No, TikTok is not only for Gen Z, and YES, you absolutely must get your ass on there, whether you’re hoping to grow your brand or you’re simply a human who loves to laugh.
TikTok has quickly become my — and, I’m pretty sure, everyone else’s — favorite app, with its popularity spreading like wildfire during the early quarantine days. TikTok has come a long way since the cringeworthy dance days, and I’ve learned so many valuable things from the app about marketing, cooking, existing as a human… you name it.
In this month’s Expert Interview, I’m beyond excited to share with you the story of how TikTok creator and friend of mine, Sarah Kleist, started growing on the platform, and everything she’s learned along the way. And let me tell you — she isn’t holding back on a single ounce of tea in this one.
Sarah Kleist is a performing artist (yes, Broadway!), a Showit website designer, and, of course, a TikToker, which is how I found her. I saw her video about Golden Coil planners (which, by the way, has more than 4.4 million views), and as the avid organizer type A that I am, it clearly caught my attention.
So, I started stalking her, and saw that she was a website designer. I clicked on her website, and was impressed by her copy, so I commented on one of her videos and told her that. I’m a huge TikTok commenter.
A few days later, Sarah sent me a DM on Instagram saying that she saw my comment on TikTok and we’ve been Internet-friends (with the hopeful upgrade to actual-real-life-friends in a post-pandemic world) ever since! And now, here we are, collaborating on a blog post about how to grow your account on TikTok. Let’s get into it!
A: Honestly, I never actually planned on ‘getting into’ TikTok. I only made an account so I could claim my name as my username, but someone already had done it. And then I just got sucked into the app.
I’d started scrolling, and definitely initially thought what every other millennial did — that the app was only for children — until I quickly realized that there was so much more to the platform. I thought to myself, ‘wow, there are a lot of people creating a lot of stupid things… well, I’m not dumb, I can create things. If they can do it, so can I!” And I posted my first video in May 2020. It was a transition video… and yeah, that has since been deleted. I don’t know what I was thinking—I was new to the app.
A: A few days after the transition video attempt, I posted a pop punk cover of Wicked’s Defying Gravity. It was one of the first videos I ever posted, before I had really decided what I wanted my TikTok to be and how the platform even worked. It has over 174,000 views. At that time, I was really into posting singing videos, because musical theatre was still my main focus.
BTL Note: I refuse to accept any other version of this song ever. This cover is now the *only* Defying Gravity that exists in my world. As a Wicked performer myself (7th grade voice recital, with my own rendition of Popular, obviously), this video truly completed me.
A: No, not really; not in terms of followers, anyway. The video that really got a lot of traction was one I posted about reaching out to someone new everyday for 100 consecutive days through Reach Out Party, which has over 600,000 views — and that video is where a lot of my following came from.
A: A couple years ago, my acting studio read a book called Reach Out by Molly Beck, all about the importance of building valuable connections by reaching out to your network — all rooted in gratitude. In the video, I shared my experience with reaching out to someone new everyday, and all of the positive things that came from it. The video actually helped Molly Beck’s book get on Amazon’s Bestsellers list!
A friend of mine, Carly Valancy, had also read the book, and so much success with her experience in reaching out to others, that she had the idea to create a course all about how to build community and reach out to others from a place of gratitude.
For one of her ‘reach outs,’ she contacted Molly Beck herself, and pitched the idea of Reach Out Party: a program that would take the principles of the book and turn them into a sort of digital networking class, which would be taught through the lens of spreading gratitude and purpose (as opposed to the slimy lens of “I want something from you” like normal networking requests).
Molly loved the idea, and now, Reach Out Party has helped thousands of people build connections.
The Reach Out Party is a live, interactive 27-day course (available for $257) dedicated to learning about and implementing the art of reaching out. The members of ROP have collectively built more than 9,000 connections, earned hundreds of new jobs, and made lots of new friends.
BTL Note: of course my extroverted ass signed up for this as soon as Sarah told me about it.
A: According to the guidelines of the book, you’re supposed to reach out to whoever you’re inspired to reach out to that day, from your Kindergarten teacher who taught you to read, to the podcast host you were listening to over breakfast.
