Ten tips for getting started on TikTok from a Gen Z expert
Updated: Apr 24, 2022
The book loving community on TikTok, #BookTok, has become increasingly influential over the last couple of years. The largely Gen Z creators on there are seriously impressive - their humour, their ability to get straight to the point, their combination of incisive emotional intelligence and nonchalant detachment. It’s a lovely community - funny, irreverent and sparklingly intelligent.
I’ve spent some time there with my 16-year-old daughter but as someone who works with writers on their branding, marketing and book promotion, it was only a matter of time before I rolled up my sleeves and got involved first hand. (My daughter’s look of horror at the weekend when I told her I’d downloaded it was quite something).
In order to use social media effectively to connect with potential readers, it's important to play and experiment, get to know the platform and find where your target audiences congregate - learning about what they enjoy consuming and what you enjoy creating.
To practice what I preach and not worry about being polished before I put myself 'out there' (far from it, in this case!) I am sharing my TikTok journey. I’ve spent the last few days finding #BookTok accounts to follow, scrolling and exploring, learning how it works. Then today I bit the bullet and created my first TikTok.
I used an existing ‘sound’ of someone talking about how you’re old if you were born in the 1990s that breaks into the Gangsta’s Paradise ‘valley of the shadow of death’ line. Pretty appropriate for a 44-year-old woman’s first foray (so I thought). And I’d just been on a walk and looked rough so I picked a cool (also so I thought) filter.
I proudly showed my daughter ‘Elsie, look! I TikToked.’
She watched it with a blank expression. ‘What’s your message?’
‘Err… That I’m old. And I’m on TikTok.’
‘Yeah, that’s not clear.’
Omg. I have worked in communications for nearly 20 years. I train people to convey clear messages for a living. And my 16-year-old is schooling me. ‘And TikTok’s not a verb, mum,’ she said.
Okay then. Every day’s a school day and I clearly still have a lot to learn. So I swallowed my pride and asked for her advice. Why is my TikTok rubbish and how can I do better? If, like me, you’re just getting started and want some tips from an actual real life Gen Z expert, here you are: Elsie’s TikTok wisdom.
1. One clear message per TikTok
Have one clear thing you’re saying with each TikTok you post. Don’t have too much going on, which brings me nicely to…
2. Your TikTok is either about the filter or it’s not about the filter
Apparently the main issue with my debut effort was that I used an interesting filter and didn’t make it the point of the post, which is confusing. If your filter is exciting, that’s the point of the post. If you just want to use one because you’re not wearing any make up and your hair got blown about on a walk, choose a boring one.
3. Get to the point
Straight away. In less than one second. This is a platform designed for people with no attention span.
4. Use the same aesthetic in all your TikToks
Pick a look and stick with it. (This is where your author branding will really come in handy.)
5. Choose what you’ll make videos about and stick to that
Book recommendations, book reviews, writing life ‘behind the scenes’ posts - pick one. When I work with authors on their social media content, we often use the idea of ‘content themes’ - three or four related but discrete subjects you’ll use in your book marketing. Particularly when you’re getting started on TikTok, though, choose one. And if you have a video that does really well, #BookTok will reward you if you stick to that theme.
6. To grow, you should post a lot
Ideally post once a day or more. TikTok is more about the overall account than the individual posts. This one has me feeling twitchy to be honest, and I know it’ll be the same for a lot of writers. I suspect what will be key for me is finding things I can do very quickly so it doesn’t become a chore or an industry, which brings me onto…
7. Use existing ‘sounds’
A bit like Reels on Instagram, if you use existing sounds, you can often create a super quick and easy TikTok (which is going to be essential if we’re sharing so bloomin’ many of them!)
8. Scroll and explore for a while before you post, especially if you want to fit in
And no, apparently I don’t fit in. Ah well, no change there. TikTok, and within this #BookTok, has its own distinct culture and customs. Leaping in with a TikTok before you understand them sticks out like a sore thumb apparently. ‘And not in a good way.’
9. Take a trend and make it about your theme
TikTok is all about trends. This is part of the reason, as above, why you can’t just leap into creating before you’ve explored. But once you do spot a trend, piggy back and adapt it to fit what you’re doing.
10. Play with duets and stitches
Duets are where you take someone else’s TikTok and create your own video to use with it in a split screen. Stitches are where you take the first part of someone else’s video and then follow it with your own. They do sound very cool and like there’s a lot of opportunity to experiment and be creative.
As for me, I’m going back to lurking, scrolling and exploring for a while, reflecting on what my one theme will be and how I might be able to post something that takes no more than five minutes every day.
Liking, following and commenting on what other people are doing is always a nice way to get started on a social media platform, building community and relationships, so I'll give that a little more time.
Do come and find me there. I’m @annacaig - I’ve only created one TikTok and as we’ve well and truly established, it’s rubbish, but we can figure this out together. And I’ll continue to share how I get on as I put all this expert advice into practice.