TikTok: How I Went From 0 To 60k Followers In 6 Months
What follows is an account of what I’ve learned going from zero to 60k followers in six months.
In November 2018 Sam Parr, myself, and a handful friends did a 30 day workout contest.
It was meant to be fun and games, but it pushed me to work out way more than I would have otherwise. Needless to say Sam kicked my ass. I kept up my consistent workouts, and it turned into a year of me lifting weights and putting on 30 pounds of muscle (but that’s another story).
So, when Sam visited New York this past winter we schemed another challenge. We set out to see who could grow a TikTok account the fastest.
I won handily (the notoriously competitive Sam shockingly gave up after one post).
Many of the same lessons I applied to getting in shape translate to TikTok. Consistency. Hard work. Commitment to the process. Most importantly investing in making small improvements that add up over time.
Here’s what I learned and why I highly recommend you jump on the platform today.
Why should anyone bother with TikTok in the first place?
If you spend more than 30 minutes on the app, you’ll see that there is much more than just teens doing dances. I’ve connected with CMO’s of major brands, huge influencers, brilliant entrepreneurs, and amazing creatives. It’s even helped grow my email list.
Whatever your interests or community – it exists on TikTok.
Don’t believe me?
Check out the stats. There are 100 million TikTok users in the US, and 67.5% of them are ages 20 or older. This is not JUST an app for teens.
Also, organic reach and engagement on TikTok is INSANE!
Brands on TikTok average an organic reach of 118%. Compare that with Facebook or Instagram where it ranges from 5 – 5.5% (if you’re lucky). That’s at least 21 times more reach than Facebook or Instagram!
TLDR – You can find all types of audiences on TikTok, and it drives a disproportionate amount of value compared to any other major platform. You should really, really give TikTok a go.
What content should I make?
When I started that fitness challenge I went into it with the goal of bulking up. So I got a workout plan, put together by a trainer, that would help me get there.
Same thing with building a community on TikTok. You need to define your goal. How do you want to present yourself to the world? What’s your niche? Just like working out I actually got TikTok ‘coach’ and enlisted Romain Bernus for advice and feedback.
So… how can you figure out your niche?
I wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to create, so I made a list with three columns, and asked myself, the following:
- What am I knowledgeable about?
- What do I enjoy talking about?
- What could I consistently create (without it being a burden)?
(Note – That third point is really important. Everyone thinks they want to be Arnold in his prime, but NO ONE wants to workout 6 hours a day. If it isn’t sustainable you will not keep it up)
I chose to talk about social media strategy, influencer marketing, & marketing psychology. I think I could have benefited from being even more specific, but you get the idea.
With new campaigns and influencers emerging each day, I’d always have plenty of new content to discuss.
Now that you know what you want to be known for, how do you create the content?
I’m going to break this down into three key elements:
- Content development
- Best practices
Want to have a successful TikTok?
It MUST be thumb stopping.
People scroll through over 500 feet of content on their phone each day. If you can’t grab their attention within a split second you’ve lost them. Remember, you’re not just competing with other people in your category, but with the entire internet. The entire internet!
Don’t. Be. Boring.
So, how do you get those thumbs to come to a screeching halt?
Here are the strategies that I found work best:
- Leverage borrowed interest
- Nail the opener
- Create tension to drive retention
Leverage borrowed Interest
Initially I started off just spouting out information about the Pratfall Effect.
No joke, my very first video was me reading the definition of a marketing psychology term. Unsurprisingly, no one wants to watch a monotone explanation of some term that has no clear relevance to them.
Enjoy the cringe…
What I learned (over time) was the importance of borrowed interest.
For example, I went back and revisited that original video. I retooled it. I opened with a story people would know – the Tesla CyberTruck launch. Musk had lead designer von Holzhausen put the “armor glass” to the test. As we all know – the glass shattered.
This made headlines everywhere. You know what happened? People loved Musk and Tesla more than ever.
It’s a great story, and one that grabs a viewer’s attention. It also embodies the pratfall effect (the larger point that I was trying to communicate). That’s the beauty of borrowed interest.
Well known references are a net to capture your audience.