I have now reached out to someone new every single day for more than 200 days straight, and Carly — Reach Out Party’s creator — has done it for more than a year and a half.
Through my own reach-outs, I’ve started spoken with famous creators, started my own business, been interviewed on podcasts, been featured in popular media publications, and made so many new lifelong friends. Through reaching out to someone new from a space of gratitude, I’ve been able to build much more authentic connections than I ever would have if I had reached out from a place of need or greed.
BTL Note: remember when I said that Sarah DMed me on Instagram, and that’s how we became friends? Yeah, I was a ‘reach out.’ And yes, I did find that out during this interview. And yes, I have purchased the book, and have every intention of signing up for Reach Out Party as soon as my schedule allows.
A: Oh, 100%. Because a lot of my following has come from that video and other videos I’ve created about personal development, TikTok has deemed my account to be a place where only personal development content succeeds.
A: Yup. Once you have a video go viral and bring you a considerable amount of followers, you’re pretty much stuck when it comes to creating the content that helped you earn them, because of the way the TikTok algorithm works.
Now, because my following is focused on personal development content, whenever I post videos about my other passions (singing, web design, literally anything else), they flop… because the audience I currently have isn’t made up of people who care about those things.
A: In basic terms, this is how the algorithm works:
You post a video.
TikTok shows that video to a small amount of people, and if those people like it and engage with it, they’ll keep pushing the video to larger and larger groups of people, until it pops off.
No one knows what the threshold is for TikTok continuing to push your video to those bigger groups of people; all we know is that it’s contingent upon how many likes, comments, and shares the video gets, as well as watch time and follows.
This is why having a niche on TikTok (although annoying) is necessary. If people follow you for a specific reason, and you post a video about something else, when TikTok shows them the video, they won’t care about it, and TikTok won’t keep pushing out your video to those bigger groups.
BTL Note: this is how most social media algorithms work. Instagram does the exact same thing. This is why it’s important — on all apps — to determine the type of content that you want to be posting, and do your best to build an authentic, engaged audience that responds well to that type of content. That way, when the algorithm gives your content that first little push, you can expect a positive response, and your content will perform well.
A: When you create a new TikTok account, TikTok begins to learn about you: the content you like, the types of videos you watch, etc. When you post your first few videos, they’re still getting to know you, so they push your content to a wider audience to try and figure out what will work for you and your account, which is why a lot of people have one of their first few videos go viral.
A: Yep, they do. If you start clicking on the profiles of the viral videos you see on your For You Page, you’ll probably notice that a good amount of those people don’t have many other videos.
You have a much better chance of going viral in your first 5 videos than you do after that, because TikTok will have learned about your interests and desired niche/industry (or “side of TikTok” as they call it) by then, and won’t need to push your videos out to discover more about you anymore.
Those first few videos are where you should determine your niche. And if I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have posted that rendition of Defying Gravity. I think the reason that video did so well was because TikTok was still trying to understand me: they pushed that video to those smaller groups until it reached theatre-tok (lol) and it went viral from there, because it got into the hands of the right people.
I think that TikTok also prioritizes new accounts because their platform is known for possibility. TikTok has transformed the lives of so many people by giving them a bit of fame and public recognition, and they want new people to keep joining TikTok because of how revolutionary it is when it comes to unexpectedly blowing up a certain piece of content.
It’s all a part of their goal to get more users on their app.
BTL Note: TikTok has transformed the lives of so many seemingly ‘normal’ people, because they’ve had videos go viral. The success stories are endless: small businesses selling out of all their products in a matter of hours, people becoming accidentally famous and featured on national news, musicians getting signed by labels after posting simple cover songs, people being reunited with families… the app is extremely powerful when it comes to connection. I definitely agree with Sarah’s theory that they want to keep that element of possibility alive by giving new creators a taste of it.
A: I wouldn’t say there’s a specific formula, but there are definitely a few things that viral videos all have in common. If you’re hoping to create an engaging video that you’re hoping will perform well, try implementing these tips:
Start with a climax. You need a good hook to capture the attention of the viewer.
Explain whatever you just said. Without hesitation, jump right into the content of your video by explaining whatever the hook was all about.
