Every month, more than 1 billion people log into TikTok at least once, according to a company statement in September. Brands are keen to tap into the enormous reach and have begun turning to comments to generate awareness. By placing (mostly) humorous comments beneath viral videos, the strategy is netting a massive amount of traction. We’ve got best-practice examples and are breaking down the latest marketing trick.
If you were to start swiping through Tiktok’s “For You” page right now, you’d find that the comments section for top-performing videos increasingly often is dominated by brands. The best place to start is on the TikTok account for US superstar singer Taylor Swift. On November 12th, she posted a video announcing the release of her new album “Red (Taylor’s Version) and in just under a month, the video has generated over 20 million plays. The first 12 top comments all come from brands. On Tiktok, users can like comments and especially popular comments are pushed up to the top of the comments section. Leading the way (at the time of publishing) with over 200,000 likes is a comment from an outlet synonymous with Swift fans, the History Channel. Also up top are official accounts from language-learning app Duolingo, from Nascar and even TikTok itself.
Millions in reach with a single comment
Swift’s immense popularity means that the announcement of a new album makes headlines even beyond pop circles. While there is nothing new about brands piggybacking on the reach of the latest hype trends on social media (Squid game anyone?), the lever that brands have identified to do so is—and it’s not limited to pop-culture videos either. Tap a featured video in the TikTok “Discovery” section with a hot hashtag and chances are high that brand comments will be plentiful, assuming of course that the subject matter is not controversial.
Why is the practice in vogue now? Brands seem to have identified that by making smart, creative comments on viral videos chances are that they’ll be able to cut out a hefty slice of the reach pie. The platform’s most-viewed videos have views in the billions. Even if those videos are more exception than rule and even if not every user opens the comments section, the potential awareness is simply too massive to pass up. If you take a video that has “only” amassed 40 million views (a figure that viral videos can quickly reach) and every 10th user opens the comments, a top-ranking comment can expect to reach 4 million—for zip, zero, zilch.
Rap from the Fatherland and… Adele?
We’ve seen the potential of commenting on popular videos for brands on other platforms in the past. For example, fans of tongue-in-cheek rapper MC Smook from Germany have manipulated the comments section beneath global hit videos on YouTube. When done right, they give the impression that MC Smook is the favorite rapper of the artist in the video—most recently seen on Adele’s “Go Easy On Me” video. Curious users then typically search the artist’s name, which in Smook’s case funneled them to a channel with 4.4 million videos, a healthy chunk of which came from such curious fans. Affiliate brands and scammers have used comments on YouTube in the past to generate traffic for their websites.
The parallels between YouTube and TikTok don’t end there. Both feature “likable” comments and popular comments are featured prominently at the top, increasing their visibility for longer. For brands, all it takes is one lucky-punch of a comment that’s embraced by the community to receive a healthy slice of reach and awareness.
43.3 million views in a Battle of the Brands—comments’ section style
In one key aspect, however, the comment section on TikTok does differs from Youtube: The original creator of the TikTok can reply to comments with a new video. In this video comment, the comment is then embedded in a pop-up bubble. The Holy Grail for social media marketers on TikTok would therefore seem to be making a comment that then inspires the creator to post a video response to the brand comment.
The practice is now so widespread that creators are directly (possibly ironically) soliciting such comments. Brands that comment on these videos signal their intent and willingness to be lampooned. In September, Emily Zugay published what very well might be the first series featuring the phenomenon. A 24-year-old from the US, Zugay published a video of her dryly and without any obvious signs of irony redesigning (and in her view) improving the Apple and Starbucks logos using an MS-paint-esque style. In the comments, several other brands, e.g. Adobe, requested Zugay to give them a similar treatment. The series of videos have been seen over 100 million times and Zugay was subsequently invited on the Ellen Show to redesign their logo.
Almost five million views for German supermarket chain Edeka
In October, Ram Sanchez, a young Tiktok creator, whose primary job is on the Lonely Planet social media team, uploaded a video featuring him eating broccoli and captioning that “a bunch of brands should comment on this for no reason.” Approximately 100 brands took Sanchez’ advice, including Amazon, BMW, Discord, Tiktok, McDonalds, Burger King and Tinder. At present, the video has 42.1 million views and the top comment by Holiday Inn Express has 1.1 million likes.
In late October/ early November, something similar played out at a smaller scale with German brands. Tiktok user smd.amanuel captioned that brands should comment on his video, implying that he wants to roast them. Soon after, brands did just that: supermarket chain Edeka, the Berlin PD career page, chip brand Funny Frisch and supermarket chain Aldi Süd. The young TikTokker responded to each comment with a video, each of which generated views in the millions.
Duolingo speaks TikTok’s language
Some brands seem to have gotten so good at playing the “TikTok comment game,” that other TikTok users (and not the original creator of the video that the brand has commented on) screen record comments of theirs, transforming it into a video on its own. Duolingo pulled this off by trolling a comment by US fast-food chain Chik-Fil-A (whose founder is vocal opponent of gay marriage) that generated so much traction that another user filmed the comment. The video went viral and generated 3.9 million views.
As mentioned before, comment-generated reach requires zero media budget, save the personnel costs for the social media team, which is already an integral part of most larger companies to begin with. This strategy is not only good for staying present in the minds of younger audiences. It’s also proving to be a key component in a larger community-building strategy on Tiktok, which is predicated on increasing brand acceptance on the platform and can then boost the awareness of a brand’s videos. Duolingo needed only two months to add 1.5 million followers to its TikTok account with a blend of funny videos featuring the company mascot “Duo” and witty comments.
Crushing the comments—without the cringe
The lesson here seems to be: if you want to get in on some of TikTok’s reach, don’t view the platform as merely one-way traffic. Seek out and cultivate the dialogue with users. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously and have a good feel for the platform’s light-natured vibe—there is a very thin line between TokTok clever and “Tiktok Cringe”