The Ultimate Guide to TikTok for New Creators (Part 1) 

More than half of kids today want to be an online creator. 

 

Why? 

The top five reasons boil down to: 

  • Creativity (24%)
  • Fame (11.4%)
  • Self-expression (11%)
  • Money (9.8%)
  • Connecting with people and finding community (8.4%)

I’m an old millennial, who’s been creating written content for more than 10 years, but I feel like my skills are becoming stale, as I see the number of TikTok jobs and skill requirements in job descriptions increase. 

 

Based on my experience as a blogger, when you have an audience, you have leverage, and everyone needs leverage in today’s world of work/economy. So I’m basically trying to make sure I have an audience in all the right places in 2021 and beyond. 

I’m also kind-of bored, so I want to learn a new way to create for fun, but I won’t lie, I forgot how hard it is to be a beginner. 


“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. 

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. 

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. 

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. 

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. 

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal, and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. 

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. 

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. 

It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

—Ira Glass


The hardest part about getting started for me was fear.

I’m petrified that no one will like my videos (thanks, impostor syndrome!). I remember I couldn’t even read the comments on my blog posts for the longest time, because the critiques felt so personal. 

TikTok took my impostor syndrome to another level though, because it’s me in front of the camera. I’m not at my thinnest right now, and I feel like, “Will people call me fat, etc.?” 

For me, it helps that you create your audience from scratch on TikTok. It’s not like Facebook or Instagram, which has to do with following your IRL friends or kids you went to high school with 10 years ago.

This is also amazing because it allows you to make new connections from around the world, which is vital if you want a more fulfilling life and to accelerate your personal growth. 

Another really difficult part about getting started was/is the learning curve and lack of in-depth resources on the topic. 

I’m used to googling and finding my answer immediately, but when you Google about TikTok, like “how to become TikTok famous,” there isn’t one useful, in-depth guide that covers everything you need to know. 

Some posts will teach you shady hacks for getting on the For You Page (FYP). Others are overly simplified overviews of the interface. TLDR: Googling for TikTok help will lead you to feeling overwhelmed with redundant information that gets you nowhere fast, which leads me to my next point.

Twitch subreddit explaining that bad stats mean your content needs to improvePlease stop feeling sorry for yourself about bad stats, and instead try to work on improving your content. : Twitch

 

I love the above post in the Twitch subreddit, which accurately tells wannabe creators if they’re not getting views after a year of posting, it has everything to do with creating bad content, not the algorithm.  

As a writer, whose words have been read by millions of people over the years, and as a newbie TikTok creator, whose first video received more than 644,000 views and nearly 10,000 likes and skyrocketed me from zero to nearly 2,000 followers, I know this to be true. 

If your content is good, algorithms, especially TikToks, will surface your content. So pride yourself on not just creating, but creating really phenomenal content. 

This post has been a year in the making. I’ve been learning TikTok the hard way, so you can learn it in an easier way. 

Keep reading for the epic guide of my dreams, and yours too, if you want to actually get famous on TikTok because your content is legit, not just tagged with #fyp. 😉 

 

Table of Contents

You must use TikTok to become popular on TikTok.
Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
Find the best TikToks, and make yours better.
Where to find the best TikToks
The FYP
Discover
Search
Video editor features
Effects
Sound/Audio
Profiles
Utilize best practices to create TikToks people love.
Best Practice 0: Make it watchable
Best Practice 1: Make it shareable
Best Practice 2: Utilize discoverable topics
Best Practice 3: Context is crucial
Best Practice 4: Be consistent
Best Practice 5: Understand who you’re targeting
Best Practice 6: Plan for sustainability/ feasibility
Best Practice 7: Converse with viewers
Best Practice 8: Engage further
Best Practice 9: Keep it real
Best Practice 10: Collaborate
Additional Resources
Watch me grow from 1,500 followers to 10,000 in 1 month

 

You must use TikTok to become popular on TikTok.

Content evolves fast on TikTok. New trends are born and new storylines come into play each and every day. Watch 10 TikToks daily to know what’s happening on the platform and read the comments to understand how people show up on TikTok and connect with one another—be a part of the community. It always pays to be informed. (source)

If you’re like me, you’re getting old (sad face lol), and so using TikTok requires behavior change. It’s almost like an acquired taste. You have to force yourself to use it daily, and eventually, you become obsessed with it. Trust me on this!

I highly recommend reallocating your time from scrolling through Instagram, which usually makes me feel like crap anyway, to scrolling through TikTok, which will eventually contribute to more identity capital (i.e., portfolio pieces) and possibly the potential to be your own boss someday. 