Start at the highest point. If your video isn’t immediately interesting or captivating, people will scroll away.
Use closed captions. Not only are captions important for accessibility, but they also allow the viewer to follow along, and people like being able to do that.
Make sure it’s formatted vertically. The app is formatted vertically, so horizontal videos look weird. Don’t post them. (Like I did. Again, Defying Gravity—not the most strategic TikTok choice, but at least it got me some views.)
A: This depends on the type of content you’re producing. For educational or value-based content (best for brands and businesses), think of something that would make a great blog post title, and use that. A few other things that make great hooks are:
Challenging an assumption. A bit of controversy always performs well on TikTok.
Making a bold claim. Again, controversy. Nothing’s more interesting to watch than someone confidently arguing a point.
Having movement. This helps keep a viewer’s attention.
Saying something extremely relatable. This one is so underrated. A lot of people think that in order for a video to be successful, you have to reinvent the wheel—when that simply is not true. Some of my most successful videos have literally just been me, saying a sentence that other people can relate to. I wasn’t saying anything groundbreaking, but I was helping viewers see themselves in my content, which made them want to keep watching it and respond to it.
BTL Note: I’ve noticed that most content strategists and TikTok experts always note that having movement is important. This is why people who share educational content switch up their camera angles at every tip — to keep you interested. Next time you scroll on TikTok, I’m sure you’ll notice that the videos you tend to stay and watch are videos that involve lots of movement.
A: I’ve found that videos posted on week nights perform the best. I’m toying around with a theory I have about 3pm-7pm being the best time to post a new video, because that’s when I’ve had the most success.
I think that by posting in the late afternoon, it gives the algorithm enough time to push out the content to those smaller groups, so it can reach a bigger audience by the time everyone is really on the app, which is 9pm and later.
A: Ugh who knows. Sometimes I think yes and sometimes I think no. I don’t think they hurt, so you might as well.
A: Let’s put it this way. My friend Deanna and I started creating on TikTok around the same time. Deanna posts 4 times a day, and I post roughly twice a week.
Deanna has more than 1 million followers, and I have a bit over 60,000.
It’s pretty safe to say that posting a lot definitely increases your chances. TikTok is a total numbers game. If you can sustain frequent posting, more power to ya — but posting that much original content is hard.
A: The quality of your content matters most. If you think that posting 4 times a day would cause the quality of your content to be diminished, don’t do it. You should focus more on creating videos that you’re proud of, and videos that offer value, as opposed to getting wrapped up in how often you need to be posting.
Now, that’s not to say that the people who are posting multiple times a day don’t have quality content. My friend Deanna, who you may know as the “ooh-ta-da” girl, creates extremely engaging content about her life that people love to watch. In posting 4 times a day, she was able to test out lots of different content, and quickly determine which content performs the best.
For the content that I create, though, there’s no way that I could possibly create 4 solid videos a day. I post a couple times each week, and I was still able to grow a large following on the platform.
BTL Note: I fangirled when I found out that Sarah was friends with Deanna in real life. I love her videos and yes I absolutely DO follow her and watch all of her ooh-ta-da’s. I’m sure she attributes a lot of her growth to her repetitive content: she began by always posting videos of her outfits, with the same structure every time.
People recognized her as the girl who confidently showed off what she was wearing while inspiring others to love themselves that much — and she was able to truly connect with people through her routine content, to the point where she even had people recreating her videos, mimicking her sing-song: “back it up, back it up, peep the shoe… move it over, move it forward, peep! the! shoe! it’s a 10 out of 10!”
A: Yes: downright sell stuff. People on TikTok aren’t really open to sponsored or sales-y content like they are on other apps. TikTok is not the place for your in-depth sales pitch. TikTok is meant to drive traffic to your other channels.
A: Nope. Business accounts come with a bit of restriction. You can’t use the fun, trending sounds (and if you try, you’ll get a message that pops up with a notice: “this sound is not licensed for commercial use).
I’ve also heard a rumor — that I definitely think is rooted in truth — about how social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok don’t prioritize or push business accounts’ content because they assume that if you’re registering as a business, you have the funds to pay for ads on their platform. Tea.
