TikTok was the world’s most downloaded iOS app last year, estimating somewhere between 850 and 987 million downloads. So, yeah, we bet you’ve heard of it. There’s a lot of things that contribute to the secret sauce that makes the social app so successful. A key ingredient: CeCe Vu, TikTok’s lead of fashion and beauty partnerships, who has her finger on the pulse of what people value out of today’s content and one of the masterminds behind the app’s popular events like TikTok Fashion Month (catch the runway finale on March 18th!).
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What makes TikTok so unique? Especially among Gen Z, which makes up most of its users. It’s the perfect mixture of entertainment, education, cultural awareness, inclusivity, digital savviness, and, perhaps most importantly, authenticity and community. Vu uses these multiple lenses to help fashion and beauty brands be successful on TikTok. Below, we dive in (via Zoom, of course) with the LA-based TikTok guru on her best advice for anyone — from brands to influencers to the rest of us regular folks — to share their honest stories and find a sense of belonging on the app.
Take the pressure off looking “perfect.”
Unlike other more filtered-driven social media platforms, TikTok has gained a reputation for simply keeping it real: “It’s actually a great story because I think a lot of people who start using TikTok want to really express themselves and be on this platform where there’s no following first and just telling their stories on their own,” says Vu. Meaning, the main priority for TikTok isn’t about how many followers you can get, but about sharing your story and finding other people’s stories that resonate with you. This is made possible by the platform’s unique “For You” page (your personalized user feed) algorithm: “We don’t prioritize following, so it’s all about your content. [The algorithm encourages] people to express themselves… and it’s normalized not looking perfect in front of the camera. It makes you feel like you can just wake up and share your story without having to be so conscious of what people think. It’s the new beauty standard of how real you can be with your audience,” she says.
Be transparent with your audience.
In Vu’s perspective, this is an especially important reminder for brands. “In order to really enforce positive, conscious consumerism, brands need to be transparent — and the same goes for influencers and creator culture. They need to take on that responsibility,” says Vu. This is particularly true in the beauty world, where the media’s historical portrayal of classic beauty involves flawless, Photoshopped skin. “Your skin has stories. And showing that your skin isn’t perfect creates the transparent story-telling moments that the TikTok audience is looking for,” she says.
Realize that TikTok’s not just for Gen Z.
Though TikTok is typically known to be a younger person’s game, the pandemic’s changed the demographic. “The pandemic has let people [of all ages] slow down and reflect, and now they get to become more creative. Now they can try out a lot of things they haven’t done [pre-pandemic] because they were traveling, doing business trips, and didn’t have time to create content,” says Vu. In fact, the platform has seen a new slew of content creators across “older” millennials and Gen X that have dabbled in the app. “Parents who now get to stay at home and connect more with their kids are getting a chance to see what TikTok is all about and now they’re addicted, too. They get to see the content exploration and they try it themselves. I would never follow lawyers or doctors on other platforms, but TikTok’s made it fascinating to understand what they’re doing in their day-to-day. One of my favorite accounts is @lawbymike. He’s a lawyer who does a lot of educational content,” she says.
Stay on top of community building.
User comments are a part of any major social media platform, from Instagram to Twitter to YouTube, and it’s a crucial part of the community building on TikTok. It’s not just simple “likes” or text replies, but you can also reply to comments with video — a level of engagement with your followers that’s unlike any other social platform. TikTok has recently released a Q&A feature that’s designed to help viewers ask questions to learn more about the creator and gives creators another unique opportunity to connect with their audience. Creators have the ability to answer their fans’ questions via text comment or both pre-recorded and live video replies. “It always goes back to the community,” says Vu. “Getting to know your audience is key by engaging the comment sections and interacting with them. Staying on top of community management builds brand trust and brand love.”
Keep diversity and inclusion top of mind.
People are inspired by people who look like them, and because of TikTok’s algorithm, you’re more likely to see content featuring people and topics that you can relate to. It helps bring more diversity to life, which is what makes the platform inspiring. “For Fashion Month in 2020, we produced two capsule collections for the finale night: The first one was with Puma who co-designed capsule collections with five female creators,” says Vu. Following the success of last fall’s TikTok Fashion Month, “this season we’re highlighting two Black-owned designers on our finale runway: Victor Glemaud and Carrots by Anwar Carrots. We’re also highlighting one of our Asian creators and fashion designer, Joe Ando. We’re also partnering with the WNBA to raise awareness for representation for women in sports and fashion,” she says. “I love skinfluencer @yayayayoung [who also participated in this season’s Fashion Month]. I love that we normalize men in beauty, especially Asian men in beauty. When he gives advice or educational content, it’s not about that polished result. It’s about the process — the good, the bad, the failures. He gets real. And he really wants to connect with his audience by going live a lot. He leans into what his audience cares about.”
Be selective about joining in on trends.
TikTok is the hub of global trends and content, but Vu’s advice is to only jump on them if it only makes sense for your personality or your brand. “Don’t make assumptions about the type of content that will work for you. If you’re a beauty brand, it’s not necessary to jump on the cloud coffee trend [for the sake of it]. Whatever trend you do hop on, make the presentation your own,” she says. “Creativity doesn’t mean a whole big production crew for the content creation process. We actually provide a lot of tools [within the platform] for anyone to become a creator on their own. Our best practices aren’t about how gorgeous the imagery or footage is, but the story it carries.”