So, the learning process goes: 

  1. Use TikTok. 
  2. Create TikToks.

The reason you have to use TikTok before you can create TikToks is two-fold. 

1. You need to know what constitutes good TikTok content, and you won’t know if you don’t use it regularly. It’s kind of like watching a complex movie, such as “The Davinci Code” or “The Sixth Sense,” in that you have to watch it multiple times to catch everything. It’s much harder to create TikToks than written content, for the pure fact that video is four-dimensional, so you have to pay attention to numerous elements simultaneously. (More on this later)

2. TikTok changes daily, so you must use it daily to stay on top of the latest trends. Some trends you can prepare for—monthly trends are pretty easy to predict, like, mental health awareness month, pride month, etc. Others are more off-the-cuff. TikTok usually writes about them via its newsroom, which can be extremely helpful because it provides additional details on what’s doing well for each trend and why. 

 

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

In organic content marketing, there’s something known as The Skyscraper Technique. Here’s how it works.

If you want to rank on the first page of Google for a specific question, such as “what should i do with my life,” you’d search for that phrase on Google, and click every link on the front page. 

You’d note what each link does well and what could be improved. Then, you’d create a WAY BETTER post than all of the other posts combined. 

Have you ever walked by a really tall building and said to yourself: ‘Wow, that’s amazing! I wonder how big the 8th tallest building in the world is.’ Of course not. It’s human nature to be attracted to the best. And what you’re doing here is finding the tallest “skyscraper” in your space…and slapping 20 stories to the top of it.

Brian Dean, the creator of the term “Skyscraper Technique”

If you Google the above question, my post is No. 1. 😉 So I know this technique works. And it holds true for TikTok. The difference? TikTok’s FYP is the first page of Google. 

 

Find the best TikToks, and make yours better.

This article I wrote for SitePoint might be useful too. It’s based on the book “A Technique for Getting Ideas.”

 

Where to find the best TikToks

The FYP

While you can find TikToks in a few different ways, most users find them through the FYP, which is the first screen you see when you land on TikTok. 

The FYP is different for everyone, and it’s based on your behavior using the app. Because behavior drives your feed, you want to mindfully engage with videos. 

If you don’t like something or it’s not interesting to you, long press on the video, and a “not interested” icon will appear. Click it. And voila. You’ll see less of those types of videos. 

If you do like something, make sure to positively engage with the post by watching, liking, sharing, commenting, favoriting and/or saving.

As you scroll through the FYP, pay attention to what videos stand out and hold your attention versus which you scroll past almost immediately. 

Ask yourself: What made me scroll past this TikTok so fast? Or, what made me keep watching? What did I like about the video enough to watch and engage with it until the end? 

Pay attention to:
  • What makes you keep watching 
  • What makes you scroll to next video 
  • How each video makes you feel 
  • Your attention span during the video
  • Why you like it (or didn’t)
  • Effects
  • Captions 
  • Audio
  • Hashtags
  • Video scenes 
  • Production quality 
  • Video type
  • Video length

Discover 

I don’t recommend starting with the FYP, when you first sign up. Instead, I would head right to the second bottom menu item, labeled “Discover,” which is where you can scroll through the latest TikTok trends. 

This allows you to customize your FYP fast by engaging with the videos that you search for as well as the trends on the feed. 

Trends can be evergreen (#photography101, #collegehacks) or seasonal/timely (mental health awareness month, Super Bowl). You can usually predict the seasonal ones, and plan for them. 

The latter is more of a trend while the former is more like a subculture. And the seasonal ones are usually challenge driven and/or sponsored by brands. 

NOTE: Just because something is trending doesn’t mean you should force yourself to create a video on the topic. Only participate in the trends that speak to you. Don’t focus on the ones that you have nothing to add to or aren’t passionate about. 
Before you start scrolling through a trend feed, pay attention to the top grid of videos:  
  • Accounts: Visit profiles of ranking TikToks.  
  • Patterns/Formats: Are videos following the same type of pattern or format?
  • Cover scene: Pay attention to what draws your eye to the videos to click on first in the top grid on each trend page. For example, text overlays, visuals/background images.

 

According to TikTok, the app is a hotbed for “subcultures.” 

Subcultures are groups of people that have beliefs or ideas that differ from those of mainstream culture. 

These submersive worlds represent passionate communities that gather around similar interests, aesthetics, and values on the platform. 