A: The creator fund is for users who have reached 10,000 followers and a certain amount of monthly views. Once you’ve passed that threshold, TikTok rewards you by letting you into the creator fund, which is essentially a way to monetize your videos.
However, unless you’re averaging hundreds of thousands of views per video, you likely won’t make much money from it. The rate is a matter of cents per post, and it’s definitely nothing extraordinary.
I do not personally use the creator fund, even though I qualify for it, because I find that whenever I turn it on, my videos don’t do as well.
I don’t know if it’s because I have the monetized mindset behind it, so my content feels less authentic, or if it’s an algorithm thing, but I don’t like to use it. I’ve gone viral while having it turned on, and I think I made, like, $17. And TikTok doesn’t even let you pull any money out until you’ve made at least $50.
So, in short, unless you’re getting tons of views per video, I don’t think the creator fund is worth it.
A: If people are asking follow-up questions about the content of your TikTok or Reel in the comments, you can always make follow-up videos to explain further. Alternatively, you could take it as a sign to make it into a lead magnet.
If you decide to go the lead magnet route, it doesn’t have to be done for you to promote it. Simply say “I’m coming out with a how-to guide, link in bio to be the first to get it!”
If you’re late (like I was) to realizing that you could make your content topic into a lead magnet, reply to all the comments saying that there’s a how-to guide coming and there’s a link in your bio to sign up.
If your viral video is on Reels, pin your favorite comment to the top. Make sure you reply to that pinned comment that there’s a lead magnet coming out.
For the duration of your virality, make sure you always have an Instagram story active that has a link to your lead magnet. (This is for the folks who follow you after seeing your video without looking at the comments).
A: Early on in my TikTok ~journey~ I joined a Facebook group called TikTok Marketing Secrets, led by a guy who educates about the algorithm. The group itself is kind of spammy, because it has so many members, but the facilitator posts some very helpful blog posts about the inner workings of TikTok, and I was fascinated — so I kept reading them.
I’d say the baseline foundation of my knowledge came from him, but everything else I’ve learned has just been from scrolling on TikTok and enjoying the app. My background in theatre is also extremely helpful, because I’ve been able to detect the exact narrative structures behind trends, and determine why certain trends and videos were so popular, in a way that people who haven’t been trained in storytelling probably aren’t able to.
I can look at a video and immediately know, “oh, people were psychologically drawn to this because…” and that’s a thought I don’t think would ever find its way to my brain if it weren’t for my unique background.
BTL Note: and now she’s a TikTok expert in her own right! Love that for her.
A: I always do everything on TikTok — even adding my closed captions. Supposedly, TikTok’s algorithm knows when you upload a video that has been edited in another app. Whenever I’ve posted a video that hasn’t been edited in TikTok, it never performs as well. They want you to use their app, so they reward you for doing so, just like Instagram does for Reels videos.
BTL Note: The inside scoop on Instagram: they do not prioritize or push videos that have the TikTok watermark on them, because they want people to be using their app, not TikTok. And just like TikTok’s algorithm, IG can tell when a video is coming from TikTok. Unfortunately for Reels creators and serial content repurposers, this means that for the best chance of success on Reels, you’ll need to create within the Instagram app… boring sounds and all.
A: Reels and TikTok are two completely different ballgames. The content that does well on Reels is much different than the content that does well on TikTok; they’re completely different experiences. Instagram is a much more curated space, where people put a lot of time and effort into the aesthetics of their content and their overall messaging and experience. On TikTok, though, things get messy. And people love that. Instagram isn’t ready for the level of authenticity that people are embracing on TikTok.
A: Since TikTok is my main platform, I always create the videos directly on that app first. Then I use ssstik.io to download the video without the watermark, and the Splice app to adjust the audio (since downloading without the watermark can make the audio a little messed up). I suggest posting your videos across all platforms—IG Reels, Youtube Shorts, on Pinterest, etc!
A: Out of all the social media apps to create on, TikTok is likely the safest. The platform isn’t as curated as Instagram, and the users are much less concerned with aesthetics and appearance. And if you’re worried about your friends, colleagues, classmates, or acquaintances seeing your content… well, they’ll probably only come across it 30% of the time, because of the way TikTok’s algorithm was set up. It’s a little bit more low-key, whereas on Facebook or Instagram, when you’re posting something, those people will definitely see it.
