text placement and duration. Text can let viewers know what your video is about, make it more suspenseful, tell a more complex story, or set up a joke. Hell, they’re so effective, even Taylor Swift uses them.
Text and captions also make your content more accessible to people who are deaf or have hearing loss (also people who want to watch in bed without disturbing their partner). Adding captions, either by typing them in and setting their duration yourself (more time-consuming) or using the app’s auto-generated captions feature (faster, but usually full of typos) can help your content appeal to a wider audience.
Don’t: Make the rookie error of putting text so low it’s obscured by hashtags (or so far to the left or right of the screen that it’s cut off).
Do: Put the subject of the video in the centre of the frame
This seems like a no-brainer, but the video-viewing screen in TikTok is cluttered, and the placement of what you’re filming within the frame is paramount. Not only does the top edge of the screen say Live, Following, and For You, there are no fewer than five buttons on the right-hand side of the screen (your profile pic, the like button, comment bubble, share button, and a spinning audio icon).
The bottom third of the screen is taken up by your username, caption, and hashtags, as well as the Home, Discover, “+” button, and your Inbox and profile icons. What does that leave? Only the top two-thirds (left-side) of your screen unobstructed! Take this into consideration and frame the subject appropriately before filming.
Don’t: Use landscape orientation for your video. TikTok is optimised for vertical videos, and nearly everyone watching will be on their smartphone. Portrait is the way to go.
Do: Use hashtags (but not too many)
Think of the TikTok algorithm like the Wizard of Oz; lots of people claim knowledge as to its inner workings, but very few actually know what’s going on behind the curtain. While the prevailing wisdom is that a small handful of hashtags relevant to your niche are good and necessary to help your content reach the right audience, several TikTok marketing creators caution against overusing them, and some even suggest periodically using none at all.
The generally accepted best practice to make your content more discoverable is to use three to five hashtags related to your niche (for example: #comedy, #momtok, #inspiration, #climatechange). Whether to use trending hashtags is its own lengthy post for another day. (In short: They may amplify your video’s reach. But their lifespan and relevancy is short, they can be over-saturated, and they don’t necessarily put you in front of your specific target audience.)
Don’t: Use too many hashtags. Especially not hashtags like #FYP, #foryoupage, or #foryou that are meaningless and will take up valuable real estate at the bottom of your video.
Above all, have fun. If Facebook is your grandpa; TikTok is your wild cousin visiting for the weekend. Go crush some trends before they leave.