I continuously try and think of examples people will recognize. I want to capture people’s interest and then illustrate my overarching point.
Nail The Opener
Posing questions or teasing some juicy information goes a long way.
For example, my second highest performing video was about the YouTube algorithm. In that video, I opened with,
“YouTube accidentally exposed their source code showing how the algorithm works”.
It gives viewers the sense they’re going to find out something exclusive. They’re hearing something top secret.
Boring is a liability and the internet loves extremes. Beyond posing a question I’ve found that using hyperbolic language grab people’s attention. Power words are great for this.
Think about it. What sounds more interesting to you?
This article highlights the TikTok community development process
This article will share the shocking secrets to growing a massive TikTok community
Pretty obvious which one will grab your attention right?
Some of my ‘go to’ power words are outlined below–
Make it feel personal
Use ‘you’ in that first sentence wherever possible. A study of YouTube content uncovered the fact that saying the word “you” within the first five seconds of a video can increase views by 66%. It goes up to 97% if you use “you” twice.
I’ve experienced similar results with TikTok. Eighty percent of my 100k+ viewed videos have ‘you’ in the first two sentences.
You can see all these elements at work in another top performing TikTok of mine. I did a TikTok about Community, the text message startup used by influencers and celebrities.
The opening was this –
Why are Obama, Jake Paul, and other influencers giving out their phone number?
You’ll want to know the secret behind what’s happening.
I posed a question. Borrowed interest was incorporated via noteworthy names. I used “you” and teased that there’s some ‘secret’. Lastly, I deliberately put Obama’s name next to Jake Paul’s in order to jar people.
These ingredients served me well and that video has over 250k views.
Create Tension To Drive Retention
Ok. You’ve got your first 5 seconds. Now what?
The TikTok algorithm prioritizes watch time, so you’ll want to keep people watching as long as possible. I do this by posing a question and then delivering the answer at the end. This way people are incentivized to watch the entire TikTok.
For example, I did a video about which Youtuber generated the most revenue last year. I knew I didn’t want to come out of the gates and just tell people who it was.
So, I opened with:
“Who do you think the richest influencer is?”
It’s got all the ingredients of a good opener – it has you, it asks a provocative question, and is focused on two topics people love to talk about (money and influencers).
From there I continue to provide fun facts, but I don’t reveal the answer until the end.
There’s one guy who’s making $250 million in merch sales this year… and he’s about to get a whole lot richer.
He just launched his own virtual world on Roblox.
He’s made over 2,000 videos and has 44 billion views
So who is he?
Ryan Kaji, a 9 year old from texas doing toy reviews.
So if a 9 year old can do this, what’s stopping you?
TikTok is not Instagram. It is not the place for FOMO inducing posts. Your content doesn’t need to be perfectly polished. It’s a platform better suited to showcase you and your passions.
Just make sure your production quality is good enough that it’s not detracting from your message. Get the basics covered – clear picture and clean audio.
I mostly film indoors so I use a ring light. Without it videos are shadowy. I highly recommend you do the same. You can pick them up on Amazon (here’s the one I use) for $85 bucks. They’re relatively compact and the difference they make in picture quality is well worth it.
I also bought some simple LED lights to add color to the background.
I’ve noticed this is popular amongst Twitch Streamers and TikTokers. It’s a simple addition that makes your videos more visually appealing. Here’s a link to the ones I bought. They’re $40 bucks and you can change the colors and brightness with an app on your phone. Pretty cool and very easy to use.
I also use a basic tripod. When I film I have the the ring light positioned directly behind it. Tripod’s are great for obvious reasons. You don’t want shaky footage and no matter how still you think you can hold your phone it will look jumpy. Here’s a link to one similar to mine. You’ll also need an attachment like this if you’re planning on shooting with your phone.
To film I usually use the front facing camera on my iPhone 12. Occasionally use my DJI Osmo pocket, but I prefer the convenience of the iPhone.
This is an area I really messed up on at first. I filmed in my study – a relatively small room with no carpeting or anything to absorb the sound. My early TikTok’s sound echoey and it’s hard to hear clearly.
