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Telling Brand Stories on TikTok with Sofia Hernandez

You may have heard someone say “Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks.” Magnet talks with TikTok's Global Head of Business Marketing Sofia Hernandez about the platform's huge impact on advertising and culture through micro storytelling.

TikTok, a platform with a staggering 800 million monthly active users, has emerged as a juggernaut platform for brands to express their identity, create more dynamic connections with their communities, and tell meaningful stories. Instead of creating skippable ads, brands can make content in a mobile-first, short, interactive form, a content recipe people engage with more easily and frequently.

TikTok's Global Head of Business Marketing Sofia Hernandez

Sofia Hernandez, the platform's global head of business marketing, unpack's TikTok's mega influence and potential.

TikTok is an entertainment platform, not a social media network. What’s the difference and why is that important?

My formal answer for “What is TikTok?” is that it’s the world’s leading short-form mobile video entertainment platform. But my informal answer is that it is a magical place where culture is created daily, where there is a diversity of people who come together and create to inspire joy. I don’t think there's anything like it right now on the Internet.

Over the past year, the community has come together to create amazing content, entertain, and inspire joy.

"TikTok is a magical place where culture is created daily."

There’s a unique variety  of voices and content – react videos, challenges, song imitations, voiceovers… and so many other formats. There's this new language that I believe a lot of us are still navigating and trying to define for ourselves and understand it. How do you think about the possibilities or genres within TikTok,  from a storytelling perspective?

I think the reason why people come to TikTok is to tell stories, share stories, and engage with stories. You can engage with TikTok in two ways: you can consume content or you can create content. Our creators are the lifeblood of the platform. The misperception of TikTok, especially what’s been played out in the media, is lip-sync dancing teens, tweens, and Gen Z. But that’s not at all what our community is. It's so much more inclusive and diverse than that.

There are different ways that people show up on the platform. Zach and Pat are two brothers who let us into their daily lives and show what it’s like to have one of the brothers with down syndrome. It’s such a wholesome, amazing content. They make you feel as if you were sitting right next to them in their living room. Sometimes, I watch those videos to just feel happy today, because, for me, it is such an amazing partnership that they have.

Nikki Garza, a body-positive queer Latina, is on a mission to inspire people to be themselves and to embrace who they are.

Tabitha Brown is one of the well-known creators. She is Black and an amazing, vegan chef who teaches us about vegan food and sends uplifting messages in each of her 60-seconds vegan tutorials.

Just from these examples, you can see the breadth of this community.

"Our creators are the lifeblood of the platform."

Which brands are killing it on TikTok? What are they doing and who is showing up on a business level alongside these creators and partnering with them?

TikTok gives an exciting opportunity for brands to become a part of the fabric of culture. There are a few brands that come top of mind. One is DSW. DSW released a challenge #TooManyShoes where they ask the community to share the shoes in their closet. Close to 800,000 people created videos. That's insane… 800,000 consumers let you inside their closet to show what their shoes look like. Marketers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars doing ethnographic research to get insight like this into people's homes. Not only were people willing to engage with the brand and this challenge, but they also let everyone into their home.

The other brand that comes to mind is Simmons Bedding Company, a 150-year-old mattress brand. They have been challenged by the new direct-to-consumer brands that have popped up, so they needed to reinvent themselves and attract a new audience that they didn’t engage with before. So, what they had done was they engaged the community with, what they called, #Snoozzzapalooza.

They uncovered that, due to COVID-19, young people couldn’t enjoy their summers the way they used to: going to festivals, concerts, big gatherings, etc. So, for #Snoozzzapalooza, Simmons invited people to create festivals on their bed in their bedroom. What you see, again, is how people let us into their homes and how creative they are with recreating their own festivals. It’s so impressive.

The influencer arena is blown up so broadly and has been so wide in terms of creators and how to engage with them, but it’s still very misunderstood. Marketers are trying to understand, how do we go to the market and get that type of passion ignited?

We typically suggest brands to partner with a few creators on our platform to kick off and build momentum. But after that, we encourage brands to place their brands in the hands of the community. Once the community gets a hold of it – and it’s an amazing idea that they want to engage with – it just takes off…

A good reference to that is September, an iconic song from Earth, Wind & Fire. The community, on their own (meaning not inspired by a brand), started creating videos with that song in the background featuring people celebrating September 21st. We got approximately 7.8 million views of that hashtag in just one day. This shows you that when something starts, there’s a ripple effect on the community, as TikTok is a creative, entertaining place where people want to engage with this type of content.

Another example is a sad one. When we heard of the devastating news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing, the community came together to mourn her loss by sharing videos about her accomplishments as well as messages of support. To date, we have more than 74 million views of the hashtag #ripRBG. This shows the power of the community. This is not traditional social media, as we know it, as it's not about likes and popularity.

"We encourage brands to place their brands in the hands of the community."

What are your thoughts on the future of storytelling in the metaverse?

I think storytelling only gets better in the metaverse. Meta is going to take engagement to a whole new level, but what we have to watch out for, as marketers, is not to make that experience about empty tricks. At TikTok, we launched a live-stream concert with The Weeknd. It was an immersive experience, brought to life via AR.

We invited users to participate and choose their own destiny. In this virtual concert, attendees could choose to watch The Weeknd by either getting in a car and driving through the city, or he could come in and take a walk while taking in the sights. Usernames and comments could be seen floating in the background of the concert – it was intertwined with the design of the virtual experience. The key takeaway is that the engagement was off the charts because people wanted to feel like they are a part of something.

"Meta is going to take engagement to a whole new level, but what we have to watch out for, as marketers, is not to make that experience about empty tricks."

Magnet is a global brand studio that uses data and storytelling to drive measurable business results. Our team is made up of strategists and creatives who use our THINK / MAKE / REACH process to develop marketing strategies, world-class creative production, and distribution strategies for our clients. Our work starts with data and insights to develop storytelling that’s distributed across all platforms. Our clients are currently appearing in the top media outlets, being shared by influential community members, and rising to the top of the search rankings. Recently we've produced award-winning campaigns for Google, Adobe, Chase, Microsoft, LinkedIn, CHIEF, Greenhouse, Cedar, YouTube, PBS, HarperCollins, Goldman Sachs, Airbnb, IBM, and more.

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