I completely understand that TikTok may make people feel a bit more vulnerable, because you’re posting video content, as opposed to the perfectly-filtered photo, but if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll be fine. Make sure that creating videos is actually something you want to do, and then decide, ‘F it — I’m gonna be 6 feet under one day, might as well do what I want to do.’
A: Because I create content that is mostly related to personal development, you’d think that no one would have anything negative to say. I mean, I’m literally talking about the most positive subjects. But someone always comments their rude two cents. I like to joke that I could make a video about curing world hunger and someone would find a problem with it.
So, yes, I do get mean comments, but at a certain point, I came to realize that you can’t please everyone. When someone comments something negative on a video, I get annoyed for a second, roll my eyes, and then let it roll off my back, because I know that comments like that are inevitable, and I won’t let it stop me from creating.
A: Bunny the dog. I am obsessed with Bunny the dog. I also love watching Caitlyn Riley and Hank Green.
A: I would love to be able to organize my ‘liked’ videos into folders. I’d also love some sort of super-follow button, so I could ensure that the few creators I want to watch every single day are showing up on my FYP. I literally search their names on the daily — I want TikTok to just show them to me. Plz.
A: My main advice for someone looking to start an account is…
Decide what your niche is going to be. Remember that whatever you initially gain followers for will be what you should create about in the long run. If you’re a marketing specialist and your first few videos are about oil painting, your audience is gonna be a bunch of artists who don’t care about your SEO tips, and your videos will flop.
Make a new account. Engage on that account for about a week so TikTok can get to know a tiny bit about what you’re into, then start posting — and make sure you have at least 4 or 5 videos in your drafts, ready to be posted right away.
Create videos with solid hooks. Gotta suck those viewers in.
You don’t need a business account. If you want to use the good sounds, a regular account is the way to go. Also, remember that your TikTok account is really just a funnel driving traffic to your other platforms, like your website, your Instagram, or your YouTube. If you connect your other socials and put your website link with a call to action in your bio, you’‘ll still be able to drive traffic like you would with a business account — only this way, you get to have access to all the things ‘regular people’ do.
A: I think now that TikTok has been a thing for a while, people are going to start to get pickier about the videos they don’t scroll past and the people they follow. I see it happening with myself when I’m consuming content on the app—if I don’t think I’m going to laugh, relate to, learn something from, or be inspired by the video, I scroll. In the past I was a lot more willing to give videos a chance, and I’d watch more of it before I scrolled. Now I’m more impatient. I feel like other people will be like this too. So, while I think quality of content has always been important, I think the bar is going to be raised.
A: I’ve carved out a niche for myself in the personal development and productivity space so I’ll be posting content like that! I normally do videos where I talk at the camera, and I do think that works for me so I will be keeping that, but I want to get a little more creative next year with different video styles (vlogging, storytelling like Timm, those videos where they’re doing something but make lots of cuts in the video to make it all choppy, etc.). I’ve gotten this far just by going with the flow but I definitely want to get more intentional /strategic with the schedule of things I post, too. Like, I think one of the reasons I currently have trouble staying with a schedule is because I don’t have backup videos for the days that I don’t feel inspired or inspiring.
Sarah is one of my favorite people, because she is the most freaking interesting mulit-hyphenate ever. Like, what do you mean, Broadway talent, TikTok fame, bomb web design skills, motivational speaking queen?! She has so many niches folded into her existence that I can’t even keep up. To learn more about her (and learn more from her), follow her on — you guessed it — Tiktok!
And recently, my girl went VIRAL yet again talking about her to-done list (a list she makes every morning of all that she accomplished the day before, and on Sundays a weekly list, and so on)
For a freebie template of her to done list — click here!
(Side note… if you like the looks of my site, that’s all thanks to her.)
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If we haven’t had the chance to *virtually* meet yet, hi! I’m Sara Noel—website copywriter and marketing mentor for creatives, copywriters, and all-around cool people. If you like my content and you want even more BTL in your life, here are a few ways you can connect with me:
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