These modern tribes have exploded across TikTok, drawn to the platform to celebrate their idiosyncrasies and share their passions with like-minded users. 

Here, they can openly express themselves and discover new ways to stoke their enthusiasm. In many cases, they also converge on products and can organically elevate brands to cult status.

infographic describing TikTok subcultures

Subcultures aren’t just on TikTok though; they’re the same across platforms. TikTok just makes it easier to find these subcultures. 

It’s important to note subcultures are NOT trends. They’re way more evergreen than trends that come and go at the drop of a hat. 

Use the search tab at the top of the “Discover” feed to find your interests even faster. 

Using the search tab at the top of the "discover" feed

Video editor features

There’s also feature-driven trends around effects and audio, but these are more like accessories in my mind. Although, TikTok clearly states that audio shouldn’t be considered an “afterthought.” 

It’s just, in my experience using the app, the audio feels tacked onto me a lot, almost like keyword stuffing blog posts. For example, some TikTokers recommend setting your TikTok video to a trending sound that’s muted so it reaches the FYP. 

Basically, these people are just trying to triple-down (keyword stuff) trends into their video, but I think you should only do this if it makes sense, feels natural and provides a non-distracting, cohesive experience.  

Question I still have: Does using every trend “element” actually make your video do better? If you know this answer, please share in the comments. =)

 

Effects

Effects can range from basic to over-my-head, and it goes from zero to 100 real quick.

 

You can find effects in a few ways. 

First, as you’re scrolling through your feed, watching videos, you may notice a clickable link to an effect (see below). 

Clickable link to an effect on TikTok

Click on it, and it’ll take you to the effect’s page, where you can see other popular videos using the effect and it allows you to “save” the effect to your favorites, for easy use in the future. 

You can also view all of the effects TikTok has to offer by clicking on the “+” button in the middle of your screen. (See below)

Example of TikTok effects

Now for the over-my-head effects. 

In the video editor, which you got to by clicking the “+” button, you’ll either record yourself in “spurts” or scenes in the editor itself, or you’ll upload multiple clips to combine for one video. Once you add or record your clips, then you can hit “next” and click on effects at the bottom of your screen, overlaid on the creative. Click it, and up pop video editing effects, like advanced transitions, etc. 

Last but not least, there are Voice Effects, which you can find in the right-hand menu overlaid on your video editor after you upload or record your TikTok. See pic below. 

Demonstration of voice effects in video editor

These are pretty popular as intros or entire TikToks in themselves. And here’s one of my favorite dog voice effects for your entertainment and inspiration.

 

Sound/Audio 

TikTok says sounds should NOT be thought of as an afterthought, but I’m struggling to understand how you start making a video by thinking about the sound first. 

You can find sounds by scrolling through the Discover feed (see below).

Example of how to find sounds on Discover feed

Or you can discover sounds the same way you can find effects—through other videos you scroll past, by clicking on the “sound” title at the bottom of the video screen. 

Example of clicking "sound" title

While this guy’s video in the screenshot above uses his own voice, he also uses a trending sound, probably in hopes it’ll help him get to the FYP since it was trending. 

If you click the sound, then you’ll be taken to the sound’s page, where you can scroll through popular videos using the sound. 

Example of popular videos using the selected sound

Profiles

Example of a TikTok profile, @erinmcgoff
Profile of @erinmcgoff

Make it a habit to click through to profiles of videos you really like or are in the niche you’re thinking of entering. 

First, pay attention to the basics: 
  • Username 
  • Profile pic
  • Bio
  • Link in bio (Click through to see what they’re linking to) 
  • Instagram or YouTube (Click through to see their other profiles) 

Next, scroll through their TikToks on their profile page, and pay attention to the ones with more views and comments than others. 

You can even get really creepy, and try to reverse engineer their strategy by paying attention to their posting schedule and looking for any patterns in the types of videos they post by paying attention to the top grid. 

 

Utilize best practices to create TikToks people love.

Approach your content as a TikTok competitor creator would, and take advantage of the creative approaches most commonly employed by top channels in your niche, for specific trends, etc.

Best Practice 0: Make it watchable

Traditional vs. emerging story arc on TikTok

Viewability Tips

  • When shooting, be sure to make use of TikTok’s vertical full-screen experience and capture 100% screen space by shooting in 9:16. TikTok reports that TikToks shot vertically have an average 25% higher 6-second watch-through rate. 
  • TikTok’s research shows that more than 63% of all videos with the highest click-through rate (CTR) highlight their key message or product within the first 3 seconds.
  • Get straight to the point, and keep it short and direct. But remember, TikTok users still value a great story over anything else. Embed your message into a narrative your audience can relate to and that they would expect to see on TikTok.
  • Use cliffhangers, like “Keep watching if…” or “I might delete this later” or “I can’t believe I’m sharing this…” 
  • Use text overlays on visually appealing backgrounds (usually a person) to describe the point of the video so people want to stop scrolling.  
  • Use effects to transition and make it a more cohesive watching experience. 

