When you are teaching something new to someone, they say it’s important to maintain a beginner’s mindset. This is so that you can relate to – and address – the fears and anxieties of your student, which you can forget when you become proficient in something. But when you work in a constantly-changing industry like social media, the beginner’s mindset is ever-present because you are constantly a beginner. When a new social media platform emerges that you need to get across, feelings of anxiety, insecurity and fear arise – even if you’ve been creating digital content all your life.
I am often a late adopter of social networks. Platforms rise and fall all the time, often in a matter of six months. A year ago, the biggest trending platform was the audio-only Clubhouse, but now, we don’t hear much about it. At the time of writing, the news is raving about BeReal, the “authentic social network”. Whether it will disappear into obscurity in the next few months like many others or defeat the odds and become a new social platform staple like Snapchat and TikTok is yet to be seen. I like to wait to see if a platform gains enough traction before jumping on, because it takes a lot of time and energy to learn a new platform. And, of course, not every platform has every demographic, so you simply might not even need to learn it if your target market isn’t on there.
But now, I’ve got a little side project where I need to learn how to use TikTok because the audience I’m looking to engage is on there. So it’s for this reason, several years into the rise of TikTok, I’m wading in for the first time. But I know I’m not the only one who is just stepping in for the first time. So, I wanted to share my lessons on how you navigate getting up-to-speed on a new social platform.
Of course, I’m sharing my experience with learning TikTok, but this generally applies to most social networks because these steps are useful for most platforms.
Let’s dive in.
It takes time
The first thing to acknowledge is that getting to know a new social platform takes time. And, like any new skill we learn, the first thing we create is often not our best. But we get better over time – and the only way we get better is by actually doing it. Like singing, no amount of reading how-to guides actually prepares you for doing the thing.
At first, you’re likely to create some beginner-looking content. That’s ok. Realistically, you’ll only have a small audience at that point anyway. Just enjoy the creativity of creating something new. You will get better over time, and your audience will grow as your skills do.
If you’re particularly concerned about impacting your brand with some dorky posts, you can set up a personal account or dummy account to practise with first. Keep in mind that you can also delete content. If you want to go back and delete your older, less attractive content in the next few months, you can do so. Or, if the idea from your early content is solid, but your execution isn’t great, you can even remake the piece of content in the future with your new skills.
Get to know the platform
When you enter a new social platform, like any party, it helps to read the room. Before posting content, get to know what others are posting, learn the culture, and learn the language specific to that platform.
For example, one of the primary landing pages on TikTok where content is recommended to you is called the ‘For You’ page. This means that it’s common for people to comment using the hashtag #FYP, which is an acronym for ‘For You Page’, in an attempt to help that content hit that golden recommendation page to increase it’s reach. Without spending some time on the platform, I would never have made this connection to understand why this was being written across the place by people!
To get to know a social platform like TikTok for the first time, think about something you’re interested in (sea turtles, knitting, books?) and simply pop that into the search within the social network. Find people talking about that topic. Follow the accounts and hashtags talking about that topic. See what people post, how they structure their content and how they respond to comments. This is a time where you are absorbing the culture, not creating anything.
If you’re looking to post on behalf of a business, I recommend searching for your industry and seeing what people post because every sub-culture is different. For example, the content people post on TikTok about interior design vastly differs from those posting about books. Each industry has a sub-culture within TikTok, so draw your lessons for the relevant sub-culture you’re entering. For example, in interior design, it’s common to show ‘before and after’ builds, but for writers, it’s acceptable to shoot a selfie of a book review. And of course, both of these are very different from the viral ‘comedy’ TikTok posts we often see shared across the internet. They are all very different ways of using the same platform, so learn what the sub-culture is for your industry so that the content you post is in line with what your audience expects.
Another approach if you’re trying to find TikTok accounts in your industry, businesses often list their social networks in their website footer. Just google your industry + a city somewhere in the world, and see if businesses in your industry are on TikTok. Give them a follow.
Draw on what you already know
You might be surprised how similar TikTok is to existing social platforms you’ve used for years. For example, both Twitter and Instagram have accounts that you follow and use hashtags to extend the reach of a post. TikTok uses both of these features, too. Drawing on the knowledge of the social networks you use already makes it much easier to get up to speed. This is the same with nearly all social platforms – they often draw on usability and design on existing platforms, so it’s easier for new users to understand.
You can also draw on the hard work you’ve done in the past in your marketing or content plans. All your marketing should be sharing the same messages, irrespective of medium. Your website, your newsletter, your Instagram and your TikTok should share the same content themes. For many businesses, these messages are often things like showing that you’re trustworthy, showcasing your expertise, and showing that you connect with the culture of your customers. While the execution might be a little different on each platform, the stories that you’re telling will be the same as your business always trying to connect with your customers to help them like, know and trust you.
