A media company explains how it’s gotten attention on TikTok with music, employee personalities, and lo-fi production

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  • As the short-form video app TikTok continues to gain traction in the US and other key markets, media companies are creating accounts so as not to miss out on its fast-growing audience.
  • Food publisher The Infatuation joined TikTok in September 2019 and has since accumulated millions of views and likes on its videos. 
  • Like many other publishers who have ventured onto TikTok, The Infatuation has been experimenting with different trends and formats to find out what works — and what will flop.
  • Business Insider spoke to the company’s CEO and marketing lead to learn more about the publisher’s TikTok strategy and how its social-media business has shifted in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 
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When food publisher The Infatuation started posting on TikTok last September, the team basically decided to wing it.

“This platform, to us, seemed like one that you really just have to get into it, spend time in it, understand it, and then kind of go with the flow,” said Chris Stang, the company’s founder and CEO who also oversees the restaurant review brand Zagat that it acquired from Google in 2018. “There’s not going to be layers of approvals. We’re not going to worry so much about making sure we’re promoting our content.”

Striking the right tone — and getting noticed — on TikTok presents both a challenge and opportunity for media companies looking to reach the app’s coveted Gen Z audience. 

TikTok’s content recommendation page (the “For You” page) serves up an algorithmically determined assortment of posts that can make any user’s video go viral, whether you’re an influencer, brand, publisher, or run-of-the-mill teenager. A typical session on TikTok’s “For You” page may surface a comedy skit from Ellen DeGeneres, a prank from YouTuber Logan Paul, and a 30-second dance from a 16-year-old high schooler with just a few hundred followers. 

TikTok remains highly secretive about its content recommendation algorithm, but brands and creators have found success in the past by leaning into the app’s trending songs, hashtags, and challenges. The Infatuation played around with TikTok for weeks in order to identify how it could use trends to increase its reach on the app. 

“We didn’t really know who we wanted to be on there,” said Rob Anderson, the company’s head of marketing. “We really didn’t want to just start recycling our produced videos up on TikTok, so we took a couple stabs at different things. As you start playing around with the app and seeing what people post and seeing the trends, you start understanding how it all works.”

‘TikTok is about being a person’

The Infatuation’s growth strategy on TikTok (it currently has 81,000 followers) has been to focus on using trending songs and memes, to lean into the app’s hand-held, non-professional aesthetic, and to place its marketing lead Anderson front-and-center as the main character representing its brand. 

“TikTok is about being a person,” Anderson said. “What’s your perspective as a person? What’s your take on this trend as a person. So brands have a particular challenge on there. It’s not hyper produced, it’s raw. It’s lo-fi. It’s about having fun, and if you manicure it or you want to get content approved by multiple layers and circles, it just doesn’t fly on there.”

The Infatuation isn’t the only media company that’s centered its TikTok identity around its employees. The Washington Post’s account, run by video producer Dave Jorgenson, focuses on Jorgenson as the face of its 143-year-old brand. Jorgenson is so tightly fused to the Post’s brand on the app that the company is offering a “limited-edition Dave t-shirt” to TikTokkers who become a Washington Post subscriber (Jorsenson recently tweeted that TikTok has converted “hundreds” of the app’s users into digital subscribers).

In addition to featuring Anderson (and often his colleague Alicia Camden) as company mascots, The Infatuation has focused on making videos around TikTok trends — and trying to spark its own. 

“We’re exploring having our own formats that we own, and possibly other people can join in on, but they recognize it as an Infatuation format,” Anderson said. “Almost creating a series or character type that you replicate and people get used to seeing. That’s the essence of TikTok.”

Anderson’s team recently introduced a mock Powerpoint presentation format that’s gained some traction. But as many TikTok users will tell you, having a video go viral on the app depends on getting access to its “For You” page, which adds a significant degree of unpredictability for creators trying to gain followers. The Infatuation’s most popular post to-date, which drove 21 million views and 3.3 million “likes,” is a video of Anderson opening a Nature Valley granola bar.

The company learned early on that song selection is a key factor in determining whether a TikTok video will perform well.

“I think the music choices are definitely something where you kind of have to lean into what’s happening right now,” Anderson said. “Putting up songs or renditions on songs that I would find to be extremely memorable from the 2000’s just don’t resonate with people on the app.”

Sponsored content on TikTok could offer a new revenue stream for media companies, but it’s unlikely to put a dent in recent losses from shuttered ad budgets

While it’s still early days for The Infatuation on TikTok, the company is already exploring ways to monetize its account through sponsored content. 

The opportunity to open up new sources of revenue from social media is attractive for companies across the media landscape who have seen drops in advertising sales and cuts in commission rates on affiliate revenue programs in recent weeks. Social media is unlikely to fill the ad budget void, but it could offer an alternative revenue stream for companies that are seeing cuts everywhere else. 

“Our entire business is designed around sending people into restaurants so that they can review them and then recommend them to our audience,” Stang said. “When that becomes impossible based on the situation that we’re all in, we clearly had to figure out how we were going to adapt and still serve an audience of people with something that they find useful. We’re all going to have to make adjustments across the board as we confront the environment that we’re in.”

The Infatuation has leaned heavily into social media in recent weeks, hosting cocktail-making classes on Instagram, weekly “How to Drink Wine” schools on Zoom with Parcelle Wines as a brand partner, and creating custom Zoom backgrounds for its fans.

It’s also focusing on TikTok, which set a new record for app installs last quarter as sheltered-in-place consumers around the world spend more time online. 

The company is aiming to post five TikToks per week between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET when the bulk of its audience is awake and online. TikTok’s low-budget aesthetic aligns well with the needs of media companies who are looking to save on costs and are unable to leave their homes for professional production anyway. 

“It’s a mixed bag right now,” Stang said. “It’s a new game for everyone, and certainly for us. I think we’ve seen that there’s a lot of interest from our brand partners to sponsor things like this, and we’ll have some of that coming.”

For more stories on how media companies, advertisers, and marketers are engaging with TikTok, check out these other Business Insider Prime posts:

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