 

Best Practice 1: Make it shareable 

Stories on TikTok are told in fast-paced, visual ways. Adopt this editing style by including text-overlays into your videos and work with effects or stickers. We’ve seen that 40% of auction ads with the highest VTR have adopted this creative tip. (source)

Shareability Tips

    • Keep your finger on the Discover tab, and stay on top of relevant niche searches/hashtags. 
    • Ask yourself: 
          • What words will viewers use to describe your video when they share it? 
          • Would you click on this yourself? 
          • Why would they share it? 
    • Connect through emotion.
          • Viewers are more likely to share a video that elicits a strong emotional response. Make videos that induce laughter or feelings of sweetness, excitement or nostalgia.
    • Appeal to your audience’s values.
          • **People often share content because they feel the content conveys something about their own beliefs.***
          • Sharing funny content makes them feel funny, 
          • Sharing informative content makes them feel knowledgeable. 
          • Sharing topical content makes them feel on top of the latest news. 
  • Keep this in mind: What will your video say about the people who share it?
  • Create an ongoing series with viral potential.
        • Many top creators use multiple videos as part of a series (which they can organize into “Playlists.” Often one video will break out and then introduce massive audiences to the entire series.
  • Participate in challenges, or try to create your own challenge by asking good questions, and telling viewers to answer it, using the Stitch feature.

 

Best Practice 2: Utilize discoverable topics

Discoverability Tips 

  • Make videos around trending events. Your content will surface with the sudden rush of traffic around that topic.
  • Create “evergreen” videos that will be searched for over time, such as how-to videos.
  • Remember that the algorithm can’t watch videos, so make sure to include a few hashtags, context in your caption as well as text overlays and/or subtitles. 

 

Best Practice 3: Context is crucial 

TikTok is challenging because videos must be three minutes or less, and that’s not a ton of time to give a full-blown tutorial or tell a long, complex story, for instance. 

Even though TikTok has created the “Playlists” feature to better organize creators’ videos, it can be difficult for viewers to find a video referred to in a video they’re currently watching when they click-through to their profile page. 

To circumvent this problem, try to make every video able to be appreciated by a first-time viewer.  In other words, your videos shouldn’t lock out new viewers who stumble upon them on the FYP, which is where (hopefully) the majority of your audience will discover you from.  

So if they’re coming from the FYP, then it means they won’t have any context around your video. The good news is even a consistent series can be structured so that each video stands on its own and is accessible to new viewers.

Context Tips

  • Always consider new viewers when creating content. Would a new viewer immediately grasp what your TikTok’s about?
  • Fold in context if necessary, but don’t refer to videos the user most likely hasn’t seen.
  • If you do create serial content, include quick recaps at the beginning of episodes to bring new viewers up to speed.

 

Best Practice 4: Be consistent

TikTok rewards consistency. 

Consistency refers to different things. You can be consistent in one respect and not in another, as long as you’re consistent in some way. 

5 types of consistency

  • Consistent topic/niche
  • Consistent format/type
  • Consistent schedule 
  • Consistent elements 
  • Consistent persona/voice 

Consistency Tips

  • Plan your content ahead of time. 
  • Batch create/edit your content. 
  • Schedule time each day to “play” or engage on TikTok.
  • Create structured formats (templates) that will prevent you from having to reinvent every video.

 

Best Practice 5: Understand who you’re targeting 

The more you understand the people you’re trying to reach, the better the response to your content will be. 

First, determine whether you’re trying to reach a broad group (eg: from a timely TikTok trend) or a niche audience (eg: from a subculture hashtag search). 

Targeting Tips

  • Study content that’s similar to yours, and try to determine who is engaging with it.
  • Take a look at any of your existing content (across any platform), and determine who’s responding to it.
  • Design every element of your content to reflect who you would like to reach. 
  • Use TikTok Analytics to see basic demographic data on who is watching your videos. You’ll need a creator account to get access to Analytics, so make sure to sign up as one in the beginning or change the account type in your settings tab, which you’ll find by clicking on your profile pic. 