Don’t let your audio be a hindrance. Getting clean audio is pretty simple. Go into a room that’s got something to absorb sound (ie carpeting, furniture, etc) and use a mic.
I now film in my living room. It’s a much bigger space – plus there’s furniture, and rugs to help absorb sound. I may upgrade to a microphone at some point, but for now I’ve been using the basic Apple Earpods (the plug in kind). The audio is shockingly good and it blocks out a lot of ambient noise. I live in downtown manhattan so this is no small feat.
Some TikTok Best Practices To Keep In Mind
TikTok has a lot of bells and whistles. Just like the first time you walk into a gym it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by all the options. There are hashtags, sounds to add, filters, effects, and text overlays. My advice is don’t overthink it.
Here are some basic best practices that have really helped me.
When you’re just getting started on TikTok I recommend just shooting within the app. There’s no need to get fancy. The in app editing tools on TikTok are incredible. You can add audio, insert video, clip video, add effects and overlays, and a ton of cool filters like green screen. When you’re just starting out it’s more than enough.
I edit most Tiktok’s on my desktop (using Adobe Rush) just because that’s what I prefer. When editing you’ll want to keep things tight. Cut out any fluff so there aren’t lulls (ie umms and ahhhs).
When I shoot widescreen, I edit in Kamua (disclosure – I’m an advisor). It helps with the conversion to vertical video formats. You can preview what the video will look like for various platforms, has automatic motion tracking, the ability to add captions, etc.
You’ll want to be conscious of how you frame your TikToks. There’s the iPhone notch, captions, as well as profile and engagement stats that all take up space on screen. To account for this, I leave about 1/4th to 1/3rd at the top empty. This way I can add text without covering up my face.
The lower third is where captions appear. You’ll want to assume that space is unusable. Have your primary point of focus be the middle of the camera or slightly to the left hand side (to account for engagement stats). It sounds obvious, but you’d be shocked at how frequently you’ll find yourself out of space to add any gifs or text.
Trends, hashtags, and audio
Many TikTokers are adamant about the need for a ton of hashtags or the importance of trending sounds. In my experience it doesn’t matter (most of the time). The algorithm does the work of finding your audience regardless.
The most I’ve ever seen a hashtag contribute to viewership of a video was less than 1 percent.
Sounds have more or less been the same. My single biggest video was a recap of the Ocean Spray’s response to Nathan Apodaca (aka DoggFace420). It got 2.4 million views and only 5% came from the sound.
Limit hashtags to 3 per video so that it doesn’t look cluttered. Use sounds if its additive, but make sure to adjust the levels. That’s it!
With TikTok you can add in text overlays. These are great for adding complimentary information to what you’re discussing. However, it’s easy to make them overwhelming.
In my experience you’ll want to limit text to brighter colors (ie red, blue, and green). Those tend to stand out the most. Limit yourself to 3-7 words at a time and give people enough time to read. For 3-5 words you’ll want to keep the text up for at least 2 seconds. For 5-7 words keep the text up for at least 4 seconds.
One of the great things about TikTok is that the primary feed is the For You Page (AKA the FYP). The FYP is algorithmically recommended content. There’s a secondary ‘follower’ feed but that isn’t the focus. The bulk of your views will come from the FYP.
TikTok is a forgiving platform. If a video doesn’t do well you can re-upload. Even better I recommend attempting new edits of the same content or idea. I’ve done this a lot. It allows you to learn what works and what subtle differences make a significant impact.
I’m a 38 year old dude with zero dance skills, who went from 0-60k followers in 6 months (I’ve kept it up well beyond the original challenge timeline).
Accomplishing something like this is just like getting in shape. It takes consistent effort. The difference between my earliest TikTok’s and my newest may be drastic. However, the differences from video to video are tiny.
Make small improvements over time and let that success compound.
Building a TikTok audience has been beneficial. I’ve grown my email list considerably. I’ve met a lot of brilliant people. All in half a year. I’m grateful for all of it, but the greatest value has been intrinsic. Learning a new skill, overcoming my fear of being in front of the camera. These are things that I’ve enjoyed far more than the external rewards.
If I can do it. You can do it.