To illustrate how transferring content between mediums works, several weeks ago, I created a post on Instagram that was an image and text post sharing my thoughts on a particular topic. For TikTok, I simply filmed myself speaking essentially the same key points. My message is the same – it’s just the medium that is changing.
Do some research
While I didn’t feel I wanted a complete step-by-step guide to TikTok, I still needed to spend some time researching best practices for the platform to ensure I was across all the details.
I still needed to find out:
- What is the maximum video length (between 3 seconds and 10 minutes, but the sweet spot is around 30 seconds)
- What are the limitations for the length of copy (300 characters, but 150 if you’re scheduling – including hashtags)
- How many hashtags should I use (best-practise is under 5)
- How do I access the colours and fonts so they can be consistent with my brand (use the build-in editors, with pre-set colours which is adequate)
- How do I add thumbnail tiles to the content (select a video still when posting)
And, of course, having some tools to help me get started:
- Where is the analytics section (in your settings on web and mobile)
- How to schedule content (On the web, TikTok has a free built-in scheduler for up to 10 days in the future)
- How to crosspost to other platforms (can crosspost when publishing)
I also found it helpful to:
- Come up with a list of video topics I could create based (often looking at what I’d done in the past on other social platforms)
- Researching hashtags that people in my industry (I looked at the hashtags others in the industry were using to compile this).
Finding a place to film
TikTok is, obviously, a video platform, so filming is part-and-parcel with it. One of the great things about our post-pandemic culture is that the ‘authentic’ look in social media content is fast becoming the norm (are these more points for BeReal? Let’s see!), so it’s not necessary to have a small film set in your home. People filming TikToks in their PJs in their boffice – “bed-office” – are not uncommon. But creating warm and accessible content doesn’t need to be unprofessional – so find your sweet spot that works for you.
When filming, some tips are:
- A filming location – some people find a neat corner of their house or workplace – you don’t need to live in an Instagram-worthy mansion to film!
- Make sure the location is well-lit. I have a dark apartment, so I purchased some lights to ensure the video is bright enough to see everything
- Make sure it’s a quiet location so your audio can be recorded (and cross your fingers that the neighbour isn’t about to start yardwork!)
- Have a way to film on your phone – you may need some kind of tripod to actually hold your phone – or just film selfie-style. You can also purchase a ‘phone’ tripod that has a light on it, which is specifically designed for shooting mobile videos.
- And, of course, vertical video all the way, baby. Don’t film horizontal videos!
Get into it
Once you’ve got an idea of how to create content, I recommend just getting started and just posting something. Overthinking and procrastination can mean you never get started. A simple approach is to rework a piece of popular content from another channel such as your blog or Instagram, so you’ve got an idea to run with. In the end, the goal of ‘just get started’ is to actually walk through the steps end-to-end of filming, editing, writing copy, adding hashtags and posting so that you know what you need to do in the future.
The first time always takes longer as you learn how to do it, but over time, you get faster and produce better quality content. But we all need to start somewhere.
As I mentioned earlier, as you skill up, you can potentially delete your early ‘beginner’ content or revamp it in the future and make a better version when you’ve had more practice. However, seeing someone’s content progress over time can also be an endearing quality, so your older content could be a nice little treat for your audience who loves to step into the old time machine and see how you started out.
Once you’ve started publishing content, it’s important to keep creating. TikTok recommends daily posting, but my mantra is always to do what is realistic. Consistency is more important than volume. For some people, what is realistic is once a week. This is the boat I am in. For now, I am pre-scheduling one post and aim to post one other post ‘on the fly’. This means that if I have a busy week, I still have something going out as a minimum. As I become more proficient, I may increase this number.
Some tips to help you keep going are:
- Set daily reminders to check out the new social platform for five minutes every day to get to know it better (perhaps tie it with your morning coffee?). You could also bookmark sounds or effects that you want to try later on.
- Schedule time in your calendar to create content each week. You might set aside a whole hour to create content. And remember – batch content creation is your friend.
- Keep a notebook or spreadsheet handy where you write down content ideas to refer to and create later.
- Every month, review your analytics and see which content is working, and aim to make more content like it. Your analytics will also tell you which time of day your audience is most active, so posting or scheduling for that time is an excellent approach.
I hope this rundown has been helpful for you when you’re navigating a new social platform like TikTok for the first time.
Yep, it can be scary, but remember that you’re already got a lot of knowledge to draw on from how other social platforms work when you’re venturing into a new space.
The important thing is to give it a go and have fun with it.
Want to work with Rachel?Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.
She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.
She is based in Sydney, Australia.
Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.