Things I learned by posting on TikTok daily for a month

I've been avoiding TikTok. I was scared.

I didn't want to be the old, totally uncool "dad" slinging fountain pens in a space full of tweens and Gen Z'ers. These digital natives would surely lambast my pathetic attempts at sparking interest in old-school handwriting.

As a digital marketer, I knew I had to get over these reservations and invest a fraction of my time to explore this medium. So, I challenged myself to post once a day on TikTok for the entire month of December, 2020. This blog post is a summary of my experience and notes on what I learned along the way.

I started from near zero. Prior to December 1st, I had only posted 4 times on the @inkjournal account created back in February. My expectations were low. Despite having a 25k following on Instagram, 3k on Twitter, and 1k on Facebook, I was starting over with little hope of audience overlap. Meaning: I wasn't going to immediately gain a thousand followers overnight because the TikTok crowd doesn't follow InkJournal on the other social media platforms.

It was a humbling task, but I was excited by the idea of reaching this new, more youthful audience. "Start 'em young," right?

Day One - What the heck do I post on TikTok?

I love writing with fountain pens and people tend to enjoy watching videos of my handwriting on other channels. So, it seemed like handwriting videos was a natural place to start.

I did my research first and browsed popular videos, searching through hashtags for topics related to my strengths: #handwriting #fountainpen #calligraphy #handlettering #fountainpenink #fountainpenlove etc.

Besides some calligraphers and lettering artists, TikTok is barren of the fountain pen and ink crowd you'd find on Instagram. The only retailer with a decent following is @penventure (with nearly 50k followers) but Emy hasn't posted anything new since the end of October.

Being timely and relevant is essential in many walks of life - posting on TikTok is no different. At the start of December, popular videos featured the eager transition into the Christmas season. Over-the-top decorations, Elf on the Shelf, Holiday-themed Starbucks beverages, Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey - you get the idea.

I opted to handwrite quotes from famous Christmas movies, inviting viewers to guess the movie.

I won't say I struck immediate gold, but I was punching well above my weight considering I had no following. Part of that early success was investing some time in figuring out how the social media app works.

How TikTok works

While many folks may still be under the impression that TikTok is a social media network for kids dancing to pop music, it's accommodating to a wide range of entertainment. There are artists sketching people in public, comedians cracking jokes, videographers sharing tips, professional internet trolls, even McKenzie Penworks is showing how diamondcast pen blanks are made.

When you start with a new account, you'll be shown a hit parade of popular videos across all interests. So, yes, you'll stumble upon those big-booty-shaking videos set to Cardi B's hit song "WAP." Scroll on if that doesn't suit your taste. For anything that does suit your taste - artist, comedian, magician, or astrophysicist (I like following Neil DeGrasse Tyson), give a "heart" to videos you like and follow those accounts that you enjoy. WAP will get replaced by more appropriate videos recommended in the "For You" stream.

So, how do you go about finding content you'll enjoy watching and find useful? The almighty HASHTAG! It is #important to take notice of the hashtags used in popular videos and the topics that relate to the type of content you produce. 

Using hashtags will feel comfortable with Instagram users. TikTok adds another dimension to the mix - the sound track itself.

See, with most TikTok videos, you can opt to add music to the video, which can (believe it or not) help get your videos seen. If the track is extremely popular or part of a meme/trend/challenge, it would be a good idea to produce a video that adds to the conversation/joke.

Since holiday songs were in-season, I opted to add an appropriate song to each of the "guess the movie" handwriting videos.

Success - a sorry-looking Charlie Brown tree



Guess the movie, you blockhead! ##baddrawing ##badart ##fountaipen ##flexnib ##drawing ##fountainpenlove ##sketch ##drawing ##sadtree

♬ Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio

During December, this was my most popular video. It's not my best drawing of a tree. At my most critical, I'd say it was lousy and I should return my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree to my alma mater. But, it worked. In fact, it did better than a nice drawing of the Grinch I did a few days later.

Why? I wondered. Why did some videos get thousands of views while most attracted only hundreds? Was it the song choice? The length of the video? Number of likes/comments? Trying to figure the rhyme and reason was much more difficult given the extra metrics associated with the content. I did pick up on a pattern that seemed to hold true when comparing popular vs. unpopular content on TikTok.

How to post a TikTok that will be seen and liked

Create a video that someone will want to watch to the end, and then watch again.

It's a lot easier said than done, trust me.

It is my estimation that TikTok heavily relies on viewer retention as a metric in its algorithm. Translation - a great video is watched all the way to the end, and then some. Many of the funny jokes and memes on TikTok create tension and then relieve it at the very end of the video. Think of the @Kreepa Oh No meme that usually involves a buildup to some disastrous physical humor at the end of the video.

I noticed that the more popular videos I posted in December carried a tension that was relieved later in the video, if at all. For the "guess the movie" videos, if the movie was too easy to guess, viewers can scroll on quickly. If it was more difficult, like the Charlie Brown tree might have been, or this obscure quote from Daddy's Home 2 (which is also not considered a top-shelf Christmas classic either), then in tended to get more views.

How many more? Thousands instead of hundreds. A 10x difference that can't be ignored when you're trying to reach a bigger audience.

The most difficult (and important) question in creating a great video for TikTok is: How do you get an attention-deficient, hormone-addled adolescent to sit through a video for a minute?

How to increase a TikTok following from 1 to 100 and Beyond

In my TikTok experiment, Inkjournal ended December with 132 followers, which was a 1300% increase since I started with nearly no followers. If you're looking to get started or get followers, you can use the follow the tips I've noted above, which I will reiterate in the list below:

  • Answer: what type of content would you like to publish daily?
  • Follow others and like videos that are similar to the content you'd like to produce.
  • Be relevant, timely, and add to the conversation.
  • Make the additional music/sound a conscious choice
  • Post videos that will have people watching to the end (build and relieve tension quickly).
  • Use relevant hashtags - a mix of general and specific ones in your video description.
  • Post daily.
  • Respond to comments to build relationships and community.
  • Share relevant TikTok posts to other established social platforms (FB, Insta, etc)

Recommendations for Businesses / Monetization?

The question on most marketer's minds about TikTok is whether it will be worth the effort to invest time and energy in this platform for increased brand awareness and a bigger bottom line. While the demographic for TikTok is still really young (and not as affluent as the older audience on Facebook, for example), we must remember that Facebook started out in college dorms in the early 2000s. Investing a little time and love in it now has the potential to pay huge dividends - not only in the platform but in your skills as a content producer.

Getting in early on a new social media platform before your competitors has a huge advantage. You understand and serve the audience with 100x more effectiveness. When potential customers search for videos relevant to your business, "landscaping" for example, they're going to find the established, most highly-followed accounts first.

As the internet and mobile tech continues to evolve, it is obvious that video has replaced the static image as the media du jour. In the early days of the internet, media-rich content was difficult to pipe through a 56k modem. Now, streaming videos is a God-given right to those born after 2000. TikTok is a platform that embraces video in a way that devalues the static photos served on Instagram and laughs at the pathetic 280 character limit on Twitter. Even if your target audience is years away from embracing TikTok, you may want to dabble in making videos here to strengthen your video-making ability. You'll absolutely need it in the future.

So, now that I've succeeded in posting daily for a straight month on TikTok, would I continue? Yes, even if the only benefit is working on video-making skills. The added bonus here is that any TikTok video can be easily shared on Instagram & Facebook stories. So, you can help maintain fresh content over your other channels by starting it in TikTok and sharing from there. If you have any TikTok tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.