 

Regardless of who you’re targeting, you can usually never go wrong by making sure your video is:

  • Helpful (hacks, tutorials)
  • Emotionally appealing 
  • Authentic 
  • Conversational
  • Engaging
  • Relatable 
  • Funny
  • Surprising 
  • Smart
  • Mind blowing 
  • Weaves in a story 
  • Lighthearted
  • Positive 

 

Best Practice 6: Plan for sustainability/feasibility

One of my biggest struggles with TikTok has been trying to create videos that are above my skill level from the onset. What I should’ve done is focused on simpler videos to start, and build up to the harder ones that take longer to produce and/or additional resources. 

Sustainability Tips

  • Ask yourself the hard question: Is this sustainable/doable? If you’ve settled on a certain type of video to create, first, make sure you can sustain that format. Pay attention to all of the elements of production, such as how long it’ll take you to create each TikTok. A three-minute TikTok could take days to edit, maybe weeks for a newbie. 
  • Does your niche/format have a long shelf-life, meaning will this be an evergreen video people can/will rediscover and enjoy months, even years, later?
  • Try to template-size your TikToks into recurring formats, which allows to project a consistent TikTok schedule. 

 

Best Practice 7: Converse with viewers

What makes TikTok content truly unique is creators addressing the community directly, often looking the audience straight in the eyes. One in three auction ads with the highest VTR break the 4th wall in this way. Then make it a true dialogue by asking questions and provoking reactions from the audience. (source)

Conversation Tips

  • Make an emotional connection. Cognitive psychology shows that people are more likely to remember something that caused a strong emotional response. 
  • Always ask for feedback. Let viewers know their comments matter, and that you’re listening.
  • Respond to viewer comments, both in video (when possible) and in the TikTok comments. 

 

Best Practice 8: Engage further

TikTok and platforms in general today are more one-to-one than one-to-many. Creators who thrive engage with their audience in the comments and using other interactive features, of which TikTok offers many. 

 

Best Practice 9: Keep it real

Almost half of the best performing auction ads on TikTok have managed to tell their stories in emotionally appealing ways. On TikTok, this means keeping it real and relatable. Great TikTok content often includes an undertone of lightheartedness and positivity. And sometimes, all it needs is an element of levity. (source)

TikTok is not Instagram, in the sense that it’s not all make believe. People are a lot more authentic and their real selves on TikTok. Videos with low production quality can do phenomenal and go viral. But if your video feels fake, it’s going to bomb, regardless of how good the video production is.

Authenticity Tips:

  • Be relatable. 
  • Share your story and other backstories. 
  • Inspire your audience. 
  • Showcase your fans’ stories.
  • Try to align yourself with other popular creators in your space.
  • Be passionate about what you’re creating. 

 

Best Practice 10: Collaborate 

Why?

  • Instant trustworthiness 
  • Already has audience 

How?

  • Duet
  • Stitch
  • DM 
  • Engage with their videos before you DM 
  • Make friends nonchalantly—give before you take 

 

Additional Resources

 

Watch me grow from 1,500 followers to 10,000 in 1 month.

Remember how I nonchalantly mentioned in the beginning how my first TikTok has received more than 644,000 views and skyrocketed me from zero to 1,500 followers? 

This unplanned viral TikTok allowed me to meet two of the three requirements for becoming a paid creator on TikTok. 

TikTok Creator Fund details/explains the requirements to become a creator

I’m not interested in making money immediately (or directly) from TikTok. Because creator programs have been known to pay pennies

Sad fact: “Influencers using the Creator’s Fund report a rate of 2-4 cents per 1,000 views, which means that a relatively successful video of 500,000 views would net you about $20.”

It’s more so a channel for me to have fun creating on just to see if I can get good at it, because I’m definitely still struggling to grasp everything as well as be efficient doing it. 

With this being said, I’ve developed a TikTok experiment, with the goal of getting 10,000 TikTok followers in one month, so I can become a creator. 

To do this, I’ll transform my most popular written content pieces into snackable ~3-minute TikToks for a month. 

Before I start posting, I’ll create a TikTok content strategy, which I’ll share, in detail, with you once it’s finished. 

I’ll even include a Google Doc template for you to copy yourself. 

Additionally, you’ll learn how to use the TikTok video editor and general video production tips, alongside me, as I learn them myself. 

Finally, I’ll share what I learn about the video creation process and how to be efficient when creating.

If you want to be notified when I publish this second TikTok article, drop your email here, and we’ll ping you when as soon as it’s out. You’re welcome. 😉

Oh, and make sure to follow me on TikTok